Four Mile Presbyterian Church
6078 Tuscarawas Road
Ohioville Borough, Beaver County, Pennsylvania 15009

Part II

The Pastorate Of Dr. Ray McCreight
September 29, 1945 - December 31, 1985

My purpose in writing the story of the forty years as pastor of the Four Mile United Presbyterian Church, is to recount not only the history of this period but to write about the spirit of the people who were so special and how beautiful was the love within their hearts which was unlike anything I have ever experienced.

I would like to write in the first person, not to call attention to me but because it is only in so doing that I can communicate to you the reader, the continued story of a little church which was organized on the first Sabbath of July, 1812.

Between the muddy Missouri and the mighty Mississippi, in the rolling hills of southern Iowa, I grew up on a one hundred sixty acre farm, three miles north of town. It was during the Great Depression. We rented our farm and owned very little of this world's goods.

But we were happy! Walking six miles to and from school did not seem like a hardship. Perhaps we were happier in those days because we were forced to make our own entertainment, using a child's wild imagination.

In the eighth grade, we studied Iowa history. Our little town of five hundred was first settled by a man from Clearfield, Pennsylvania who named our small midwestern town after his home town back East.

Growing up on the farm was the ideal background for the ministry. Attending a small high school with thirty six in my class, the largest class ever to graduate from our school, and studying for my college degree in a small United Presbyterian College in Tarkio, Missouri, were also very important in preparation for the ministry. In these small schools, I was able to establish a close relationship with each teacher and this was priceless. I doubt if I would have had the joy of becoming a pastor of a church like Four Mile, had it not been for the Holy Spirit providing these great opportunities through close relationships with teachers and professors who were interested in each of us and always willing to work on a "person to person" basis. The help with our studies, they gave us, was perhaps not as important as their guidance in helping us discover what we should do with our lives. As the result of their personal interest, their ability to motivate and challenge us, I was able to grow from a "daydreaming, C/D student," in high school to an honor graduate from college. Had I attended a large school, I would have drifted along and maybe amounted to nothing.

Preachers are always emphasizing the power of the Holy Spirit. I witness to this truth. In my sophmore year in high school, "things began to happen." There can be no other explanation but that the Holy Spirit was guiding me and enabling me to do things I would never have thought of doing.

I was the youngest of six children, the only one born in a hospital, Creston, Iowa. Although life on the farm was very quiet, I loved every minute of it. When you study the great characters of the Biblical History, you discover that most of them spent time in the quiet places of life before God called them to do His work. Moses spent years on the backside of the desert, not realizing at the time that he was being prepared for the Lord's call which came to him in the experience of the Burning Bush which was not consumed by fire.

Living on the farm is a lonely experience. But because I spent so much time alone, cultivating corn on a hot summer afternoon, the cultivator pulled by a team of horses, or driving the tractor on my uncle's farm near Sterling, Kansas, at the time of the wheat harvest, I had a lot of time to think. There is something wonderful about spending time in a quiet place. Sometimes the only way that God can get through to us is in the "quiet of life." Such was the experience of Elijah when he heard the Lord, not in the thunder or lightning, or the "wind which rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, or the earthquake or the fire, but in a still small voice."

God spoke! Everyone knew what He was saying but me. My friends at home and in Tarkio would always say, "you are going to be a minister." A Methodist minister who had considerable influence on my life said to me one day, "I will never be satisfied until I hear that you have entered the ministry." I drifted into seminary. But four years after being the minister at Four Mile, I suddenly realized that I would be AWOL with the Lord if I were to quit. The road I had traveled had actually been straight, and there had been a green light all the way.

A very important part of my preparation was to grow up in a Christian home with Godly parents, attending church twice a day on Sunday. To this day I think of returning home on Sunday night with the traditional supper of bread and milk, after church, about nine o'clock in the evening.

It is amazing how the direction of one's life can be changed by what at the time may seem very insignificant. In the fall of my senior year, 1944, I had been preaching at Elderton and Shallocta near Indiana, Pennsylvania. The area was beautiful and I began to dream of the joy of being the pastor of these churches in this rural area, bursting with the beautiful creations of nature. However, in early fall, the elders asked if I would be interested in candidating and become their minister. With little thought, I answered, "No, it would be too early; I should wait until spring." I knew that by that time, they would have called another minister. I dismissed any further thought of being the pastor of these churches.

