Pentecostal Pioneers: T. Richard Reed

Pentecostal Pioneers: T. Richard Reed
By Vernita Craine Reed

“Oh, Lord, You know about Richard. He is at the age when he must make decisions for his future. Help him to surrender his life to you, Lord. Help him make the right decisions.” Coming home from school one day, teen-aged Richard overheard his mother talking to Someone–visitors? Hesitating to listen, he realized his mother was talking to God about him. This prayer, no doubt, changed the course of his life.

On May 26, 1911, when redbud and dogwood trees bloomed, the cry of a newborn baby interrupted the medley of the birds’ spring song on the Reed farm. A ten-year-old girl, Mabel, looked at the black bag the doctor carried, then at the new baby boy, and wondered, “Where did that baby come from?” Thomas Richard was the name chosen for the Reed’s third son: Thomas came from his father’s name and Richard was for the doctor. Mabel and his big brothers, Charles and Tim, admired the baby as did Mom and Dad, Beulah and Tom Reed.

The Reed family moved later to a cotton farm across the road from the railroad and one mile from Corning, Arkansas. Here another baby son, Shanno, joined the family. C. P. Kilgore pastored the First Pentecostal Church of Corning, where Mother Reed attended. Brother Kilgore held an open-air meeting a few miles from Corning. T. Richard Reed, then fifteen years old, was the only one who prayed through in that meeting. The stars shone brighter over the cotton fields as he rode home.

In his last year of high school, his psychology teacher made a derogatory remark about the Pentecostal religion. After the session the entire class went to the teacher and demanded that he recant his statements about Pentecost or, “We’ll not come back to your class. Our class president, Richard, is Pentecostal.” The teacher apologized.

On April 2, 1927, sixteen-year-old Richard preached his first sermon, from I Timothy 4:12: “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity.” He graduated with honors from Corning High School in 1929.

On August 4, 1929, the First Pentecostal Church of Corning elected T. Richard Reed as pastor. The Lord blessed his ministry, giving him favor in the community. Rowdy teens tested the young pastor when they tried to disrupt the services. Officers of the law arrested the youths for disturbing the peace.

While pastoring his first church, Brother Reed began his radio ministry. On July 7, 1934, he aired his first broadcast over KBTM, Paragould, Arkansas, called “Saturday Afternoon Devotional.” The radio station soon moved to Jonesboro, which meant a 130-mile round trip on a gravel road.

In 1936-37 Brother Reed was elected national president of the Pentecostal Gleaners, the youth department of the Pentecostal Church, Incorporated. His busy pastoral schedule now included promotional travel to other states.

His eight years of pastoring in Corning included some unique experiences. L. H. Benson, superintendent of the Tennessee District, tells how Brother Reed carried him, a visiting young evangelist, on his shoulders across a creek.

The First Pentecostal Church of Trumann, Arkansas, called Brother Reed as pastor in 1937. Right away he had to preach a double funeral for a couple, a case of murder suicide on the sidewalks of that rough, lumber mill town.

Following a baptismal service in a dredge ditch, a big burly fellow bragged that if Brother Reed baptized his wife, he would kill him, pulling a revolver out of his pocket to make his point. When the man saw his wife floating on the water (blessed and overcome by the Holy Spirit after her baptism), he was convinced that a “Higher Power” had control. “I’d better keep my hands off. My wife cannot swim or float. She’s afraid of water.” Brother Reed rejoiced to see the man in the altar that night weeping his way to repentance.

While in Trumann, God gave Brother Reed a burden for Jonesboro, where there was no Pentecostal church. In 1942 he opened the Bible Hour Tabernacle in Jonesboro. It became the center of his radio work, and the “Blessed Old Bible Hour” eventually aired over both KBTM and KLCN, reaching thirteen states.

An eligible bachelor, Brother Reed did not have a helpmate. This changed, however, when the Craine family moved to Jonesboro. Brother Clarence Craine responded to Brother Reed’s request to come and help with his new venture of faith, not dreaming that one year and three months later he would consent to give him one of his daughters for a bride. On a hot summer day Pastor Reed first visited the Craine family. Vernita was ironing and had kicked off her shoes. When she saw the pastor walk upon the front porch, she blushed as she scrambled for her sandals.

