Pastors' Memoirs

Gaither P. Warfield, 1896-1986

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Gaither Postley Warfield was born February 13, 1896, Rockville, Maryland, youngest son of Robert C. and Margaret Webb Warfield. A deeply "churched" family, both parents were leaders in their church and community. An instinctive sense of commit- ment to church and duty was a parental legacy for Gaither.

Following high school graduation in 1913, aided by a partial scholarship, he followed an elder brother to Dickinson College where he was active in sports, debates, and the YMCA. The numerous speakers who visited the campus and spoke eloquently of the spiritual-material needs of the non-Christian world much impressed him and may have influenced his lifelong choice of a career in the mission field. At least the seed was planted.

His commitment to church and service was evident in his freshman summer when the pastor of Rockville Methodist Episcopal Church, South, the Rev. Frank M. Richardson, asked his help in a two-week evangelical service in the small rural town of Bethesda, Maryland. Gaither distributed handbills, conducted the singing, preached a sermon, "superintended" a Sunday school that started with six members. From these roots the present day Bethesda United Methodist Church sprang. By the time of graduation in 1917, war had broken out. He quickly took training with the YMCA College and became the "Y" secretary at Camp Hancock, Augusta, Georgia. Never a total pacifist, he soon resigned, enlisted in the U.S. School of Military Aeronautics, became a pursuit pilot, 2nd lieutenant, but never got overseas and resigned his commission in 1919.

He entered Drew Theological Seminary in 1920; the same year he received a local preacher's license. At Drew his commitment to a missionary career may have been firmed by his initiation, organization, and leadership of a fabulously successful North-Eastern U.S. Conference of the Student Volunteer Movement in his second year. The program, actively involving Town and Gown, and focused on the work of foreign mission fields, drew the attention of the National Headquarters of the SVM. On graduation he served those headquarters as a traveling secretary, visiting campuses and seminaries, organizing SVM support.

While at Drew, to help finance his studies, through the president of the seminary he became assistant pastor at St. Paul's Methodist Episcopal Church, New York City, a post he held for two years. During the year he traveled for the SVM he responded to a call from his former pastor, Frank Richardson, to be his substitute while Richardson recovered from a stroke. These two were the only individual church assignments Gaither served in the United States during more than 62 years as an ordained minister. His commitment to the mission field was not to be denied. His search for an overseas appointment finally succeeded when Bishop W.B. Beauchamp ordained him a deacon in the Western Virginia Conference in 1924 and he was appointed to Poland where he began his eventful, dramatic 18 years of service.

He was ordained an elder at Danzig in 1925, his major work centered on the establishment of a Bible Training School. His work brought him in contact with a prominent Polish Methodist leader who headed an education Gymnasium of Protestant commitment. Shortly afterwards, in 1928, he married the daughter, Hania Marya Dropiowska.

The trials, challenges and testing of Gaither, the Methodists, and the Poles under the German invasion and occupation are graphically told in Call Us to Witness, a book he and his wife published after repatriation of American nationals in 1942. First captured and briefly imprisoned by the Russians when that army invaded from the West, released on proof of his U.S. citizenship, his work and the lives of his fellow Methodists remained long at risk under the Germans. Immediately after Pearl Harbor, he was imprisoned by the Germans. His skills in husbanding the resources of his co-religionists and other Poles made him a leader and most often their spokesperson, whether at liberty and in constant danger, or with Russian or German prison authorities.

On returning to the States, he received a previously awarded Doctor of Divinity degree from Dickinson College, served the Board of Missions of the Methodist Church until 1946, when he became an assistant to bishop Herbert Welch, head of the Methodist Committee for Overseas Relief (MCOR). Six years later he became MCOR's general secretary, a post held until he retired in 1966. During this period he was also the Methodist representative at Church World Service and vice chairman active in ecumenical relief planning and refugee assistance programs; and the American representative on Interchurch Aid, an organ of the World Council of Churches.

In 1946, he began a 4O-year commitment to Save the Children Foundation, Norwalk, Connecticut, first as a director, and for 10 years prior to his death, as one of its vice presidents. A pragmatist, throughout his career he united strong religious convictions with programs that "worked." He wanted recipients of relief to become self-suporting. In Salzburg, Austria, his work with refugees was recognized in a House for Refugees named in his honor. In Angola, he labored for programs that made destitute farmers self-sufficient. He was a leading force in the Heifer Project. He traveled the seven seas and most continents, received citations and awards from many governments, including West Germany, the Republic of Korea, and pre-Castro Cuba, but never forgot the common man. He was without "side," and was utterly without racial, national or religious prejudice. He knew his true worth and that sufficed.

Noted for his vibrant optimism, his radiant joy of life, he enjoyed health until 1985 when ruptured blood vessels in both eyes left him completely blind. He lived in faith, and died of leukemia, still strong in faith, August 16, 1986. He is survived by his wife, Hania Warfield, of Rockville, Md., a daughter, Mrs. Monica Kulp, and two grandchildren. He died as "one who wraps the drapery of his couch about him and lies down to pleasant dreams," and, with Tenneyson, serenely confident that though the floods of time and space might bear him far, he too would meet his Pilot face to face when he had crossed the bar. 
-- Kenneth E. Colton  
 

 

 

 

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