Marvin Simpson moved to North Carolina to retire midway between the Northeast where his children are, and Georgia, where his wife’s children and her mother lived.
Instead of a rocking chair life, Simpson has been serving at least one church, and most often two, the entire time.
At age 80, Simpson finally relinquished his part-time role as minister of senior adults at First Baptist Church, Mebane.
Now, he is “just” full-time pastor at Kerr’s Chapel Baptist Church, on the southern edge of Caswell County, north of Elon. Simpson came to Graham in 1994, a year after he married Mary, a Georgia widow who had once been a member of a church he pastored in New York, before he was pastor there.
Tears still come
Early in his career Simpson managed sales for a dairy before responding to a call to vocational ministry. He wrestled against his image of impoverished pastors, “living hand to mouth, with holes in their shoes.” He still tears up remembering the day when it became crystal clear for him.
Simpson, the 13th of 14 children, told his brother that day, “I don’t know where I’ll be next year at this time, but I’ll be in ministry.”
At age 32 with four children, and experience as a lay preacher, Simpson investigated enrolling at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Four professors there each encouraged him to return home and begin to pastor.
Arriving home, he learned that Frostburg Baptist Church where he had “just spoken a few Sundays,” had called him as its pastor while he was gone. It was 1960 and a half century of ministry was just beginning.
Simpson was appointed a Home Mission Board (now North American Mission Board) pioneer missionary pastor at Champlain Valley Baptist Church in Plattsburg, N.Y. for 4-5 years. Little did he know his future wife had just moved from there to Omaha with her military husband.
Later, after both Marvin and Mary had lost their spouses, they married and spent their first winter in Maryland. It snowed, sleeted or had freezing rain 17 times that winter.
“I would probably have left him that first winter,” said the sweet Georgia native. “But I couldn’t get out of Maryland because the weather was too bad!”
He followed a fairly common trail of pastorates that took him to Ellicott City, close to Baltimore, then Grace Baptist, then to First Baptist Church in Waldorf, Md., and for the first time, now with five children, he could buy a house.
“I didn’t know Waldorf was in the bad shape it was, or I probably wouldn’t have had the courage to go,” Simpson said. “I’ve always been a church leader who could work through problems with people, and lead them to come together. I probably learned it in the dairy.”
Simpson preached a lot about love and forgiveness and in about 18 months the church began to grow, he said.
The daughter of a leading deacon in the church eventually married Simpson’s son, Bob, who is now editor of the Maryland Baptist newspaper.
Simpson retired in 1990 so he could care for his wife Ruth, who had been diagnosed with cancer in 1987 and would die in 1991.
Ruth and Marvin had always planned to do special ministries when they got older. For the most part, the churches he led were missions or “in trouble” when he started.
While Simpson does not see himself “as a great orator” God has used his abilities to “work with people, to stand up to and to face issues.”
Eventually mutual friends introduced Mary and Marvin and they moved to Graham in April 1994. “My mood was to fill pulpits here and yonder,” he said. “That’s all I humanly wanted to do.”
He did an interim at Beulah Baptist on Hwy. 158 for 10 months and then was glad to take a breath. Before he could exhale Kerr’s Chapel asked him to preach on Mother’s Day, then again on Father’s Day. He’s been there ever since 1997, first as interim briefly, then as full-time pastor.
When Simpson and Mary moved to Graham, they joined First Baptist Church, Mebane, and as members immediately found a place to serve. Pastor Terry Farmer told Simpson the church had 65 homebound members and Simpson and Mary set out to visit them and keep them connected with the church and with Farmer.
“He and his wife were fabulous,” said Farmer, who enjoyed their ministry for about seven years. When Simpson thought he might need to give up his role at First Baptist after he became pastor at Kerr’s Chapel, Farmer told him it might be a tradition in Baptist life to serve one church at a time, “but I’m not hung up on that.”
Radiation treatments last summer sapped his once abundant energy but he feels it coming back, Simpson said.
He loves Kerr’s Chapel and appreciates the members’ pride in their facilities, and their willingness to take the lead in programs.
“They are a lovely people and fun to be around,” Simpson said. “They take care of us in the most beautiful manner, no doubt about it. They’re an easy bunch to work with.”
Kerr’s Chapel runs about 100 in worship in a rural area with little residential growth. Once predominantly farm country, today many workers commute to Burlington and Greensboro.
When Simpson volunteered to step aside for a younger pastor, they told him, “If you can’t get to the pulpit, we’ll build a ramp and push you up there.”
“This is the most loving and easy church to work with that I’ve ever been a part of,” said Simpson. It is also his longest pastorate. It’s no wonder he feels if God gives him good health and energy to age 99, he could keep on preaching.