Paul Faris, a founding member of the Sycamore congregation, will celebrate his ninety-second birthday next week. As I reflected on Paul’s influence on my own life, I wanted to share it with members of the congregation who might not know Paul but are benefiting from the ministry he continues to have here. I thought perhaps this would encourage others as well.
Paul was raised as a Covenanter, coming from generations of Farises who have been in the Reformed Presbyterian Church. As his grandson James Faris, pastor of the Southfield RPC, tells it, for at least ten generations in his family line the men have alternated in their vocations between farmers and pastors. James and his grandfather fell in the “pastor” generations, so despite growing up on a farm in Dennison, Kansas, Paul went into pastoral ministry. He graduated from the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 1944. His “official records” indicate that he served three congregations (Quinter RPC and Sterling RPC in Kansas, and the Lisbon RPC in New York) over the more than forty years he was in pastoral ministry. The recognition by the church of his godly testimony and gentle shepherding over the years was seen in him being given an honor unique in the RPCNA – he was chosen as Moderator of Synod not just once but twice.
Yet truly Paul helped pastor a fourth congregation, namely Sycamore Reformed Presbyterian Church. In 1984 Paul retired with his wife Ruth in Flora, Indiana, in order to be near the West Lafayette RPC, his family, and help with a church planting work in Kokomo. In January of 1985 Paul preached and led bi-weekly worship services in the homes of the core families. Providentially, it was in 1985 that Miriam and I moved as newlyweds to West Lafayette so I could do graduate work at Purdue University. One of my memories of those first months worshipping with the West Lafayette church was of this group of people who were there one week and gone the next. I soon learned what they were doing!
However, tragedy struck this work the following year in the Spring of 1986, all in the course of one month. The husband of the family who originally started the work in Kokomo was found to be in adultery (his eventual excommunication took place at my first session meeting as a new intern!). An experienced and gifted church planter, Pastor Bob McCracken, declined a call to come to Kokomo. And Paul’s beloved wife Ruth, who had been diagnosed with brain cancer only a few months prior, died. Clearly the Lord had closed the door for the time, and the worship services and work in Kokomo were suspended.
However, Paul, the few other families involved in the Kokomo work (The Dinkledine, Faris, and Parman Families), and the session and congregation of West Lafayette persevered in their vision. Having sent me to seminary, they eventually called me to come back in 1991 and lead the effort here in Kokomo. What I want to testify to in this rememberance is Paul’s support of me. He constantly encouraged me with his prayers and comments, occasionally corrected me with a spirit of gentleness, and was always sharing insights through stories, reflections or articles. With the ever present twinkle in his eye and boyish grin on his dignified face, he continued to use his blend of earthy, Spirit-filled wisdom as he preached for us when needed and led Bible studies and classes when called upon. In 1994, when it came time to organize the congregation, despite his status as “retired” he agreed to serve as a ruling elder when the congregation elected him. For over five years he served faithfully, providing a comfort to new members with his maturity and fatherly concern, and especially enriching the three “rookie” elders (Greg, Tom and I) in our knowledge of ministry and the RP Church.
Though he has now lived for several years with his daughter and her family back in Lisbon, New York, who care for him, Paul has kept his membership in our congregation and continues to remain interested and pray faithfully for the Sycamore congregation. The heritage he was given has been passed on, as he has children and grandchildren serving as pastors, elders, deacons, pastor’s wives and missionaries. If there is one word that comes to my mind as I think about this beloved saint, it is covenant. The Lord has kept covenant with Paul, and Paul has shown through a long lifetime of service covenant faithfulness to his God. As Psalm 103:17-18 says, “The lovingkindess of the Lord is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear Him, and His righteousness to children’s children, to those who keep His covenant and remember His precepts to do them” (Psalm 103:17-18).
It is great to know God’s promises like these and believe them. Yet for me it has also been such a wonderful blessing and confirmation to see them in the life of Paul Faris.
Paul also taught me a great deal about the psalms. Cannot help but think of how on his 92nd birthday he fulfills what the 92nd Psalm says of the righteous man, “When old they still bear fruit and flourish fresh and green.”