Last week I had lunch with Harry Wood, the oldest friend I have. I have friends who are older but none who have been friends longer. Harry Wood and I were raised in the same local church in McKeesport, Pennsylvania—a church of about 150 on its highest days. Harry has been a friend of mine for more then 50 years.
As for our home church it was an unusual church. I sometimes wonder why some churches produce more ministers and leaders than others. I don’t know why, but McKeesport Pilgrim Holiness Church produced a lot of leaders—even before they started working with Harry Wood and me as children.
According to Harry’s count at least 33 sons and daughters of the church entered full-time ministry as pastors, ministry leaders, spouses of pastors, and missionaries. It produced denominational leaders too. From the members and pastors of this church came four General Superintendents: William Neff, R. G. Flexon, P. F. Elliot, and my friend, Harry F. Wood.
Besides GS’s the church also yielded General Officers to lead the denomination’s Youth work, Sunday Schools, and World Missions. And the McKeesport church also produced 9 District Superintendents, a traveling Song Evangelist, 15 local pastors and 7 pastoral spouses. They sent out two missionaries to the Oriental Missionary Society plus a host of other ministers serving in music ministry, prison ministry, US Military Chaplain, T.V. Ministry, and college professors.
Though I was raised in this church it had a more important affect on my life even before I was born. Mrs. Jalosky who was in her 80's when the church closed remembered her parents picking up two Methodist teen boys—Leonard and Elmer Drury and bringing them to this church. Soon the McKeesport church planted a sister church in Elizabeth, Pennsylvania and my father, Leonard Drury (and his father Walter Drury) both Methodists, came into the Wesleyan Church.
The McKeesport church was laid to rest in 2002 at age 88. Churches often die before age 100. But the people they’ve influenced live on—here or in heaven. Perhaps the church took a wrong turn in the road. They were eyeing a delightful new property for expansion but instead they chose to stay put. That property now is the location of another congregation that runs over 1,000 and now includes many of the former members of the old church. Just like individuals, congregations face forks in their road that affect their future. Once a leading church and ahead of the times they gradually in drifted to the back of the pack and eventually closed. But the building is now being used by an African-American congregation… people are still getting saved at the altar where I first went forward as a little child. A church building (and a denomination) is just a container for the real and lasting work of carrying forward the kingdom of God. Containers come and go, but the real work always continues in new wineskins. I loved that old church building, but I loved even more the people in it—like Willard Kleppinger, the my Children’s church leader who taught Harry and me to love the Bible. Eventually congregations fizzle and buildings crumble—but the work of the gospel remains forever.