Rev. John Farmer’s ‘Reflections’ column

by Rev. John H. Farmer

Visit the Irvington Baptist Church website

There’s a Church Down the Road

I am often surprised by how the paths of Christians cross and mingle over the years. Years now spent, I frequently broke bread with a fine octogenarian couple.

They were great supporters of our church and were our good friends for years. The late Maxie and J.C. Hutchinson were local folks, who met, fell in love, raised three daughters and spent a business career in northern Virginia prior to returning home and building a house on the lower Rappahannock.

Although they were back, they were not home. Their Broaddus childhood home, where she and her sister Margaret had grown up, was later the home of the Rev. and Mrs. Tom Coye, who moved to Kilmarnock some years ago. Maxie never quite got that special feeling of home on the river. So, when property in town on Carter Creek became available, they jumped at it. Maxie celebrated by having a heart attack, leaving Hutch, the daughters and the new pastor to do the moving. When she was discharged from RGH, she was already moved back to Irvington.

In Northern Virginia, the Hutchinsons had been members of the Clarendon Baptist Church, Arlington. Also in that fellowship was one of the daughters of the late Dr. R.G. Lee. He was a legend out in far west Tennessee where I had twice been called to pastor.

Robert Green Lee (1886-1978) was a South Carolina boy who grew up, mounted the pulpit and came to fame as the beloved pastor of the Bellevue Baptist Church (1927-1960), Memphis, Tenn.

Dr. R.G. Lee’s daughter, a prominent Virginia Baptist, was speaking to the students, faculty and guests at Union University, Jackson, Tenn., in the early 1980s. The preacher’s daughter (then of Clarendon Church) talked about her dad calling his books his friends and how, when he would catch the children leaving a book outside, or folding back its covers, he would draw from around his neck a starched collar and stripe their backsides. She caused a flurry of interest when she mentioned that her dad did not trust banks. He kept his money in his books. Since she was there for the dedication of the Union library and the presentation of Dr. Lee’s books and papers, you might imagine the run on the library. Perhaps they strayed upon a lesson, a truth, or a story that captured their imagination while looking for money.

Although Dr. Lee was a graduate of Furman University, the Chicago School of Law, pastored over 15 churches, wrote 47 books and traveled millions of preaching miles, he is best known for one address—“Payday Someday.” So powerful was its message and timely it’s warning that Lee was asked to preach it over and over again. In fact his biographers say that he preached it over a thousand times. It is now also on videotape and YouTube.

A society that continues to corrupt, a nation that has lost its identity, a people who call themselves Christian, could do worse than pick up a copy of that sermon and heed its message.  Whatever we get, we pay for—eventually.

Dr. Lee lived to a ripe old age and with great humor called attention to his longevity. Yet, he left these words for us to ponder: “But, after all, it is not how long people live, but how much they live that matters most. Life is not measured or evaluated by birth dates, but by deeds.

We live in deeds, not years, in thoughts, not breaths, in feelings, not in figures on a dial, nor calendar pages. We should count time by heartthrobs.  He lives longest who lives the noblest, acts the best—lives more in weeks than years, more than do some whose fat blood sleeps as it creeps throughout their veins.”

It’s sad to realize that it will be our grandchildren who pay the price for our generation’s moral ineptitude. But somebody has to pay. We’ve no idea how long we’ll be here; but, we could sharpen our presence, friends. We could lessen the debt, couldn’t we?

Now, about further mingled footsteps… my eldest child, pastor Robert Lee Farmer (Coan Baptist Church), studied at the new John Leland Seminary (Northern Virginia). Leland (1754-1841) was “the most prominent Virginia Baptist preacher at the time of the Revolution and an intractable supporter of religious freedom.” He was a Massachusetts pastor who came to Virginia ministering in the Culpeper area, baptizing over 1,200 folks. He returned to New England in 1792. Leland preached thousands of sermons. Musically gifted, he wrote over 21 hymns.

Back in the 1990s the John Leland Seminary moved into the educational building of Clarendon Baptist Church. They have since moved again. Our son had a classmate there with local roots as well. Dan Ficklin (the son of Pat and Dorsey), who now pastors a North Carolina Baptist Church was also a student at Leland. At some level both lads are recipients of the stewardship of our former dinner guests, the Hutchinsons, at both Clarendon and Irvington—small world isn’t it?

The younger pastors, Farmer and Ficklin, have a lot in common, beyond their love of the Northern Neck. They are both late to the ministry, musically gifted and able pulpiteers. Along with John Leland and Dr. R.G. Lee.

There’s a church down the road from every house where we could worship this week. Who knows what a difference it can make in God’s future churches? We will be called to account. There is a payday someday.