Rev. John Kees waves goodbye as his hot air balloon lifts into the air. Rev. Kees took the ride Wednesday to celebrate his retirement after 20 years at the United Methodist Church in West Middlesex.

For his retirement sendoff, the Rev. John Kees decided he wanted to float away from the town he’s called home for two decades in a hot air balloon.

“It just seemed like a wonderfully exciting way to wave farewell to West Middlesex and the congregation here,” said Rev. Kees.

While flying in a hot air balloon, Rev. Kees said, the pilot controls the altitude, but “the wind decides where you’re going to go.”

It’s a poetic end to a career in which the United Methodist bishop 20 times in a row appointed Rev. Kees to serve the same church.

That’s an unusually long run for the denomination, said Rev. Kees. Parishioner Virginia Barris said he holds the longest tenure in the history of the church, which itself is more than 150 years old.

The balloon ride was supposed to happen after a picnic Sunday, his last day preaching at the United Methodist Church in West Middlesex, but high wind grounded the plans. The pastor took flight on Wednesday instead.

Rev. Kees, 65, said he’s fascinated by hot air balloons and has been on one ride before — at a fiesta in Albuquerque, N.M., where he and his wife Pamela, who joined him in her first balloon ride, are moving to be closer to their family.

He was inspired by a balloon ride Mrs. Barris had a few years ago to celebrate her birthday, he said.

The Keeses’ ride was made possible by balloon owner and pilot John Moran of Kinsman, said Mrs. Barris. He does it as a hobby.

Born in Nantyglo, Pa., to a United Methodist pastor, Rev. Kees mainly grew up in the Pittsburgh area. Working in the small town of West Middlesex has been a “great privilege,” he said, and he and his family enjoyed the quiet setting over the years.

“The congregation has been just wonderful, warm and patient and tolerant of me,” Rev. Keys said of his time in West Middlesex.

The new pastor, the Rev. James Kimmel is from Indiana, Pa., and will start in a couple weeks, Mrs. Barris said.

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