second of a four-part series, part I part II part III part IV
Last month we told the story of a man from Kansas that arrived in the Kanawha valley in 1918. This month we offer the account of another man from the plains who arrived in Charleston in September of 1942. A. Reid Jepson grew up in Waverly, Iowa. He was saved at the age of 12 and he attended the Baptist church along with his parents. After high school, he attended Wartburg College , a Lutheran school in Waverly, with the intention of being a lawyer. When money for tuition got tight, an uncle by the name of Annis Jepson made a suggestion. The elder Jepson was a Chiropractor and a godly man who offered to pay Reid's tuition if he would transfer to the Prairie Bible Institute located in Alberta Canada. Reid graduated from Prairie in 1941. R.M. Maxwell became acquainted with Reid through his nephew L.E. Mawell who was President of the Bible School. Maxwell had become convinced that the growing group of believers needed a full-time pastor and obtained permission from the church to invite Jepson to speak to the Charleston group. On Thursday, September 10, 1942, the men of the church voted unanimously to call him to pastor the church. The church officially organized as a church in April of 1943.
Pastor Reid Jepson was paid $25.00 per week and did not have a car. He traveled by bicycle and became known around town as the "peddling parson." In addition to conducting regular services, the church purchased time on a Charleston radio station; first over WGKV and then WKAZ. Bible Center has had a continuous radio ministry since 1942. Late night radio listeners would hear strains of "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus" at the beginning of every "Fireside Fellowship Hour" broadcast. There was also a live Sunday broadcast. Pastor Jepson would go directly from the church after a Sunday service for a live broadcast early Sunday afternoons.
In September of 1944, Rev. Jepson and Miss Mary Grayce Hughart were united in marriage. Mary Grayce was from St. Albans, and her family had been part of the Maxwell group from the beginning. She also was an employee of the People's Store in Charleston. The Jepsons had two children. Phil who lives in Richmond, Virginia and Pricilla who lives near her mother in La Habra, California.
R.M. Maxwell died of cancer in 1945 and many felt the church would fold soon after without his influence. At the funeral for Mr. Maxwell, Pastor Jepson spoke from Luke 12:32 quoting the phrase, "Fear not, little flock". The doubters from the community were soon to learn that the City Bible Center was not the product of one man's efforts but was the work of God to establish a Bible preaching church in the capital city.
Services of the City Bible Center were first held in rented space on Virginia Street (near the Southside Bridge). On October 14, 1945, the first services were held in the new quarters at 419 Broad Street in Charleston. A large home had been purchased and renovated for church use. The house no longer stands but is near the present location of the Crossroads Men's shelter. Although there still was not a church membership, the ministry thrived as a non-denominational witness for Christ. As many as 280 became the peak number who attended Sunday School, and an annual Vacation Bible School reached many of the unreached children for Christ. In March of 1947, it was felt wise to organize. A constitution was formed and a group signed an initial charter member sheet. In the Mid-1950's church growth forced the church to conduct two identical morning worship services and two identical evening services each Sunday. In 1956, property was purchased at 1418 Kanawha Boulevard, East in Charleston and a church erected. When the cornerstone was placed, the original charter membership roll was deposited, along with a New Testament, a letter to future generations and a copy of "In Business…Serving the Lord" -- a biography of Mr. Maxwell by A. Reid Jepson. Much of the work on the church was done by the men of the congregation, with the ladies preparing meals and serving them to the men so they could accomplish as much as possible day after day
Pastor Jepson always had a keen interest in missions and saw many young people from the church attend various Christian schools to prepare for ministry. On the local level he assisted a small group in Cross Lanes, West Virginia by leading a Bible Study in the home of E.H. Fisher. As the group grew, Pastor Frank Stephenson, who as young man back from WWII was influenced to attend Bible School (in this case Prairie Bible Institute), was called to be the first pastor of the church, which is now know as Cross Lanes Bible Church.
Pastor Jepson engaged in a number of unique ministries as he sought to bring people to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. He taught Bible studies in a school of nursing, a commercial college, and also served as the chaplain for the Charleston Fire Department. A clipping from the Charleston Gazette shows Pastor Jepson wearing a white fire hat, indicating his assigned position in the department. The church continued to see the blessing of God in continued growth and development during the decade of the 1950's. Another innovation was the Tuesday Bible Institute. This ministry provided biblical instruction to the people of Bible Center and other churches and continues today in the form of our Fall, Winter and Spring Bible Institutes. Many of the classes were and continue to be taught by faculty members from Appalachian Bible Institute (now known as Appalachian Bible College). The arrangement also worked both ways as Pastor Jepson also taught classes at ABI and served on the board of directors.
Pastor Jepson served the church for seventeen years, resigning in October of 1958. The church was without a pastor for the next thirty-one months. Part of this time, Rev. Lester E. Pipkin, President of Appalachian Bible Institute, served as interim pastor. After leaving Charleston, the Jepsons served for four years directing the Lake Sammamich Bible Conference near Seattle, Washington. They then moved to California where Reid served first with Far East Broadcasting and later with the Slavic Gospel Association. In his later years Reid worked with Christian Projects Services. Bible Center Church supported this work as part of our missions program.
A. Reid Jepson went home to be with the Lord in 2002. Mary Grayce continues to reside in California. While he has departed to be with the Lord the work he helped establish continues to flourish under the blessing of God.
Part III >>
Special thanks to Mary Grayce Jepson and Elizabeth Stephenson for allowing the author to interview them for this article.
© 2002 Bible Center Church
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