Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

Columns

December 14, 2013

A man with feet firmly in this world and his heart fixed on the next one

— — A big crowd filled the Mudfork Church of Christ. Even though it was a bitterly cold, moonless December night nearly every pew was crowded. The aisles were even crowded although Johnnie Elmore’s sermon rang out clearly in every corner of the sanctuary. Sadly, he was there, too, but down in front of the pulpit instead of behind it where he served the community for 44 years.

Preacher Elmore did exactly that and he carried the same spirit across the mountain to Springville, the “sister church” he pastured for 27 years. Debbie (Bowman) Maxfield understood that two congregations would have broken hearts on this night and was reminded about the comforting words her pastor often used from John14:1-3. Donna (Reynolds) Brown recalled that she had learned so much during the Elmore Springville messages and also from his talented teaching.

Ima Jean Brooks noticed that he was very well informed on political issues at every level. He had nerve enough to let the congregation know that what was right was not always popular and what is popular is not always right. That carries a lot of weight because Ima Jean is one of those rare people who has probably done or said something wrong at some time but not many of us would have any idea when that might have happened.

Elizabeth Rasnake, like so many in the group, was proud of being one of the “baptisms” — one of the 342. Johnnie kept a record of them in his notebook, which he began in June 1969. Like Ima Jean said, the preacher had been a great athlete and Elizabeth loved him in part because he was always the first one to get out in the yard and play games with the children.

Pastor Elmore was willing to battle in a ball and more. Bruce Yost was saddened to hear about the minister’s passing and called him not only a wonderful man but one of God’s true warriors. Joyce Shrader and Carroll Thomason noted he “was one of the best preachers and when you heard his sermons you always learned something — and we were so thankful to have him and his family. They made us all feel like family.”

Angie (Aldridge) Whitt was well aware of how modest the preacher was and grateful for the many times he visited her parents, just as if they were close family. They played games, laughed, talked and enjoyed each others’ company in and out of church.

A pair of my students — past and present — were equally fond of the gentle man who lay up front as the pictures on a silent video screen scrolled through many of the great moments of his life. Holly Whitt is a junior out at Tazewell, and grew up in the church. She recognized that few young people have the blessing of having a pastor who could do and say what hers did every day of her life until last Saturday. She remembers how he would bundle up when it snowed and be ready to go sleigh-riding with her. Holly is sure that although she may have lost a preacher she gained a great guardian angel.

Her sister, Kayla, whose picture still grins at me from underneath the glass on my desk top, was one of Johnnie’s bright young people. One of the highlights I recall from the Mudfork Church was when Kayla wrote and directed a superb Christmas play in 2008 which my wife, my granddaughter Hallie, and I truly enjoyed.

We all had memories to recall and some of the best were mentioned by two of the finest neighbors anybody ever had, Ronda Sheppard and her daughter, Jennifer Rose. Johnny had a pair of real stars in those ladies — Ronda has never just read the Golden Rule, she actually practices it. How many times have we enjoyed some tasty, fresh-caught trout dinners because Mrs. Sheppard shares what she has and we still miss her beloved Tommy who sleeps right down the road from the church.

Mrs. Sheppard, you see, was in that first class when I started teaching at Tazewell High School and we have remained friends. Her picture shines brightly in the ’76 yearbook and it was that same sweet Jennifer who helped convince the annual staff to dedicate the 2010 edition to an old English teacher living right out the road. Ronda remembers the twinkle in Johnnie’s eye and his fullness of faith. She admired his political concern and how he based his belief on scriptural values. Preacher Elmore made every individual feel important, she knows, and was thankful for his support of the young people on Mudfork’s famed Bible Bowl teams over the years.

Jen recalls that on those trips to distant Chicago, Louisville or Kansas City, her pastor never met a stranger and like his pal Andy Griffith, was a good man for all. Johnnie and I were each other’s fans, too. As his children, Mark, John David, Ronda, and Rhoda (and I watched them attend and play sports at Tazewell) grinned, when their dad could not attend the games he loved to listen and was always happy when Mudfork was mentioned. He called me the Voice of the Bulldogs and I called him the Voice of the Christian Church.

So, Pastor Elmore, let’s finish by saying thanks for your time this time and until that day we don’t have to worry about time, God Bless.

Larry Hypes, a teacher at Tazewell High School, is a Daily Telegraph columnist.

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