Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Recognizing Those Who Walked Before Us

Enoch E. Byrum, minister, editor, administrator, praying for the sick.

Donald Ray Barnes of Girard, IL is a layman with a great love for his former pastor and friend, R. Ruthven Neff. Now retired in Bluford, IL. Neff was a fixture for many years on the church scene, and well known throughout the earlier years of my career. In fact, he returned from pastoral life in Logansport to Anderson College to complete his undergraduate work while I was beginning my college years.

Ruthven Neff was converted at the age of 18 at a Youth Convention in Akron, Ohio (9-13-30). He served as a music director for Evangelist E. I Everhart in Ohio and Western Pennsylvania throughout 1931-33. In July-August of 1933 the two men conducted a tent meeting that launched the new Madisonville congregation in Cincinnati. With that, he enrolled at AC as a music major (2-24-34).

The young music student preached his first sermon at the Anderson Way-side Cross Mission on February 16th of that year and in October assumed the role of 1st Tenor in the new Gospel Trumpet Male Quartet known as “The Radio Trumpeteers.”

Neff continued with his education and ministry, serving as Senior Pastor of nine congregations in Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, and Missouri, in addition to an Associate Position and traveling as a song evangelist. Eventually, he did interim ministries with thirteen different congregations, fulfilling sixty-five years of ministry.

Some of my best friends are preachers. I find them interesting and multi-faceted; Neff was no exception. He built 2 parsonages, 2 Gyms, and 5 church buildings. While supervising construction, he often did the brick-work, and he built the furniture and kitchen cabinet for the Bluford church, starting his last church at 81 years of age.

He wrote as a Contributing Editor to our national church magazine, “Vital Christianity,” and wrote adult curriculum. The General Assembly elected him 3 times to the National Board of Pensions, and he held numerous State offices, serving a term as Editor of the Ohio State Paper. He led the Ohio State (OSU) Chapter of Warner Fellowship, performed all manner of duties from Emergency Room Chaplain in Springfield, IL, to ministering in the correctional facilities, working with Billy Graham and Leighton Ford Crusades in Columbus, OH and Springfield, IL … not to mention accumulating credits at Ohio State in Marriage Counseling while doing extensive marriage counseling.

Don Barnes compiled an extensive summary of the ministry of R. Ruthven Neff, which I will pass on to Vivian Nieman for filing at our AU Archive, home of a substantial body of Movement Memorabilia and History.

Neff reminds me of my deceased friend R. E. Bowden. I kept Robert Bowden‘s business card clipped to my bathroom mirror during my final years of pastoring. He printed his card acknowledging 50 years in ministry, but he continued to serve. Finally, he drew a diagonal line across 50 with his pen and carefully inserted the number 65--still doing things few others would attempt.

These men inspire me. They call me back to the truth that there is always something I can yet contribute, that the call from God has no real retirement date. Bowden left this scene of action approaching the century mark. At the upper right, you see a scene I attended in 1939--Warner Memoral Camp Meeting, Grand Junction, MI--where the elderly E. E. Byrum did what he always did--pray for people's healing.

Barnes adds this note regarding Neff: “since retiring from being the pastor of the Bluford church, Ruthven Neff preached several times as the guest preacher at Benton, Mt. Vernon, West Frankfort Camp Meeting, and Bluford. His last and most recent sermon was preached at Bluford on September 13, 2009, at the age of 97 years.”

I find it easier to appreciate such retirees as I write from Warner’s World at this stage of my life. More than ever, I realize the value of keeping these battle-scarred veterans on the action track. We need their example, their fortitude, and their inspiration. They beckon us to stand taller and to become better than we could be without them--our best selves.

That’s the way I see it and this is


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