After 45 years of ministry, Reginald Pressley and his wife, Claudia, retired much the way they began — serving small churches in the Southeast. They were there for the births, baptisms, weddings and funerals as they marked the milestones and the passage of time in the lives of their members.
And they wouldn’t take anything for the memories.
The couple met in their teens at Toccoa Falls Institute, a private, faith-based high school tucked away in the mountains of North Georgia. He was attending on the advice of a pastor where he lived in Talladega, Alabama, after surrendering to the ministry; she was the daughter of an instructor.
His memory is that for Claudia, “It was love at first sight."
Her story is slightly different.
“He chased me all over the place.”
Regardless, they struck up an acquaintance that year before he returned to Alabama for his senior year. Then Uncle Sam called and he was drafted, entering the Marines and shipping off for the Korean Peninsula.
The relationship continued halfway around the world, and when he returned home he also returned to Toccoa to visit Claudia. Soon they were married and, after his discharge, settled back in Toccoa. He took Bible classes at the school and then moved the family to Florida where he studied at the Baptist Bible Institute (now the Baptist College of Florida).
“Times were tough being newly married, having a son and wife, and trying to support them; money was scarce,” he remembers.
That’s where he pastored his first church.
Bellwood Baptist Church in Geneva, Alabama, was a good experience and taught him a lot about human nature. For instance, he laughs at the thought of the church squabble that was just being solved when he walked into the pulpit as the congregation’s pastor.
“Shortly before we arrived, the church had a very heated question over whether to add air conditioning. Most folks didn’t have it back then, and couldn’t afford it, so they could not see taking on the expense of higher electric bills just for an hour or two on Sunday morning,” Claudia remembers.
“Well, the church was split on the vote, so they went ahead and air conditioned the sanctuary, and that created a very unique worship experience. The half in favor of air conditioning sat on one side with the cool air blowing, and those who opposed it sat on the other side with the windows open.”
That experience was just the first of a lifetime of encounters with human nature that Reginald and Claudia look back on with a laugh and a shaking of their heads.
Throughout the next several decades, the couple moved around the Southeast, always serving in small churches and living in parsonages.
Reginald’s favorite part of the ministry was the preaching.
“The Lord just seemed to speak through me and give me what the people needed to hear at the time,” he explains.
Reginald credits his ministry with strong preaching, good discipleship and a strong missions education program through Woman’s Missionary Union and the Brotherhood. They were the backbone of the church and kept the church focused on missions, he says.
Now retired, the couple is not far from where they began their ministry. They live in Toccoa and are still members of Old Liberty Baptist Church, just 15 miles away across the state line in Westminster, South Carolina. It was the last church he served and is where he retired from at age 70 in 2001. Claudia plays the organ each Sunday.
One of the real blessings in retirement is Mission:Dignity, the benevolence ministry of GuideStone Financial Resources, which extends the couple’s limited income and helps them make ends meet.
“We never had much money to put away for retirement, though the churches helped where they could. I think many of them put about $35 a month away toward our retirement, which is what the Annuity Board [now GuideStone Financial Resources] recommended as a minimum.
“Of course we didn’t have anything to contribute because I rarely made more than $300 a month in my early days, and not much more than that later.”
Claudia seconds that thought.
“I sometimes wonder how in the world we got by in those days without health insurance, but we couldn’t afford it,” she says. “Thank goodness the Annuity Board eventually offered a program and it was a real lifesaver. The Annuity Board was a real blessing when we needed it.
“It was hard to raise four children on a country pastor’s salary, but the Lord always met our needs.”
The Lord is now meeting their needs through Southern Baptists who contribute to Mission:Dignity. As in the past, the contributors do not know the hardships that retirees may be having, but the check arrives at just the right time with just the right amount.
Mission:Dignity assists more than 1,800 recipients each month, providing a measure of security and dignity in their retirement years. The neediest couples with at least 25 years of paid Southern Baptist ministerial service can receive $600 each month from Mission:Dignity. Thanks to an established endowment that pays for administrative costs, 100 percent of money given to Mission:Dignity benefits a retired pastor, worker or his widow in need. For some recipients, it means being able to stay in the familiar surroundings of their own home. For others, it covers the cost of groceries, utilities, prescriptions and other necessities. But for each of them, it’s an expression of the love and care of their Southern Baptist family.
To share a gift or for more information, visit MissionDignity.org.
“We don’t know what we would do without the check we receive from Baptists all over the nation who contribute to folks like us. As you get old the medical bills come a lot more frequently and seem to never end,” Claudia explains.
“Mission:Dignity is helping us to meet those bills while still having funds available to cover other day-to-day expenses.”