Pastors' Memoirs

Arville Heath Browder, 1923-1993

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Arville Heath Browder was born October 4, 1923, in Clifton Forge, Virginia. He was 16 years old when his father died and he had to go to work on the railroad to support his family. In World War II he served the U.S. Marines in combat. Left for dead on Saipan, his survival marked the earliest call to serve God in ministry. His wounds, combined with boxing injuries and a near-fatal motorcycle accident, left him with a lifetime of physical pain.

After the war, he began college at the University of Virginia and finished at the University of Richmond, including one year of law school. He married Anna Marie Ficke and worked for Crane, Co., and then as a collection manager in the American Finance Company. The neglect of his call to serve Christ was reflected in years of intense personal crisis.

A dramatic turnaround occurred in the late 1950s while he was teaching Sunday school at Sherbourne Avenue Methodist Church. It was then that he met Bishop Garber who encouraged him to enter the ministry of the Virginia conference in 1958. Although the bishop offered a scholarship to Duke and a student appointment, Arville felt honor bound to keep a previous commitment to serve as a supply pastor for six churches in Prince George. Disappointed with pastor's school, he began attending Union Theological Seminary in Richmond. His habit of studying Greek flashcards on the dashboard continued through his appointment to the New Kent Charge and then Shiloh Church near Montpelier. He completed an S. T.M. at Union while serving Bishop Memorial.

It was as "Heath" Browder that he went to serve Madison Heights and then South Boston. At McKendree, he suffered his first bout with lung disease. He served Grace (Roanoke), Orange and Main Street, Emporia, before retiring in 1986. Coming back to Sherbourne, he strived to be the type of church member that any pastor would cherish.

Arville Heath Browder was an outspoken defender of the underdog. He was most satisfied when he could visit shut-ins every week and hospitals every day. He enjoyed ministry with mentally retarded persons. He was known for starting youth fellowships and Boy Scout troops, often serving as a counselor or Scoutmaster. He was active in Alcoholics Anonymous, including founding a unit in a South Boston prison. He was certified as a psychological counselor by the Commonwealth of Virginia. He successfully defended a fellow minister in a church trial. No one who came to him for help was turned away.

He specialized in helping financially troubled congregations, and he was proud of not leaving apportionments unpaid. Perhaps his best-recalled moment was to put forward the motion for a re-vote which desegregated the Virginia Annual Conference. He worked hard for the equalization of pastors' salaries. He is remembered for his colorful revival sermons.

After an aneurysm and the amputation of his legs, a blood clot in the lungs led to his death on August 5, 1993. His funeral at Sherbourne resembled an old-fashioned Sunday night prayer meeting attended by numerous pastors and church leaders. Clyde Nuckols preached on Luke 4 (esp. 28. 31-32); Neil Gutmaker spoke of his mentoring; his son, Charles, and his daughter, Professor Diane Browder-Boswell, shared stirring testimonials. Henry Riley spoke at the interment at Riverside Cemetery.

Arville Heath Browder was hard-nosed in expressing his views, but he was equally sensitive and caring, a loyal friend and an inexhaustible servant of Christ. Not only was he my father, but he was also my pastor, colleague and close friend. In him there shone the Grace of God.

-Michael Heath Browder



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