Thankful for Faithful Pastors
I can’t help but note that All Saints Day (Nov. 1) follows after Pastors Appreciation Month. (Yes, I realize that the two special occasions are not historically related.) All Saints Day is an ancient tradition within many denominations when Christians pause to thank God for the rich and goodly heritage they have inherited from those faithful men and women who have gone to be with the Lord and now rest from their labors. These faithful ones are a part of that “great cloud of witnesses” who’s testimony of God’s grace strengthens us as we walk with Christ. And, Pastor’s Appreciation Month is a modern invention meant to give an occasion to appreciate those who’ve pastored and helped us in our Christian journey. It’s the connection between these two occasions, intentional or not, that has led me to write.
Our congregation (Chester ARP Church) has had ten pastors before me. God has used all of them —from R.W. Brice to Dwight Pearson — to testify to his great grace, glory, and goodness. They have preached memorable sermons, prayed fervent prayers, pursued lost sheep, offered a helping hand or kind word. They have been constant presences in our daily lives. Their kind rebukes, challenging messages, and words of wisdom have come at just the right time in our lives, as well as that of our congregation. And, perhaps most amazingly, they’ve stood in the gap for us and kept believing in God on our behalf when we couldn’t bring ourselves to exercise our faith because the times were too tough. Regarding these pastors, one of our congregation’s historians, Esther Strong, once wrote, “Throughout the one hundred years of our church’s history, our pastors and officers have consistently sought to put the chief mission of the church at the core of its program and to translate their faith into Christian living.”
And so, I write to remind us of God’s blessed provision of faithful pastors and to give us reason to praise him for their good service to our congregation. I thank God for these men who’ve been stalwarts of biblical religion and who’ve led us well as we’ve followed after Christ. Nine of them have already received their eternal reward, and the tenth is sure to be richly blessed with his crown of righteousness in the future. Join me in thanking God for them.
- Rev. R.W. Brice (1869-1875) — As our founding minister, Rev. RW Brice served our congregation as a supply pastor by holding services every three weeks from July, 1869 until December, 1875, a total of six and one-half years. He came from his home on Great Falls road, probably on horseback, “through mud and dust, through heat and cold, and was regular and prompt. He dug deep and laid the foundation on which later pastors built.” Incredibly, he remained the pastor of our mother congregation, Hopewell ARP Church, the entire time he served ours.
- Rev. John Preston Marion (1876-1882) — Under Rev. Marion’s and the session’s leadership, our young church became involved in the programs of Presbytery and Synod and moved into the mainstream of civic and religious activities of our community. Very soon the church was taking its share of union services and of other cooperative activities in the town and country. He was our first full-time pastor and the overseer of the building of our first sanctuary, located at 132 Center Street.
- Rev. Mason Wiley Pressly (1882-1886) —For nearly four years the young pastor led our congregation energetically, and the church made real progress. Chief among this progress was the transition from “closed communion” to “open communion” during the congregation’s communion seasons, which began on a Thursday afternoon and finished on Sunday evening. This meant that baptized members of other, non-ARP congregations could enjoy the blessings of communion with the members of our congregation.
- Rev. James Strong Moffat (1887-1906) — By all accounts, Rev. Moffatt was one of the most loved ministers in our congregation’s history. He is most remembered for his evangelistic zeal and hard work as a pastor. Our church’s evangelistic zeal extended to all in need of the Gospel, from traveling men and cotton buyers in the hotel on the hill to employees of Catawba Mill. When Rev. Moffat failed to entice the traveling men in the hotel into the church on the Lord’s Day, he took the church to them. For some time, he held Sabbath (Sunday) afternoon services on the hill as the men sat in chairs in front of the hotel.
- Rev. Charles Edgar McDonald (1907-1909) —Rev. McDonald died while serving as our pastor. Though he was only able to give us two years as a full-time pastor, he was greatly loved by our congregation and had a tremendous impact on our congregational life. Between the pastorates of Revs. Marion and Pressly, he served as our supply preacher. He also ministered to our congregation multiple times through the 25 years between his first supply work in 1882 and his pastorate in 1907. He was greatly loved because he gave generously of himself, his time, and his many talents to the congregation and the community.
- Rev. David Gardner Philips (1909-1922) — Rev. Phillips cared deeply for our congregation and we, in turn, cared deeply for him. At the conclusion of his pastorate, the Session reportedly accepted his resignation with deep regret, for he was a “very excellent preacher and pastor and one with whom relations had been most pleasant.” During his tenure, evangelism in the Chester community was a constant priority for us as we participated in Synod’s evangelistic and kingdom advancing efforts while taking part in and hosting multiple evangelistic meetings/outreaches in Chester. Dr. Philipps was a “friend to everyone he met, high and low, rich and poor, white and black, and always had a word of cheer and inspiration.”
- Rev. Paul Adam Pressly (1923-1936) — In addition to theology, Rev. Pressly was interested in education, and his ministry proved it. He led our congregation in the expansion of our Christian Education ministry to include a space and curriculum for our children to receive specific instruction in biblical truths. Our current educational building, a monthly children’s sermon, and a children’s choir were all established during his pastorate. He was also in much demand as a preacher. One news report states, “He preached the unsearchable riches with splendor of utterance, gentleness of tongue, and spiritual interpretation which stood him out as a Saul, head and shoulders above his brethren.”
- Rev. Joseph Lee Grier (1936-1949) — Rev. Grier led our congregation through the tumultuous days of the recovery from the Great Depression, the preparation for WWII, the war itself. It was a period of extensive and intensive activity, but Rev. Grier remained steadfast in his faith and quiet leadership. He maintained the evangelistic and Christian discipleship emphases that had come to define us in the early days of the 20th century. Regarding the Lord’s work through these emphases within our congregation, a visiting ARP minister once observed, “The influence of this church in moulding a life and determining a philosophy and forming a concept of what true Christianity is would be hard to overestimate.”
- Rev. Arthur Murray Rogers (1950-1965) — Rev. Rogers was skilled in the gift of administration and guided our congregation to organize its various ministries more efficiently. Under his leadership, many of the discipleship ministries took the form that we know today. There was an active men’s and women’s ministry as well as a well-assembled Sabbath School program. Dr. Rogers also took great care to continue the Reformed tradition of preaching well-reasoned sermons.
- Rev. Dwight Lafayette Pearson (1965-2003) — There is no mistaking that Rev. Pearson is a pastor’s pastor. As such, he cared for our congregation extremely well from the pulpit and in our homes while serving us longer than any other pastor in our one hundred fifty-two year history. Under his thirty-eight years of leadership, our congregation continued its emphasis on Christian discipleship and reclaimed its mission of sharing the good news of Christ at home and abroad. Rev. Pearson guided us to remain faithful to the historical and evangelical religion of the Bible while also being loyal to one another, to our local congregation, to our presbytery, and to the Synod.
We have indeed received a rich heritage and experienced God’s great blessing individually and as a congregation. What a gift these men are to Chester ARP! May God be praised.
Soli Deo Gloria