Pastors' Memoirs

James L. Robertson, 1910-1989

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Early on Sunday, April 30, 1989 the first person to walk through the doors of Arlington Temple was a street person. Billy had no home, no money, no food and new clothes, and no sound theological doctrine. It is significant that he came on this day because the church and community were honoring the coronation of Jim Robertson, who died April 21. Billy and thousands like him are the very ones Dr. Robertson felt God's call to help. God had given this humble man a vision of putting a church, not where the "experts" said it should be, but in a place where bishop or bum, rich or pauper, influential or nameless, could come for worship and help. 

Jim built such a church of the marketplace in the concrete jungle of Rosslyn, Virginia. His ministry of taking God's love to people where they hurt extended beyond Arlington Temple to the three retirement homes he built: The Hermitage in Northern Virginia, The Washington House, and The Virginian. James Louis Robertson was born in Craigsville, Virginia, the eighth child of John and Sarah. 

At an early age, he heard the call of God to serve his fellow men and women as he trod the mountains behind their home. At 16 he preached in the Charlottesville area and entered Randolph-Macon College. As a senior, and student pastor at Kenwood Church, Elmont, Virginia, he met Eva Priddy, whom he later married. He entered Duke Divinity School and upon graduation served the Rockbridge Baths Charge (three churches). Following pastorates in Berkeley Springs, Romney, Piedmont, West Virginia, and Orange, Virginia, Jimmy, Eva and their young daughter, Sara, went to Highland Park Church in Richmond. In 1954 he moved to Northern Virginia, Clarendon Church, then on to The Hermitage, as its first administrator in 1961. In all his pastorates, 14 young people entered full-time Christian service. While building The Hermitage, Jim conceived of and gained support for Arlington Temple, a place for worship, study, counsel, and gathering in the commercial areas of Rosslyn. 

George McLeod writes: "I simply argue that the cross should be raised at the center of the marketplace as well as on the steeple of the church. I am recovering the claim that Jesus was not crucified in a cathedral between two candles, but on a cross between two thieves; on the town's garbage heap; at a crossroad, so cosmopolitan they had to write his title in Hebrew and Latin and Greek. .. at the kind of place where cynics talk smut, and thieves curse, and soldiers gamble. Because that is where he died. And that is what he died for. And that is what he died about. That is where [the] church ought to be and what [the] church ought to be about." 

These things Jim did, but beyond it all, he was like the Apostle Paul. Jim Robertson, too, was a revered veteran missionary with an uncompromising character of wisdom, love, and dedication to the Kingdom. Dr. James L. Robertson, a Christian gentleman, fought the good fight, finished the race, kept the faith, and thus received his kingly award.

I, like Timothy, who sat at Paul's feet, was deeply blessed to sit at Jim's feet. 

-Jack C. Sawyer  


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