Charles A. Moore, pastor of Warfield Baptist Church in Brunswick County of Southside Virginia, is a long-timer in pastoral ministry who admits, “Like they say in the country, I am working the short row now.”
On Sept. 15, Warfield Baptist Church will celebrate homecoming and Moore’s 60th anniversary as pastor. It is an achievement for the record books, but Moore states, “The record was not my goal.”
Some years ago this columnist did a study of long-time pastorates among Virginia Baptists and found only two who continued past 50 years in the same church, with one who reached 55 years. Moore has established a record at 60.
But there is far more than just longevity which is remarkable about Moore’s pastorate at Warfield. His predecessors served Warfield while on a three- or four-church field. Some scoffed that Warfield could not survive and should be closed. In 1953 Richard Jones was serving on a field of churches and managed to add Warfield. When he became ill, Moore was asked to supply until Jones could return. When it was realized that Jones could not return, Moore agreed to serve a year — what he calls a “probationary period” — and he has been there ever since.
When he began Moore was 20 years of age. He had graduated from Lawrenceville (Va.) High School in 1949 and never had the opportunity of higher education. He began working in a small department store in Lawrenceville.
Moore had grown up in the farming country around Broadnax in Brunswick County, where he attended Sanford Memorial Baptist Church. His pastor, Gene Brewer, took an interest in Moore and passed along college texts from a correspondence course. Josie Dean Cumbia, his Sunday school teacher, also was an influence.
Working in Lawrenceville, he became involved in Lawrenceville Baptist Church where the pastor, William Rhodenhiser, who became a legendary professor of religion at the University of Richmond, shared books with the promising young man. Moore became active in the BYPU at Lawrenceville. He recalls that one Saturday, Rhodenhiser called him to say that he couldn’t be at church on Sunday and asked if he would speak. Moore reflects: “He opened doors for me and I had the opportunity to speak at several churches in the area. I sort of eased into the ministry. I read a lot and I still study a lot.”
With a new pastor in September 1953, Warfield was on its own. Moore reflects that the church was “a lone ranger” — not really big enough to support a full-time pastor yet on its own and no longer sharing a pastor. Another alternative in those years was to use ministerial students from the University of Richmond. Moore began as a bi-vocational pastor, entirely understandable since the church could only pay $25 a month in 1953. He felt that the church needed a pastor, that he needed to preach and minister, and that he must follow the Lord’s calling. Frankly, nothing ever changed about that equation.
Yet plenty changed at the church. It has come from a small one-room house of worship in great disrepair to a facility “second to none.” Educational space, and eventually restrooms, was added. A social hall was constructed. Along the way, much of the construction labor was done by the members. Businesses in the community offered assistance. Six decades later, the church membership is about double what it was when Moore came despite the fact that, naturally, across the years he has officiated at funerals of most of the members who were there when he arrived.
For most of his pastorate Moore supported his family through selling group insurance. He built a large clientele. The church increased its support as it was able: From $25 to $50 and by 1969 to $100. Ten years later, Moore was able to go part-time with the insurance and devote more attention to the church.
Moore identified with the people both by being one of them as well as having being bi-vocational. He felt that working beyond the church gave him something in common with most of the congregation. They worked 40-hour weeks, just as he did, so Moore reckoned that “they couldn’t be any more tired on Sunday mornings than I am.” No excuses. “It put me on an equal footing, on level ground.”
It was not that he couldn’t have left. In 1969 there was a possible call to another church. He was considering the invitation, and at breakfast on the day when he was to give his answer, his wife, Josy, addressed the issue pointedly. She said: “I am a member of Warfield Baptist Church. You are my pastor. Aside from financial reasons, tell me, preacher, why are you going to leave?” He remembered that he could not think of “one good reason except for selfish ones” and so he told her that he was not about to leave the church and he didn’t. “I am convinced I am where I am supposed to be.”
In the early 1980s he represented his district association on the Virginia Baptist General (now Mission) Board and became chairman for the area concerned with Sunday schools. “There I was from one of the smallest churches in the state yet I was chairman of a board committee. I thought the four years with the board was a great experience and wish all Baptists could have that experience. If you want to see democracy in action and fairness at play you will find it on the state Baptist board.”
He possesses a pastor’s heart. “I love my people. Whatever the need is, you go and deal with it. That’s what I have enjoyed doing … working with them and even being a shoulder available to cry on. It’s music to my ears to walk into a situation and somebody says, ‘How do you manage to be here at the right time?’”
He maintains that preaching is the “fun part of it.” “I learned that you shouldn’t be too longwinded but sometimes break down a sermon into two or three parts for several Sundays. You don’t take a load of hay and dump it at one time.”
At 80 and despite recent health concerns, Charles Moore still maintains the sense of call, the motivation and the enthusiasm of earlier years. Yet he admits that he is “working the short row,” which encourages reflection in the present and promises rest someday.
Fred Anderson ([email protected]) is executive director of the Virginia Baptist Historical Society and the Center for Baptist Heritage and Studies.