(My Ordination Service at Glendale, April 2008)
I can hear his voice, echoing hundreds of times through thousands of sermons I sat under during his ministry:
“Lives of great men all remind us we can make our lives sublime, and, departing, leave behind us footprints on the sands of time” and “The only thing greater than greatness is the ability to recognize greatness.”
Every time my pastor uttered those words I stared at the very person who embodied their meaning, because Richard Oldham was the greatest man I ever knew. I can’t remember a time in my life when I didn’t know him. I knew him as my pastor, the only one I’ve had. Glendale Baptist Church was my church, and Bro. Richard was my shepherd. I knew him as my teacher. Anchored Christian School was my school, and RPO taught daily Bible classes and led twice weekly chapels for my entire K-12 progression. He handed me both my kindergarten certificate and my high school diploma. I knew him as my family member, for Pastor Oldham could often be found at our home on his birthday or special holiday occasions. How we loved him. I knew him as my friend, for I cannot count the number of times I've been on visits and journeys with him, or the times I’ve sought his counsel on every matter imaginable, from trusting in the Lord for salvation to how to ask a girl out on a date (yep).
(RPO eating breakfast at our home, circa 1994)
I can see his gaze, a look from someone who consistently viewed the world through the eyes of Christ. I remember growing up with a profound respect for this man of God. I wasn’t the only one who revered him. There was a holiness and authority about his life that you couldn’t help but recognize if you spent just a moment in his presence. When he pointed his finger at me from the pulpit one Sunday and said, “Barry, you need to tithe,” this 10 year old boy immediately began putting 10% in the offering plate, knowing that God himself had a count on my piggy bank. Even people who didn’t attend his church sensed his calling. Waitresses, grocery baggers, and hospital workers alike all addressed him as “Bro. Richard,” even if they weren’t particularly zealous in faith. To this day, I can’t bring myself to call him by his first name. When I strolled into church one Sunday night without a tie on, amid the congregational singing, he motioned me to the platform, leaned into my ear, and told me there were a number of ties on the back door of his office and that I was welcome to any of them. I went and put one on. I was 19. Age wasn’t a factor when it came to reverence for him though. I’ve seen grown men with grandchildren revert back to childhood in his presence, pastors of thousands and presidents of educational institutions reduced to mere students in Bro. Richard’s classroom of ministry.
(After I preached Southern Seminary's chapel service, April 2010)
I can feel his touch, the paradox of his plier-like grip and the steady thumping of his fist into my chest set against the warm embrace of his genuine compassion. He didn’t especially like to hug (though he frequently did), but he loved to help, particularly those in need. He had a gift of perfect timing when he spoke to you, for his words so often resounded like apples of gold in pictures of silver (Proverbs 25:11). When I was 7, too young to participate in the youth festivities but overly eager to partake in the pizza they received, their rejection left me in tears. Bro. Richard found out about it, sat me down, and encouraged me to remember how it felt, and when I saw someone else in the same situation, not to let it happen to them (he then made sure I got one of those slices).
At 15, after undergoing some profound doubting of my salvation, RPO knelt with me in his office, asked me if I was willing to trust in the Lord, heaven or hell, sink or swim, and to commit my life to Him regardless of the consequences. I laid my burden down that night, and the peace of God overwhelmed my heart. His heart for others goes far beyond my life. I’ve watched him walk around with a shopping cart at Winn-Dixie, stuff it with food till it was overflowing, and take it to a single mom with four kids living in a run-down motel room because their dad had just kicked them out that day. How often he would say to a young person, “God has his hand on you.” He had an ability to speak into people's lives and call into existence character traits and spiritual qualities that simply were not present beforehand.
Those cast aside by the world and even the church found the trajectory of their lives forever altered after an encounter with the Lord’s recruiter.
I’ve never seen anyone minister with the love of God to individual people as effectively as Richard Oldham did. No one.
(Kentucky Baptist Convention Youth Bible Drill, 2000)
I can taste his zeal, the zealousness of one who hungered and thirsted after righteousness, one who had tasted and seen that the Lord was good. He had a holy boldness reserved only for God’s select giants of faith. When a gunman entered our sanctuary and attempted to halt the morning worship service during my 4th grade year, I remember RPO staring him down, pointing his finger in his direction, calling on the Lord to protect his flock, and refusing to stop preaching: “No sir, you will not!” The deacons of the church gathered around the pulpit, surrounding my pastor, and the gunman surrendered. His heart did not fear. I went visiting with him one night in college to see a man who had just left his wife. He insisted that there was no one else involved, but Bro. Richard looked him in the eye and said, “____, I wasn’t born yesterday, and if you're seeing someone else, then you're in sin, and God will judge you one day.” It was as if the Holy Spirit vacuumed the oxygen out of that room.