One night in April, a student from Beaver, asked if anyone would be interested in preaching at a church called Four Mile, seven miles out of Beaver. I said, "I would." Little did I realize that I would spend forty years at this church, loving and being loved by the members of the congregation and community in what became an experience far, far, beyond that of which I had ever dreamed. At first, I told my friends I would be at Four Mile about two years and then I would look forward to a church in the city. I thought I loved, and was excited with the city. But with the coming of spring that first year, "I came to myself." I realized I never wanted any part of the city.

How true the old phrase, "You can take the boy off the farm, but you cannot take the farm out of the boy." I hated to work in the garden at home. Now I loved gardening. Each Sunday morning, there were several critics who looked long and hard to find some weeds.

I discovered that the secret to these warm friendly people was love. Not the love that dies with the first misunderstanding but a deep abiding love which can stand the stress which sooner or later is placed on a friendship.

It was the type of love which accepts the minister as one of the family. I was invited to dinner almost every night. In fact, I began to feel guilty. When I made a call after four o'clock in the afternoon, and the time came to go, the family on whom I had called would say, "Won't you stay for dinner?" These were great opportunities to develop close friendships with the people of the church. There is something about "Breaking bread together," which makes this possible. Did not Jesus accomplish much of his work as he "Sat at meal with his friends and the lost.

I was taken into the home of the congregation like a member of the family. I became the brother, the son, the uncle, and I thought to myself, "Is this really work?" As the years passed I, who at the age of twenty three, looked to the church as a place to "start," and then move on to bigger and better things, was so happy and thrilled that I kept saying to myself, "I hope they still want me, it would be so hard to leave."

Because I had plenty of time in those early days, I had a very close relationship with the young people. We met on Sunday evenings for worship and discussion. Every Monday evening, we went to the light operas at Pitt Stadium where we saw "Annie Get Your Gun," and during those early years almost every show that was popular. I never had any trouble finding parents to take a car load of youth. Often young people whose parents had a station wagon would say, "My dad, says you can drive his car to Pittsburgh." One day we went swimming in Erie and I accepted the offer of "Dad's Chrysler." I would have given anything to have had my forty-nine Ford because the front wheels wobbled all the way to Erie and back. We had "Fun Nights" every Thursday evening. Often I would invite the youth to the parsonage where they would take over the entire house, watching TV upstairs, playing pingpong in the basement, listening to records in the living room, while some of the girls made cheeseburgers in the kitchen.

During the week, when I would be driving home and stop behind a school bus, the Four Milers would get out of the bus and I would take them home often stopping at some youth's home to talk a few minutes.

Our parties were held in the back of the church; there was no basement. I could never take much credit for the youth program because I needed them as much as they needed a good pastor. They called me Uncle Ray, and this continued until retirement. I loved it. They filled a void in my life.

As I look back now, I wonder how I got by with some of the things we did without parents objecting to the late hours we kept. But that was another day. At eleven o'clock playing those old fashioned games in the back of the church on party night, I would say, "It is time to go home." They would answer, "Just one more game." I was as anxious to play that game as they. By the time I looked at my watch again, it would be twelve o'clock. At one party, New Year's Eve, we played "those games, until four o'clock in the morning.

As the years passed, the church grew, I became the administrator, the manager, no longer able to have the relationship with the youth I once had. It was still possible to be close to them because I taught the eighth grade young people in the Communicant's Class. At one time, we had one hundred and fifty youth attending regularly on a Sunday evening with twelve to fourteen leaders.

Love always makes a bigger circle. With the growth of the church, love continued to grow. One elder used to say that the congregation reflects the attitude of the minister. I would add to that, I reflected the attitude of the congregation, their love.

In an article written for the Beaver County Times, the author, a member of the congregation wrote, "His legacy of love remains." No greater compliment could be given me. But it is also a word of commendation for the congregation. The greatest love is that which is given and received and when it is received, it is given.

Our family experienced rare illnesses. I had my own time of darkness when I suffered from very serious depression and anxiety. One sometimes wonders why serious illness occurs. A Methodist minister wrote that if Joseph were being interviewed today and he were asked the question. "What is the worst thing that ever happened to you?" He would answer, "When I was thrown into the pit by my brother."

If he were then asked, "What is it which made you the famous person you have become, the governor of Egypt?" He would answer, "Being thrown into the pit by my brothers."

Similarly, it was our medical problems which enabled me to be a better pastor, because I understood. I understood problems of the blood, seizures, depression, anxiety and other sufferings from which members of the congregation might be having a very difficult time.