On August 29, 1944, the barefoot girl of the Ozarks became her new pastor’s bride. The newlyweds held their first revival a month later in Finley, Tennessee. A big tent behind the church was the setting for a three-week meeting. A couple of Sunday school rooms served as living quarters for the evangelists. Ninety-five people knelt in the sawdust and prayed through to the Holy Ghost.

In October 1944 the last conference of the Pentecostal Church, Incorporated (before the merger that formed the United Pentecostal Church) was held in Jonesboro at the Bible Hour Tabernacle with Brother Reed as host pastor. The Reeds’ first child, a son, was born January 30, 1952. After waiting for almost eight years for this blessed event, Brother Reed announced the birth on his radio broadcast. Thomas Richard Reed was called Rickey.

That fall Brother Reed took his first trip to the Holy Land, a six-week seminar of the Winona Lake School of Theology, studying the Bible in the land of its origin. Afterwards he conducted twelve such tours, receiving one free trip along with other tour hosts from the Ministry of Tourism of Israel.

In the spring of 1953 the Arkansas District elected Brother Reed as district superintendent. He held that office for six years. During this time he engineered the relocation of the Arkansas District campground, moving it from Mt. Crest, a very difficult mountaintop location with no modern facilities, to Redfield. Many people wondered, however, if they would ever be able to get a “mountaintop” experience if they left the mountain!

The Reeds’ second son, Robert Michael, arrived on November 4, 1953. Before he left for a Sunday school convention Brother Reed sent his wife one dozen roses; he returned just in time to check his wife and son out of the hospital. On January 13, 1956, Samuel Timothy Reed arrived.

His growing family, Brother Reed realized that his duties as superintendent demanded his being away from home and church almost two-thirds of the time, so he resigned this position and his church and
accepted a call to Laurel, Mississippi, to pastor the First Pentecostal Church. The Reeds remember their first spring in Laurel with azaleas as tall as the eaves of the house blooming profusely.

The daughter of their dreams arrived October 5, 1960. The nurses at the hospital reported that they had never seen such a happy father! First child? No, first daughter.

One day the telephone rang in the parsonage; the Tennessee District superintendent, W. M. Greer, was calling. He told Brother Reed of a church in Memphis in need of a pastor. “I’ll pray about it,” Brother Reed promised. During the Thanksgiving holidays in 1962 the Reeds moved to Memphis.

The First Pentecostal Church in Memphis was not in a nice brick building like the one in Laurel; the unfinished huge monstrosity of a building was dubbed the “bomb shelter.” Kneeling in the altar one Sunday the pastor’s wife was embarrassed upon arising–the hem of her crepe dress rose too. She had knelt in a puddle of water from the leaky roof!

Pastor Reed searched for a more desirable location for the church and found a building at 1915 Young Avenue in the heart of the city. “In the heart of Memphis with Memphis at heart” was the slogan chosen for the church news published by Memphis Mirror (All Church Press). The First United Pentecostal Church met to worship in their new church for the first time on July 7, 1963. It was organized with ninety charter members, and Superintendent Greer set the church in order. Purchased from Lamar Heights Presbyterian Church, the building had no baptistry, so Johnny Sparks and Dan Webb soon installed one. Among the first six baptized was the pastor’s youngest son, Sammy, who had received the Holy Ghost just a few weeks earlier.

In March 1964 the Sunday school attendance increased seventy-five percent over the year before, winning the first place award in the state.

“Second Sunday Gospel Singing”–two hours of singing by quartets, duets, solos, ensembles, and choirs of local churches–was broadcast live from the church on the second Sunday afternoon every month for eight years. The “Blessed Old Bible Hour” was heard over KSUD every Sunday afternoon from 2:00 to 2:30. After many years the time was changed to Sunday morning from 8:00 to 8:30.

