Richard Ahlgrim retired Jan. 31 from Berean Baptist Church, Springfield, Ill., after 62 years in pastoral ministry. He spent the last 49 of those years at Berean. Springfield’s State Journal-Register published a lengthy tribute and sent a photographer to cover one of his last church services.
Pastor Ahlgrim’s six decades of ministry began after he completed his third year of studies at Baptist Bible Seminary, then located in Johnson City, N.Y. Snyder Hill Baptist Church, Ithaca, N.Y., asked him to become its pastor, and he stayed there until he earned his ThB degree.
Ahlgrim went on to pastor First Baptist Church, Merrillville, Ind., and then, in 1963, Berean Baptist Church. His 49 years at the same church makes him the longest serving pastor in the Illinois-Missouri Association of Regular Baptist Churches. Perhaps his 49-year tenure is also the longest in the GARBC. (Do any readers remember a pastor with a longer ministry at one church?)
One of Pastor Ahlgrim’s goals was to leave the church in good financial shape, which he did. In 1973 Berean Baptist learned that another Baptist church in Springfield was planning to close. “I met with them and asked if they would give us the land. We’d pay off all of their bills, if they’d just give us the property,” Ahlgrim told the State Journal-Register. The transaction turned out to be a wonderful development for Berean, and a good example of “church rescue” ideas.
“This congregation is a very, very, very fine congregation made up of just sharp people, gracious people, humble people,” Ahlgrim said in his newspaper interview. “I tell the congregation two things. First of all I tell them, ‘If you paid me what I was worth, I’d starve.’ And secondly, they’ve proven themselves to be a very humble congregation because most of the people around here are smarter than I am but they come to hear me talk.”
David Fox, who has been attending the church since he was a toddler, has been called from the position of associate pastor to pastor. But the joy of calling one of Berean’s own to lead the church is marked by a note of sadness: Richard Ahlgrim’s wife of 63 years, Betty, died unexpectedly on Nov. 14, 2011, at age 83. “She would have been the first to cast her vote for him,” says Lydia Beaman. Though Richard has been named pastor emeritus, he says he is now a regular member of the congregation who will support the new pastor in his ministry.
Melissa Meyer is associate editor for Regular Baptist Press.