In the book, "The Wounded Healer," the author writes, "On the one hand, no minister can keep his own experience of life hidden from those he wants to help. Nor should he want to keep it hidden. While a doctor can still be a good doctor even when his private life has been disrupted, no minister can offer service without a constant and vital acknowledgement of his own experiences. One's own wounds become a source of healing."

Another reason why Four Mile was some place special was that the congregation accepted the fact that ministry is the work of ALL the people of God. No church can be so effective as that church which accepts ministry as the responsibility of the members of the congregation. We had the joy of contributing to the book, "Churches Alive." The author wrote on the subject of ministry as it should be, a sharing responsibility between pastor and congregation. The pastor is the "coach," not the star "quarterback;" he is the "conductor," not the "soloist." It is so important that we recapture this idea that ministry is the work of all people of God.

Sometimes ministers feel threatened, says the author. There are lay-persons who can do a better job than the preacher. There are other clergy who feel so fortunate to have this great talent in the church they serve.

To become a minister, I received nineteen years of academic education, plus graduate work. I received a Bachelor of Arts Degree from Tarkio College, a Bachelor of Divinity Degree from Pittsburgh-Xenia Theological Seminary which was later elevated to a Masters Degree, and an Honorary Doctor of Divinity Degree from Tarkio College.

After a short time, finally doing the work I was called to do, I realized my preparation for the ministry was lacking something which was indispensable to any success I hoped to achieve in my profession, and it could never be learned from books.

When you accept your first charge, you are out to save the world. You know it all! You have many programs and ideas which will make this church grow by leaps and bounds in a matter of time. But soon you become aware of how little you know. There are great lessons to be learned if you are ever to become an effective minister. You did not learn them in Seminary. You learn humility the hard way. Instead of thinking you can save the world, you begin to wonder if you can save anyone. You become aware of how little you really know which is indispensable to your ministry. But you learn, even though some of the lessons are learned the hard way.

The members of the congregation became my teachers. They criticized me, commended me, loved me, and encouraged me. I learned, but I made a lot of mistakes. What amazed me was that it was always my best friends who told me of a criticism they had heard. Perhaps those who love you the most cannot bear to see you criticized and will tell you what they have heard. Your first reaction is to want to run away. But if you do, you will always be running.

Those ministers who are always running will stay in a church three or four years. They make mistakes as all of us do. But instead of trying to correct those mistakes, they go to another church and make them all over again.

Whenever I would hear a criticism, especially in those early days, I would watch for the opportunity to make a call on the family which was natural and expected. I seldom called attention to the problem. What was absolutely unbelievable was that the calls were fun, everyone was very friendly and it was hard to believe that there was some misunderstanding or problem. However, the Holy Spirit was working, I learned. A closer relationship always developed between me and the family.

I remember one time when it was necessary to bring a misunderstanding out in the open. We discussed the problem for about an hour arid a half. I looked at the clock and saw that it was late afternoon, and I should leave. My friend said, "Won't you stay for dinner." I did, and through all the years I never had a closer, more loyal loved one.

Friendship has to be tested to become real. Until that time, it is like the righteousness of Adam and Eve. Their innocence did not mean a thing until it was tested. They failed the test. When friends have a misunderstanding, yet it does not effect the relationship between them, the friendship has stood the test. The relationship becomes closer, stronger, and never threatened by problems. Sad to say, there are some friends, whose relationship is superficial. It falls apart the first time there is a problem.

Such was the love at Four Mile. It was deep, abiding, loyal, reflecting sincere devotion.

One day, I came to the conclusion that if I had done anything worthwhile at the church I had served for forty years, it was the result of the tremendous support of the people who were always giving me loving encouragement and commendation. How could one fail to do his best when the Holy Spirit was using the people of the church to prayerfully support their pastor. Whatever I accomplished, the congregation, used of the Spirit, made it possible.

I was reminded of how Moses held up his hands when Israel was at war with Amalek. As long as Moses could hold up his hands, Israel won the battle. But Moses' hands became tired. Aaron and Hur supported his hands. With the going down of the sun, Israel had won. There are many Aarons and Hurs at Four Mile. With this congregation, I was able to do things I never dreamed of. The Holy Spirit moved in many ways through the members of the church. The pastor does not have a monopoly on the Spirit. The wise minister will be alert to this and blessed by it.