Brother Reed, a pioneer in radio gospel in his area, also served for ten years on the original radio committee of the United Pentecostal Church International that organized Harvestime, the international radio voice of the U.P.C.I. Later he served as Harvestime representative for the Tennessee District.

The Tennessee District in April 1968 elected Brother Reed as presbyter for his home section. He served the Memphis area as presbyter for seventeen years, resigning in 1985, but then becoming an honorary member for life.
During fifty-six years of pasturing, Brother Reed has served as “father in the Lord” to many called to minister. They include Bruce Allen, Owatonna, Minnesota; Joy Cooley, wife of C. E. Cooley, Tioga, Louisiana; G. D. Craine, Ft. Smith, Arkansas; Beulah and James Davis, Ludington, Michigan; Steve Evans, Arkansas; Eunice Howerton, Colono, Illinois; E. E. Jolley, Bessemer, Alabama; Rick McCarver, Memphis, Tennessee; Ernestine Norman, Heber Springs, Arkansas; James Rider, California; Jeff Sanders, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; Vondas Smith and wife, La Paz, Bolivia; Nancy Holloway, wife of Pastor Keith Holloway, Alamo, Tennessee; Patricia Sandy, wife of Pastor Eddie Sandy, Southaven, Mississippi; Neoma Thomas, Yellville, Arkansas; Donald Whitt, Hot Springs, Arkansas; Basil Williams, Florida; Ralph Ezell, Jonesboro, Arkansas; Don Williams and wife, Lexington, Tennessee; Wayne Gilliland, Memphis, Tennessee. Brother Reed likes to visit these pastors and their churches and meet some of his “grandchildren.”

First Church, Young at Barksdale, grew spiritually and numerically, flourishing under Brother Reed’s capable leadership. But no pastor works alone. Dedicated and consecrated people helped carry the load. Space does not permit naming each helper, including helpers with the radio work and ladies auxiliary. Each time a job transfercame or some of the youth (including his own children) married and left, Brother Reed visualized laborers going into the harvest instead of lamenting his loss.

Then moving day came for the church–not the pastor. An eight-year-old church was offered to Brother Reed in East Memphis, Mallory at Watson, by J. H. Ford, the pastor. The church members voted to accept the offer, put the older church up for sale, and buy the newer church in August 1980.

Added to all his other titles, on Thanksgiving Day, 1973, Brother Reed became a grandfather when Christina Michelle was born to Vicki and Mike Reed. Nine other grandchildren and two step-grandsons were added to the family tree, keeping it in full bloom.

July 21, 1984, a golden jubilee celebration honored Brother Reed for fifty years of continuous broadcasting on radio. A film entitled “Pilgrim’s Progress” portrayed Pastor Reed’s life. This was followed by a reception. The next day First Pentecostal Church celebrated its twenty first anniversary and the last anniversary for Pastor Reed.

Brother Reed submitted his resignation as pastor December 30, 1984. He had suffered two strokes in January and August and felt unable to do what needed to be done, but he did continue to serve until the church elected a new pastor in March 1985. Brother James Sharp of Columbus, Ohio, took the helm as captain of the ship with Wayne Gilliland as assistant.

For the first time in fifty-six years Brother Reed was free from the responsibility of pastoring. He prayed for open doors to minister, for the desire to preach still burned within. Invitations came. The first year he ministered in twenty-seven churches in Tennessee, Alabama, and Arkansas.

The Yellville United Pentecostal Church in the Ozarks of Arkansas had been praying for revival. Brother Reed was invited for a weekend in April 1986. The first night two people received the Holy Ghost. The weekend extended to a full week. Four received the baptism and another person was filled in the baptistry as Pastor Neoma Thomas baptized her in the name of Jesus. Later another interested person prayed through.

When people refer to Brother Reed as being retired, he strongly declares that instead of being retired he is being “refired” to preach as long as he lives! As his wife, mother of his children, nurse, chauffeur, and secretary from 1944 to the present, I conclude that all glory and honor and praise belong to our Lord and Savior and soon-coming King for any accomplishment during the sixty five years of ministry, both in the pulpit and over the airwaves, of this pioneer of the gospel.