Pastors' Memoirs

John Archibald McKenry, Jr., 1914-1986

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It was in the fall (1948) when assigned to Farmville, that we first heard the name of John A. McKenry, Jr. Everyone was talking about that attractive young minister, full of life and vitality, who had brought new life to the Prince Edward Charge. He was an innovator, so fresh and clean with new ideas. People loved him and his young family.

The next we heard of this remarkable man was in the building of a new and larger Wesley Memorial Church on the edge of Richmond's Church Hill. It took a bit of "doing" with so modest a congregation. There was the "mile of dollars" out on the Mechanicsville Pike that made the difference. Who, but John McKenry would ever think of such a thing! It made you want to meet the man, so many were the stories told of him and of his almost magical ways.

Then came the Winchester District. We were in the bishop's Cabinet together, with adjoining districts, often in each others homes, dreaming and planning as we shared food. It was then that we saw him as an administrator. He cared for each of his ministers. We saw his concern for his churches and desire for Kingdom building. The men of the church always liked John. The lay folk at Ghent Church, Norfolk, got into their heads that no other minister would quite meet their needs. They must have John. Reluctantly he was removed from Winchester to fulfill the wants of Ghent Church.

At Clarendon Church, in the early '60s, John became my mother's pastor. It had been my father's last pastorate and Dad was now gone. John ministered to my dear mother in the closing years of her life, in a sad and debilitating illness. He was ever faithful at the nursing home. We saw his bedside manner and our mother's love and trust in him. We saw the faithful pastor in this winsome, loving man. He held my mother's funeral.

Fort Hill Church, Lynchburg; First Church, Newport News; and Washington Street, Alexandria, were the three great pastorates in the closing decades of his long and distinguished career. In each of these we preached for him in revivals, and we saw the warm heart of the flaming evangelist in action. John believed in reaching out to people. He made his churches grow through constant pastoral visitation and evangelistic outreach. He always said: "I must leave a church stronger than when I found it."

In later years we came to minister to John in the days of his eye surgery at MCV in downtown Richmond. It was here that we saw his patience, his durability, his faith and his indomitable optimism. The greatness of his inner character was shown under the stress of those convalescent days. He never complained. There was never a negative note. He always sang praises to the glory of God. There was his characteristic laugh, his usual joke, and the twinkle in his eyes.

Retirement eventually came after 42 years of active ministry in June, 1980. John always said: "The next best thing to being a college president is to own a college for yourself." He and Natalie were good managers. They had previously bought the old Randolph-Macon College property at Boydton. They loved it. We would visit this loving couple in their Boydton home and see their happiness and John's enthusiasm for "his" college.

On Saturday, August 31, 1985, John and Natalie returned to Fort Hill Church, Lynchburg to celebrate their Golden Wedding Anniversary with a complete re-enactment of the original, full-scale traditional wedding. In the hushed reverence of that magnificent occasion, before their family of four children, six grandchildren and many friends, they renewed their vows taken 50 years before. This distinguished minister and his dear wife (the former Natalie Paris), both Lynchburg natives, have every reason to be proud of their family: the Rev. John A. McKenry III, an ordained minister serving at Idledale, Colorado, the father of three children; Mrs. Garnett J. Mayhew (Betty) of Lynchburg; Mrs. R. James Callis (Natalie Sue) of Johnsonburg, N.J.; and James Paris McKenry of Carson City, Nevada, father of two daughters.

On Friday morning, October 10,1986, 7:30a.m., there was the passage of two "angels." As the spirit of John Archibald McKenry, Jr. made its way to heaven, simultaneously there was the birth of little Benjamin Michael Gillespie, John McKenry's first great- grandchild.

His stately funeral was held the following Tuesday, October 14,1986 at 11:00 a.m. at Fort Hill Church with Bishop Robert M. Blackburn; William E. Knight, district superintendent; Robert Carter, associate pastor; and Walter S. Green, III, pastor, officiating. Also, the Rev. John A. McKenry, III and the writer participated.

The family and friends all remember with gratitude his tall frame, his happy, outgoing smile, his jovial spirit and his fun-loving manner. We remember how he loved people. He was to us a man "larger-than-life" with a real measure of true greatness. He has touched our lives, and we are so much the better for having been with him.  

--John Wynn Myers      



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Background photos courtesy of VDOT.

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