The Rev. John L. Arthur Jr. celebrated his 50th anniversary at Eureka First Baptist Church on Sunday, and he's hoping to spend many more years in the pulpit at the small, rural house of worship on Johnston Highway.
“I'm not going to retire,” he said. “I can't find anything in the Bible that speaks about retirement, so I'm going to keep on going as long as I can go. I'll probably die with my boots on.”
The church's congregation and Arthur observed his big milestone with special musical performances led by Ken Arthur and a sermon from a visiting pastor, Dr. Eddie West, who is one of Arthur's many friends.
Following the special service, Patricia Clark said she never would forget Arthur's comforting presence after she lost her father when she was only 11 years old. As word of his death spread, friends and neighbors stopped by Clark's home in Vaucluse to offer their condolences. But the visitors were mostly adults who wanted to talk to other grown-ups, and Clark ended up alone and scared on the front porch on a chilly November night.
“There were so many people there right after it happened,” Clark remembered. “Preachers from several different churches were going in and out, comforting my mother and my grandmother. But he (Arthur) was the only one who sought out the little girl who was out there in the dark. He hugged me and told me that everything was going to be OK.”
Clark's voice broke and her eyes filled with tears as she recalled how, during the years that followed, Arthur made sure she always had a ride to church and never missed out on any of the youth activities.
“I can't imagine, if something ever happened to him, having another pastor,” said Clark, who is still a Eureka First Baptist Church member even though she now lives in Monetta.
Arthur, 69, has a Master of Divinity degree from the Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C. He also attended North Greenville College (now North Greenville University) for two years and earned a bachelor's degree in psychology from the University of South Carolina.
In 1963, a group from Eureka First Baptist Church contacted Arthur and asked if he could help out while the church was looking for a full-time pastor. He delivered his first sermon there during a prayer service in late August.
“I was 19 years old, and I had just finished junior college (at North Greenville); I thought it would be a very limited engagement,” Arthur said. “But then they asked me to come back on a week by week basis. Then, in October, they asked me to be their interim pastor. In January of 1964, they finally made it official.”
Because Arthur was still in school, he spent weekends at the church and his weekdays in the classroom. “When I drove back and forth between here and the seminary in Wake Forest, it was a 600-mile round trip,” Arthur said.
During Arthur tenure at Eureka First Baptist Church, there have been numerous weddings, funerals and baptisms. The church has added 10 acres of land to its property and its building has been covered with aluminum siding. In addition, eight stained glass windows have been installed in the sanctuary.
“That was a big joy for him,” Clark said. “He worked hard to get the members to take enough pride in the church to buy those windows.”
Asked why he has remained at Eureka First Baptist Church for so long, Arthur replied: “I just found a home, I guess, and I stuck with it.
“It's been quite a ride,” he added, “and I've enjoyed it. The church hasn't grown substantially through the years, but the people here are very solid people. They're also supportive, and they try to help out in any way that they can.”
Dede Biles is a general assignment reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the newspaper since January 2013. A native of Concord, N.C., she graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.