Surely the prophets of old must have had this same anointing; yet, his zeal was coupled with deep humility.
When I went to men’s prayer breakfasts on Saturdays with my father (more for the breakfast than the prayer for an elementary kid), I heard my pastor pray, “God forgive me for my wicked heart.” If his heart was wicked, mine was desperately so. Before I preached in the chapel service at Southern Seminary, Dr. Mohler recognized RPO as the pastor who had raised up more preachers than anyone he knew in North America. Even as he rose to accept the ovation of recognition, his head remained down, his posture bent, recalling his life verse: “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30). God’s holy anointing rested in a humble vessel.
(RPO being recognized by Dr. Mohler at Southern Seminary, April 2010)
I can sense his eccentricities, even though some of the aspects of his life I probably found more ironic than he did. He ALWAYS wore a tie. Always. He mowed his yard in a tie (complete with work suit). He helped build the Living Christmas Tree in a tie. On the annual summer mission trips to Mexico, he labored in a tie (and so did everyone else), in sweltering heat. He wore a tie underneath his hospital gown. Sometimes, he even wore his tie to bed. Whenever someone asked to go on a prayer breakfast in Bible class, RPO would immediately schedule it for the next day, and Shoney’s would be bombarded by adolescence. One of our favorite events was to have him “fix” our desserts at the buffet bar. He would take a large plate and top it with everything imaginable until it overflowed with ice cream, cookies, and a colossal portion of toppings. He loved to fellowship with young people. He gave out upwards of 50 bonus points on his tests because he wanted everyone to make an “A." Although the teachers didn’t care much for this practice, students loved him for it. He taught every last one of us how to lead music, even if we couldn’t sing at all, because he wanted us to have the ability to lead churches in every aspect of ministry if necessary. I couldn’t have known then how that skill would come in handy for many of us. Every year, the junior high and high school took a two day trip to Mammoth Cave. The rest of the world calls that type of event a “retreat." RPO called it an “advance," because "Christians don’t retreat" (he also took us to the Parthenon replica in Nashville, the Hermitage [Andrew Jackson’s estate], the Red River Meeting House, My Old Kentucky Home, and a host of other places). He paid my first speeding ticket when I took him to help his sister Edith move out of her apartment in Louisville. He also didn’t tell a soul. Mom and Dad had no idea (and probably still don’t until this post). His command of Scripture was immense, which gave him a full repertoire of Biblical allusions, as he mentioned to me on several occasions that I drove like the charioteer Jehu (“furiously" in KJV parlance). He was one to talk, as Bro. Richard rarely obeyed the speed limit (“The Lord’s work requireth haste,” he often remarked). When Christmas time came around, watching our pastor open presents was an event. He refused to tear wrapping paper and would save it for future years (“I grew up in the depression…”). He rarely threw away anything. He never owned a television set nor did he use the internet. His preferred method of communication was an old electronic typewriter, letters from which must number in the thousands. He had proficient letter writing, eloquent speech and diction, and unmatched presence. He was a Shakespearean character, an other-worldly figure from an era long gone by, one from which we have much to learn.
(Dr. Al Mohler, RPO, Rev. Raymond Ward, & Dr. Hershael York, April 2010)
I owe everything in my life to Richard P. Oldham because of the Lord he so faithfully served. So many memories are too numerous to mention. The streets of heaven are crowded tonight, for there are thousands of lives within its gates who have been touched by his ministry. Although my pastor was far from perfect and was as much in need of Christ as any of us, at times I looked into his life and thought: Surely, this is what the Lord must be like.
Somehow, I couldn’t escape the feeling that I was witnessing a glimpse into the character of God.
Richard Oldham represents the kind of life I want to live, the kind of church I want to lead, and the kind of man I want to be. I thank my God upon every remembrance of thee.
For more info on Bro. Richard's life and ministry, click on the links below:
(my tribute begins around the 26 minute mark)
RPO presenting me with my kindergarten certificate, May 1991
In Front of Glendale BC, Circa 1992
At the grave of RPO's parents, Bruce and Lessie Oldham, in New Castle, August 2013
Celebrating RPO's 75th birthday at our home, June 13, 2005
Dr. Mohler recognizing RPO at Southern Seminary, April 2010
RPO with some of the men called into ministry under him. Front Row, L to R: Johnny Deakins, Lonnie Mattingly, Eric Martin, and Jerry Adamson. Back Row: Barry Fields, Ed Snider, Daniel Bates, Brian Berkley, and Chris Turpin. He also received an honorary doctorate from Shawnee Baptist College that evening and preached the graduation commencement ceremony, May 2006.
Glendale Baptist Church album, circa 1975