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‘You can’t grow the church if you don’t stay’

Two South Carolina ministers still preach for the congregations that hired them half a century ago.
In 1959, I.V. White left his job at the Packard Motor Car Co. in Detroit and moved to Abbeville, S.C., to preach.
The small Church of Christ promised him $5 a week, but it took the congregation some time to deliver on that promise, he recalled.
That same year, 193 miles away in Charleston, S.C., another small Church of Christ hired Frank McElveen as its minister.
Half a century later, White, 80, and McElveen, 70, still preach from the same pulpits.
White was honored recently at the Haigler Street church in Abbeville, a tiny hamlet in the northwestern corner of the state. McElveen’s celebration will come later, in conjunction with the installation of a new pulpit minister at the Azalea Drive church in the historic port city of Charleston.
Despite the hits and hurts that accompany ministry, both men said they believe longevity is a critical component of church growth.
“You can’t grow the church if you don’t stay,” said McElveen, a 1957 graduate of the National Christian Institute, a preacher-training institute in Nashville. “You need time to get familiar with the members and be able to make friends with people in the community.”
White, who described himself as “an old-fashioned preacher — a country boy,” agreed.  
“People that move a lot never accomplish very much. They’re always starting over,” White said. “It takes a good while to get people to do what they need to do.”
Although their churches are about three hours apart, White and McElveen stay in touch, offering each other advice and encouragement.
Their wives, Rebecca White and Golda McElveen, have become close friends, too, White said
Their friendship began years ago when they established a congregation in Everton, Ga.
Since then, they have hosted gospel meetings throughout the Southeast. One preaches while the other teaches Bible classes or does campaign work.
In their first years in South Carolina, such speaking engagements were a much-needed source of income for the young ministers, who often had to find additional employment to support their families while they served their congregations.
When I.V. White arrived in Abbeville, the church had only a few members — and only one of them was male, his wife said. On Sunday mornings the young minister served as preacher and song leader, led prayers, served the Lord’s Supper and took up the collection. He also cleaned the church building and mowed the grass.
“He still cuts the grass today,” Rebecca White said. “If you were to go by and see him cutting the grass, you’d hear him singing. He loves to sing.”
In the early days, “we did suffer and sacrifice a great deal,” I.V. White said. “But the Lord blessed me and the church, and we grew up together.”
The Haigler Street church now has an average Sunday attendance of about 200, White said. The congregation meets in a $2 million facility on an 11-acre property. White and fellow members have helped plant 11 churches across South Carolina and Georgia. Using state and federal feeding programs, the church has made a commitment to its region, maintaining an extensive feeding program for thousands of needy people.
But for White, the high point of his long preaching career isn’t construction projects, church plants or numerical growth. The minister’s greatest joy is watching people grow spiritually.
“I’ve seen people who couldn’t make it home with their paycheck become a stable Christian, a good husband and a father who sends his kids to college,” White said.
At the Azalea Drive church in Charleston, which averages 500 in attendance, McElveen and other members have baptized more than 100 people annually in recent years. One year 184 people were converted. McElveen also produces a daily gospel television program.
Barry Gilliam, an assistant minister for Azalea Drive, has known McElveen for more than 30 years. The senior minister “has taught me how to share with others how the Lord has blessed me,” Gilliam said.
“He is an outstanding, phenomenal man who has stuck with us at Azalea Drive,” Gilliam said. “He has done all he could do to keep our congregation together. When something came up, he would deal with it in a straightforward way … but in such a way that all the people involved would respect him afterward.”
 McElveen credited his mentor, renowned African-American minister Marshall Keeble, for teaching him meekness and love for others.
“All churches have problems, but humility and loving people help you work through the problems and be able to move on,” he said.
In reflecting on half a century of ministry behind the same pulpit, White and McElveen stressed the need for personal integrity and patience.
“It takes living a life that is above reproach — I’m not saying a sinless life, but such that people cannot accuse you of being unfair and hypocritical,” McElveen said.
White said, “You can’t jump on people and stomp them into the ground every time they make a mistake. You need to remember how God has treated you.”
The transition for McElveen’s retirement from the Azalea Drive pulpit began in earnest two years ago when the church hired someone to take his place.
That didn’t work out, and the congregation is in the process of hiring a successor once again.
Meanwhile, the congregation has named McElveen its “minister emeritus.” He said he’s looking forward to the less-stressful responsibilities that will — eventually — accompany the title.
In Abbeville, the banquet hosted by the Haigler Street honored White’s 50 years of service to the congregation. But it wasn’t a retirement dinner, White said.
“They don’t want me to quit, and they get upset when I talk about it,” he said.

  • Feedback
    This is a good article. It shows the churches can work with good preachers and overcome periodical adversity.
    Kevin Bethea
    Baltimore, Maryland
    October, 3 2009

Filed under: People

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