I attended a funeral this morning. It was for a man whom I only met once, but whose faithfulness, wisdom, and passion for ministry left a profound impression on me. I met the Rev. Samuel W. George three years ago. I was in seminary, taking a class from Dr. Ron Peters called “The Black Church in Urban America”, and I interviewed Rev. George about his life and ministry for a paper I wrote about the history of Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church.
Before coming to Pittsburgh, George had already led an extraordinary life: He grew up in South Carolina, attended Johnson C. Smith University and Theological Seminary, then accepted a call to serve two yoked churches in South Carolina. While serving both of those churches, he also managed to coach sports and teach at a college, a high school, and even serve as principal of another high school. In 1961 he went to Fort Lauderdale, FL, where he was the organizing pastor of a Presbyterian new church development which grew to 125 members within one year of his arrival. Ten years later, he was called to Pittsburgh, this time putting the skills he’d learned in new church development into practice by redeveloping Grace Memorial Presbyterian Church in Pittsburgh’s Hill District – one Pittsburgh’s historic African-American churches which had been founded in 1868 by abolitionist Henry Highland Garnet. In the years prior to George’s arrival, Grace’s pastor had attempted to close the church and merge its large membership with a newly formed inter-racial congregation in Oakland. When things failed to go as planned, the Presbytery sought a pastor who could minister to the members who wished to return to and revive Grace Memorial.
Here’s the section of the paper which I wrote about Rev. George’s time at Grace Memorial:
In 1971, the Presbytery brought a pastor named Rev. Samuel George to the struggling congregation. With a specialization in new church development, George brought a ray of hope to Grace Memorial. When I had the privilege of interviewing Rev. George on Wednesday, November 1, 2006, he explained to me that upon arrival at Grace Memorial, he quickly developed a plan to maintain the members of the current congregation while at the same time rebuilding a new congregation from the ground up. Doing so required community involvement, which at that time meant the institution of tutoring programs, other youth-oriented programs, and heavy involvement in the local education system. In his own words, George “had to fight the idea that Grace was finished in the community, had to sell the idea that a church will be there.” Rev. George succeeded on many grounds of that fight during his tenure. He launched the effective ministry ASTEP (After School Tutorial Enrichment Program) and a program called Operation Parent Community Motivation while his wife taught a “values class” to teenagers. On Fridays, Rev. George regularly took large groups of kids from the neighborhood to a skating rink in Homewood. Now pastor emeritus of the church, George’s legacy is now celebrated through a Sunday regularly dedicated to him on the third Sunday of October.
This morning, Rev. Dr. Johnnie Monroe preached a eulogy based on Psalm 37:23 – “The steps of a man are established by the Lord, and he delights in his way.” Rev. George was a righteous man, who sought to order his steps in the way of Christ, and led others to do the same. His impact on the people present was palpable. One man who grew up attending Grace Memorial when George was the pastor there testified that he and his friends agree they don’t know where they would be today without his influence. He was a civil-rights activist, a teacher, a pastor (even a bi-vocational pastor), a church-planter, a community figure, and a family man. I pray that God will raise up more leaders in the Church like Rev. George, leaders who boldly live God’s mission with every aspect of their lives. Praise God for his life and ministry.