This story has been in the making more than 55 years and I will share with you the exciting continuing saga as up to date as this day, but first a bit of background.
When I was a junior at Bob Jones University, preparing for ministry, a call came to Dr. Stenholm, the director of the “Preacher Boys’ class” from a pastor in Coatesville, Indiana, Malcolm Neier of Coatesville Missionary Baptist Church, for a Bible major who wanted to work through the summer “directing” a youth camp the Pastor Neier had started on part of his farm property with a small lake for swimming, a shelter for meetings and some modest cabins. This was, of course, in the mid-60’s before the Cadillac camps begun to spring up around the various regions, so church camps were pretty simple by today’s standards, but Pastor Neier loved children and had a burden to provide a week of camp in the summer for area boys and girls where they could have fun, enjoy some good farm food (cooked by his wife, Ruby Neier) and learn Bible lessons with life applications. I heard about the opportunity, enquired and pronto was accepted as “Camp Director” of Camp Winmore (win more boys and girls for Christ) though I had never directed anything in my life! I was excited for the opportunity and could never forget the first time I drove my new ’64 Volkswagen bug, complete with a “GOLDWATER FOR PRESIDENT” bumper sticker on the rear bumper, into the farmhouse driveway to meet Malcom, Ruby and their three teenage children, Noble, Russ and Ann Neier would would become my family for about 10 weeks before going back to BJU for my senior year.
It was a wonderful summer with several weeks of camping, lots of good times, opportunities to preach a time for two in the Coatesville Missionary Baptist Church, special times in the Word with junior-age boys and girls from area churches, delicious home cooking served up by Mrs. Neier who was like a “Mom” to me for the summer, keeping my laundry done and making me feel like I was indeed “family.” I returned to BJU with a purpose and desire to serve the next summer if needed before my wedding day in mid-August of 1965 to the most beautiful girl on the face of God’s earth, a Blue-Ridge Mountain Beauty named Ellen Beshears.
I did return the next summer and we all had another good 10 weeks or so welcoming campers to the Winmore campground where there was great fun, great food and Indianapolis 500 reruns before bedtime on Friday nights. Pastor Neier wore many hats. He was a farmer, sold Royal (electric!) type writers in Indianapolis, gave Supervision of the camp ministry, pastored the Coatesville Church and enjoyed watching reruns of the Indy 500! I was not a big race fan, but I did listen to it when returning home from school which, back in those days, was usually the last of May, and in the mid-60’s the 500 Indy race was always run-on Memorial Day, and in that era, it was always on Monday. So, I forged a life-long friendship with Malcom and Ruby Neier and family. In fact, when Ellen and I were married August 14, 1965, Malcom and Ruby made the trip to North Wilkesboro, NC, and Pastor Neier officiated at our beautiful white chapel summer wedding at the foot of the beautiful Blue Ridge mountains. That first summer working at Camp Winmore enabled me to earn enough money to purchase, with the generous discount my jeweler brother-in-law, Tom Wilson, was able to arrange for me, a dazzling engagement ring!
Well, after graduation, I spent another half-dozen years studying for ministry in two seminaries before becoming a pastor in Wichita, Kansas, then eventually assuming the senior pastorate of the Thompson Road Baptist Church in Indianapolis, Indiana. I pretty much lost touch with the Neiers, though we did bump into each other at conferences or meetings, but both they and we were intensely involved in our ministries and just were not close because of other demands upon our time.
I resigned the Thompson Road Baptist Church pastorate in the fall of 2019 completing a 40-year tenure there and enlisted with Gospel Fellowship Association of Greenville, SC in their Interim Pastor Ministry while remaining at Thompson Road Baptist Church as Pastor Emeritus with an office there in an out of the way place where I could still study and write. It was about that time that Ellen was diagnosed with gall-bladder cancer and within an 18-month span underwent three surgeries, requiring quite a lot of time to recoup her strength necessitating that I stay fairly close to Indianapolis should an interim pastorate opportunity open up. And it did open up! The Coatesville Missionary Baptist Church, located about 45 minutes due west of our home in Indianapolis, was seeking God’s will about a man to serve as an interim pastor following the 26-year ministry of Pastor Kevin Gaughler who, with his wife, needed to move to northern Indiana to be closed to aging parents who needed some assistance. I heard of the need, enquired and was extended a call from the CMBC to serve as interim pastor while they continued their search for a full-time pastor. They had several inquiries but had not yet found a match so, since I could make the drive to and from the church without wearing out my surgery-weakened wife unduly, I accepted. That was in May of 2020. We had to “lock down” everything because of Covid-19 but as soon as possible we opened back up for services, and our faithful God has kept the doors open, the lights shining brightly, and heated and cooled air as needed in the 150-year-old church in the middle of this small farming community town.
A week or so before Christmas in 2020 a pastor and his wife visited our Sunday morning service at Coatesville. I recognized the pastor immediately because he had been a teenager in a church, I pastored in Kansas 45 years ago. Brian Harr married a girl from the Coatesville area, and it so happened that this girl, saved as a child in our CMBC church, baptized, joined in marriage in this little historic church to Brian Harr with Pastor Malcolm Neier officiating, had come home to visit her family with her pastor-husband over the Christmas holidays. Brian and I had a happy reunion reminiscing briefly about our days in Newton, Kansas where, in the Liberty Baptist Church, a new church plant that I was pastoring, his father was an elder and his mother the pianist. Before we parted that day I said, casually, “Brian, this church needs a full-time pastor. Pray about it,” thinking I would probably never hear back from him about that! But, about six weeks later, unexpectedly, Brian Harr called and said, “Julie and I have been praying about the church in Coatesville and its need of a pastor, and we feel the Lord may be leading us there.” Well, after more prayed and counsel, Brian made it known that he and his wife were convinced that God was in it and he was prepared to “candidate” for the pulpit, which he did and whereupon the church extended to him a call to come as pastor by a unanimous vote. It was about that time that I heard that Mrs. Harr, Julie, had prayed as a child in the Coatesville Church that God would allow her to marry a pastor and that if possible he would one day pastor the Coatesville Missionary Baptist Church! God answers prayer! God answers the simple, sweet prayers of children who love Him and want to serve him.
Two weeks ago, Ruby Neier, a mom to me for two summers when I was “Camp Director” at Winmore on the Neier’s farm on the edge of Coatesville, at the age of 96, was in our morning service, looking much like she did 55 years ago with a broad smile and beautiful Godly countenance and God graciously permitted me the opportunity to minister to her that day, and to Ann and her husband. Pastor Harr will assume his responsibilities at the Coatesville Missionary Baptist Church Sunday, May 16. Only God could have engineered all of this and I share the story with you for your encouragement and rejoicing with us!