My job description in coming to Four Mile was to "mow the lawn." It seems that the former pastor did not mow the lawn except for a path to the mail box. I was told that when he went out to the mailbox, all you could see was his head over the top of the grass. The person who told me this did so with a straight face. I could hardly keep from bursting out laughing. I could see in my mind, this man going after the mail, his head moving over the top of the grass.

When I came, the lawn was in somewhat better condition. The neighbor's bull had been tied up out front, standing knee deep in grass, surely in his glory.

Since I came in 1945, all buildings have been replaced. In the spring of 1948, the Trustees received a bid to construct a basement under the church for $12,000. It was a very serious group of men who stood in the back corner of the sanctuary that Sunday afternoon, convinced that their grandchildren would be paying for this building project. Actually, the basement was paid for in a very short time.

The church grew rapidly. An educational unit was constructed at the front of the sanctuary. The sanctuary was renovated with a divided chancel. This project was completed in 1956.

Continued growth resulted in the construction of a brick educational unit parallel to the sanctuary, 1967. This included a beautiful study, church office, library, and a huge dining room. We had expert leadership. Although I sat in on some of the Building Committee meetings, it was not necessary for me to assume much responsibility. I was consulted about those matters which had to do directly with worship and Christian Education.

One time I visited the new church of a friend of mine. As we sat in the study, you could hear every word the secretary said. I knew immediately that this must be corrected at Four Mile. How could anyone talk about a heartache, or some serious confidential problem if they felt they could be heard in the next room.

The committee responded by using an acoustic ceiling, carpet on the floor, book shelves along the wall which separtated the study and the office and the 2 x 4s were split. It was a very quiet study.

In 1972, the old parsonage was torn down and a new one constructed. The old sanctuary was demolished and a new one dedicated in 1985. Once again, I observed the strength of character of the people of Four Mile. There was a sizeable minority who objected to the construction of the new manse at this time. Yet several of those who did not think it should be built at this time, came and helped with its building.

Similarly, it was very hard for those who had worshipped in the old sanctuary for years to see it torn down. It was beautiful in a historic way, having been built before the nineteen hundreds. It was a beautiful old colonial church, filled with many precious memories for those who had been there through many years. You could not help but think of those persons of strong faith who kept the church alive and moving since its founding in 1812. However, wisdom seemed to say that its condition was such that it had served its purpose and needed to be replaced. Yet no person who felt so deeply about the old church left Four Mile.

As my ministry came to a close, I began to look back over the years which had passed so quickly. As the psalmist writes in the 90th Psalm, "A thousand years in thy sight are but as yesterday when it is passed, or as a watch in the night. . . our years are soon gone, and we fly away."

The time had come for me to step down. I wanted to leave while people wanted me to stay, and not when they wanted me to leave. As I reflected over the years, and now the coming of the end, I thought of one of the beautiful traditions of childhood growing up on the farm in southern Iowa. Our close friends lived a mile away. This was the nearest farm. When my sister and I went to play with our friends and the time came to leave, we would ask their mother, "May Karl and Helen walk a piece with us?"

The answer was always, "Yes." There were limitations given to us. They were not to go any further than the old windmill in the pasture, or the red school at the crossroads. When the time of departure came, we would talk as long as we dared, and then run home as fast as possible because we were late.

Is this not what life is all about? We "walk a piece" with our loved ones, friends, those who are lonely, hurting, in sorrow or in joy. In the church, what a joy it was to walk a piece with so many frineds, some of whom are no longer with us and have entered the "church triumphant."

The greatest walk of all is with Jesus Christ who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. A walk which ends in that life which shall endless be. It is our commitment to the Lord which gives all other walks meaning and purpose.

When the time came to ask the Presbytery to dissolve the pastoral relationship between me and the congregation, I could no longer take part in ministry except at the invitation of the new minister.

The retiring minister, however can and should maintain the friendships established through the years, and show his concern for the problems and illnesses from which his friends may be suffering.

After five years, serving as Interim Pastor in three churches, we decided that we should quit for good. I was invited to sing in the choir at Four Mile. This was like coming home because I had spent so much time singing in choirs in church, high school, college, seminary and the Mendelsohn Choir in Pittsburgh. I never ceased to appreciate the fact that I was welcome in the choir during my years as pastor. (Some congregations do not like the idea of the minister singing in the choir.) What a joy it has been, what a privilege for me to "walk a piece," with so many wonderful people with whom we did our best to do the work of the Lord.

"And when having done all, we may seem at times to have failed, in the name of Him who was made perfect through suffering, we may look up unashamed and hear His voice say: 'My grace is sufficient for thee'." Amen.

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