New Horizons

Remember Your Leaders

Jamie Dean

In the rolling hills of eastern Pennsylvania, Amish men drive horse-drawn buggies past the quiet buildings at Quarryville Presbyterian Retirement Community. It’s a serene setting, but for some Quarryville residents, retirement seems like a distant notion.

Take Wendell Rockey. This retired OP minister has lived at Quarryville for four years, but his schedule is full. When I visited the retirement community in November, Rockey calculated he had preached seven times in the last ten weeks. It’s a robust pace for a man set to turn eighty-nine in January.

Rockey is accustomed to robust ministry. The father of four served five OP congregations before moving to Quarryville in 2008. His beloved wife, Trudi, died in June 2011, but his ministry continues. He volunteers as chairman of the community’s residence council. He provides pulpit supply at area churches. He preaches twice a month in Quarryville’s chapel services and once a month in the skilled nursing unit.

“There’s a lot of need around here,” says Rockey, “and a lot of opportunity.”

As Rockey and other retired OP pastors at Quarryville seek opportunities for service, the OPC’s Committee on Diaconal Ministries (CDM) seeks to encourage the pastors.

One source of encouragement is the Obadiah Fund—a denominational fund dedicated to caring for retired OP ministers and their wives. A generous donor (and longtime OPC member) proposed the idea in 2007 and has been supplying the funds for it ever since: about $150,000 each year.

The CDM has used that money first to meet the immediate needs of retired OP ministers or their widows. Some needs are occasional, but some are ongoing. For OP pastors retiring without substantial pensions, help from the Obadiah Fund can be a vital resource.

Not all retired ministers have acute needs, but the Obadiah Fund seeks to encourage them too. After meeting immediate needs, the CDM has been sending a $1,000 check to every retired pastor or surviving widow. A letter accompanying the gift encourages them to use the funds as they see fit. Last year, those one-time gifts were sent to ninety-six recipients.

It’s a fitting way to honor the Obadiahs (a name that means “servant of the Lord”) who have faithfully served the OPC in the past and to encourage them as they continue to serve the Lord in the present.

Rockey is one example of an Obadiah who has served the OPC for decades. He was born in Joplin, Missouri, in 1924—twelve years before the OPC’s founding—and grew up in New York. After graduating from high school, he worked as a messenger and proofreader at a law firm on Wall Street. By 1942, Rockey had enlisted in the U.S. Navy. He served as a radar operator on a destroyer escort during World War II.

Those convoys took Rockey as far away as North Africa, but his most significant experiences happened closer to home. As the young sailor with a Presbyterian background visited Baptist churches in ports like Norfolk, the Lord used powerful preaching to draw him to saving faith in Christ.

When he returned to New York, Rockey worked for an export business and participated in a local church. Soon he developed a desire for the ministry. That led him to college and then to Westminster Theological Seminary, where he learned the riches of Reformed theology. He graduated in 1954 and accepted a call to Wayside OPC in Grove City, Pennsylvania.

Rockey would go on to pastor four more OP congregations and serve as director of Deerwater Bible Conference. He also served as his presbytery’s secretary of home missions.

He especially enjoyed church planting, and he was grateful for a congregation that supported him after the loss of his first wife. First OPC in Hamilton, Massachusetts, called the widower with three young children as its first pastor. “Can you imagine the kindness to do that?” he asks.

Rockey also enjoyed nurturing college and seminary students, and introducing them to the doctrines of grace. These days Rockey continues to nurture the community at Quarryville with the same biblical principles that undergirded his ministry for fifty years.

Rockey was thankful for the unsolicited gift from the Obadiah Fund, and says it’s a reminder that sessions should discuss financial needs—including retirement plans—with their pastors.

It’s a discussion Rockey never had with his elders. That left him with substantial needs and led him into full-time work for the U.S. Postal Service while serving full-time as a pastor. He’s thankful the Lord used his work in both areas to provide for his needs, but he encourages sessions and presbyteries to be more proactive.

CDM member David Haney agrees. He says the committee has seen retirees face substantial needs, and says those needs will likely grow as other OP ministers retire: “We may have just seen the tip of the iceberg.”

For now, Rockey is thankful that his needs are met apart from outside help, but he finds the unexpected gifts encouraging: “To experience the love of God and the love of his people—you give thanks for that.”

Robert W. Eckardt is another Obadiah who gives thanks. This retired OP minister has lived at Quarryville for ten years with Mary, his wife of sixty-three years. (His son, also named Robert, serves as pastor of Redeemer OPC in Dayton, Ohio. Another son lives on the West Coast.)

Eckardt’s history with the OPC goes back to the denomination’s beginning. As a thirteen-year-old boy, he attended the First General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church of America in 1936, the body that changed its name to the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in 1939.

He attended the gathering at the New Century Club in Philadelphia with an aunt who brought him along. (Eckardt still has the diary in which he recorded the event.)

A few months later, his uncle, Robert Marsden, an OP minister, encouraged a local OP pastor to invite Eckardt’s family to church.

Nearly eighty years later, Eckardt’s voice breaks when he remembers the day the young pastor visited his home. “It changed my life,” he says.

The teenager and his older brother began attending every meeting at the modest church plant. “Here we were meeting over the top of a grocery store with these old-fashioned folding chairs,” he says. “But as far as I was concerned, I was walking on air because I had finally found the truth. I had found the Lord.”

Although Eckardt’s early fear of public speaking found him vowing to avoid the ministry, he soon relented. At Westminster Theological Seminary, he sat under professors like John Murray, Cornelius Van Til, and R. B. Kuiper.

Eckardt went on to pastor five OP churches during the course of his ministry and served on many denominational committees. When he considers what he enjoyed most about ministry, he immediately mentions the thing he once feared most: preaching. “I can think of a lot of failures, but I also think of the victories the Lord gave us,” he said. “A number of people really came to understand the gospel.”

Like Rockey and others, Eckardt continues to preach at Quarryville and sometimes leads Wednesday devotions. He joins a Tuesday morning group of other OP residents at Quarryville to pray for OP missionaries.

Eckardt is also thankful for a gift from the Obadiah Fund. He used some of it for dental work, some for general expenses, and some for traveling to the seventy-fifth anniversary celebration of the OPC.

The Obadiah Fund donor (who desires to remain anonymous) says he felt burdened to help OP ministers who retired with insufficient or no pensions, and that he’s glad “a little bit of money can be a major encouragement.”

The encouragement and deep gratitude are evident in the pile of thank-you notes that pour into the CDM office. One recipient said the gift came just as she faced costly home repairs. One couple said their check came just as they faced an unexpected medical bill for exactly the same amount.

Another said he had just decided to pursue expensive dental work that would help him to continue to preach. He was praying for the Lord’s provision when the gift arrived, and thought of a verse in Isaiah: “Before they call I will answer; while they are yet speaking I will hear” (Isa. 65:24).

And another recipient wrote with deep thanks for the heart of the Obadiah Fund that points to the heart of Christ: “The gift reminds me of the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, of which I think this is an example.”

The author is a member of Matthews OPC in Matthews, N.C., and news editor of World magazine. New Horizons, January 2013.

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