The Rev. George Howle told the St. John's United Methodist Church congregation that he is leaving the church in June to join the Bishop's Cabinet – a group that has oversight and responsibilities over the United Methodist Churches in the district.

Howle announced his upcoming role as Greenville District Superintendent to his congregation on Sunday. He will remain at St. John's for the next couple of months before joining the Cabinet in June.

Howle has spent much of this week at Myrtle Beach with other members of the Cabinet, which has made him unavailable for comment. Still, several members of his congregation have spoken about his nine years of leadership at St. John's.

Sherry Williamson said she has known Howle since before his role as head pastor, back when he was associate minister from 1991 to 1994. He returned to the church in 2005 as the pastor.

“George has been a true friend of my family for many years,” Williamson said. “He knew my mother and spoke at her funeral, and really helped us get through that difficult time. He has made such a difference in his time here, and he'll certainly be missed. But we know he'll do great things in the Bishop's Cabinet.”

One of Howle's initiatives in his time at St. John's is the 9:02 service. As advertised, the service begins at 9:02 a.m. each Sunday, and church member Midge Rothrock said the service is a contemporary one that finds ways to engage the youth of the congregation.

Rothrock and Williamson said the service includes a praise band, singing and other factors that encourage children to attend.

“He really is a visionary, and showed his forward-thinking when he incorporated the 9:02 service,” Rothrock said.

In addition to the service, Rothrock said Howle's other contributions include assembling a diverse staff at the church and his history of bringing people into the ministry.

His positive impact has extended well beyond the church, Rothrock said.

“When my husband died, he was right by my side through the whole ordeal,” she added. “He was there for the entire family, and I can't thank him enough for that. He's just an extraordinary counselor.”

Derrek Asberry is a beat reporter with the Aiken Standard. He joined the paper in June. He is originally from Vidalia, Ga., and a graduate of Georgia Southern University.