On June 2022, Pastor Ron Kohl, Rachel Schmoyer, and camera man Jeff Tintle interviewed retired Pastor Ron Mahurin about his ministry in the BFC. To get an accurate feel for our interview, imagine the dialogue sprinkled with friendly laughter and peppered with tender-hearted tears.
How did you get connected to the BFC?
In 1958 my wife Darlene and I finished our honeymoon by moving from Michigan to Lancaster PA where I began to serve as Director of a Community Center operated by the Salvation Army. We were not required to go to a Salvation Army church on Sundays. We looked in the newspaper to find a church to attend. I saw a Mennonite Brethren in Christ Church listing which I had never heard of, but the pastor’s name was Alva Cassel. Alva and I had gone to Bob Jones University together. We were not good friends at that point but we were both involved in athletics. We were competitors in soccer, basketball, and softball. Alva was known across the campus as the fast ball pitcher. I used to decide whether or not I would swing before he let loose of the ball because if I waited until he let loose then I didn’t have time to swing!
We started to attend Alva Cassel’s church and we really felt at home there. Alva introduced me to Jansen Hartman who was the Church Extension Director at the time.
Jansen invited me to attend conference as a visitor in 1958. In 1959, I was called into Church Extension and was sent to Denville, New Jersey. Emphasis on the word “sent” because in those days the stationing committee would meet and then come out Friday afternoon and tell you where all the pastors were going to be stationed. That year conference was at Bethel BFC in Allentown and down the corner there was a pay phone at the corner of Allen and 8th Street so the guys would run out to the pay phone and call their wives and tell them where they had to be on Sunday.
Did the name change from Mennonite Brethren in Christ to Bible Fellowship Church and the official change to Reformed soteriology effect you as you were coming into the denomination?
No, it did not. The name change was already in process when I joined. It passed at first reading in 1958. The doctrine didn’t affect me because I was so unsure about what I believed. I looked at passages like “Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17) and then I would read another place that says “God grants repentance” (2 Timothy 2:25).
I talked to Pastor Carl Cassel about these SEEMINGLY contradictory passages. I said, “Which is it? It can’t be both!” He said, “Sure it can!” Like Charles Spurgeon said, “You don’t need to reconcile friends.”
Carl Cassel and Jansen Hartman directed me to various passages of Scripture and some helpful books that greatly influenced my present and firm conviction of the Reformed position of salvation.
Also, the denomination had a small number of pastors who did not hold to Reformed soteriology. And what they did made me say “this is the church that I love. This is where I want to be.” Because they grandfathered all those guys in and said you can continue to pastor and continue to serve until you retire or the Lord calls you home. And that was huge. That’s the church being the church.
How did you feel when they announced you were going to Denville?
When I heard “Denville” I asked, “Where’s that?” They said, “It’s east of here” and I thought, “ok.”
Bill Heffner had just become Church Extension Director. He knew I was brand new to the denomination so he went with me to Denville on the first Sunday to help me adjust to the new church. Denville BFC was only a year and a half old. Bert and Joan Brosius were there before me. The first Sunday I was there, there were 37 people. When we graduated about five years later we were 125 people and were tightly packed into the building. We also only had about a dozen parking spots! I knew we needed to move locations, but the elders did not want to do it. So I decided it was time to move on.
Would you say you were “green” when you started out as a pastor?
Yes! If I were an apple on a tree, I would have been hard as a rock and deep, deep green! I did have a little pastoring experience while a student at Bob Jones University. We would go up to the prison system in Charlotte, North Carolina, the chain gangs, the city jail and the county jail and in the mornings we would visit the prisoners. Then we would have some lunch and then go to the rescue mission and preach there.
When I think back to my Denville days, I think, “They have to be the most gracious, loving, non-judgmental family that anyone could hope for for his first church.” We just kept on going and we were there nine years and we brought it into the conference as a particular church about 5-6 years after we were there and we stayed a few more years after that and were there for nine years.
How did you end up at Hatfield BFC?
They contacted me. Clyde Snyder was the delegate and I knew Clyde and his wife Carol from our time at Bob Jones. There were many joys of ministering in Hatfield BFC and I came to know many wonderful people including elder Lee Boyles.
How were you involved on the denomination level?
I was an organizing member of the Youth Fellowship General Committee. Alva Cassel, Bob Johnson, David Watkins, Dan Ziegler and I sat in the Hatfield parsonage living room and worked out stuff for the youth. We were responsible for giving Sno Glo its name. It was the midnight hour and we had been working since 5:00pm on the first program we would have at Pinebrook. We completed the program and then we realized that we had to have a name for this. Someone said, “Eh, why don’t we call it Sno Glo?” We all replied, “Boom! Great! Let’s go home!”
Not too many years after that we toyed with the idea of changing the name to Mud Glo because SO many times it was just mud up to your ankles since it was so warm!
I was the chair of the Victory Valley Board for while at its beginning.
I was on the Ministerial Candidate Committee and I was an organizing member of the Ministerial Relations Committee. I was also on the original Pinebrook Bible Conference Board.
Wow! You were involved in a lot of new things!
Yes! Well, I was this kid from Michigan that nobody knew, but I guess I had some ideas that they learned to appreciate so…
I’ll never forget this: when Jansen Hartman interviewed me in his office for Church Extension, we were all finished and he came out from behind his desk, put his arm around me, looked down at me and says “you know, we can use you, boy” and I was thrilled!
We have some pastors who don’t get involved in anything. I’m sure you have something to say about being part of the denomination because you have something to offer.
What I would say to a busy, busy pastor on a local level as to why they should get involved on the denominational level is that we are not just a local church. We have local autonomy but we are a fellowship of churches. We are a family of God and we need to work together to get things done and it takes people to do that.
Selfishly, they are robbing themselves of the great joy to work with other brothers within the BFC who can open your eyes to new levels of understanding and vision. I just can’t understand that there are those who feel no obligation to serve in a way that is a blessing to all our BFC churches.
After Hatfield, you were at Bethel BFC in Allentown for just a short time before it leaves Center City and merges with Cedar Crest. How challenging was that?
By the time I got to Bethel, they had gone through some tough times. They had lost a lot of people over the doctrine of election and other reasons. They also had a parking problem with only a dozen spots on the property and street parking was tough. They had an arrangement to use the Sears Roebuck parking lot two or three blocks away but this was not a good long term solution.
When I interviewed with Bethel, I said, “I’m not interested in coming here unless you agree to do one of three things: tear down all these houses that we own and build a youth center (we even had a barn that you could shoot full court basketball in through the rafters!) and really reach out to the youth of this community or we can sell this property and go out in the suburbs somewhere and find property to buy and build there or my preference would be to approach Cedar Crest BFC since they have 11.5 acres and are struggling financially and we’ve got a little over a half acre and lots of money in the bank.”
At my first board of elders meeting, they gave me permission to meet with Pastor Roy Hertzog from Cedar Crest to feel it out and Roy was very amenable to it. I remember he and I took a three day retreat together and just prayed and studied and I remember that we had some fun together, too.
You end up staying at Cedar Crest from 1977-2001. What are some of the joys the Lord has brought to you in your ministries at Denville, Hatfield, and Cedar Crest?
Well, at the top of the list would have to be those whom God in His sovereignty by His grace brought to a saving relationship to Jesus Christ, were baptized, and joined the church.
It has brought me immeasurable joy to share what God and others have taught me and now they are in the ministry just as 2 Tim 2:2 says “teaching others also.”
From my time at Denville: Bill Kohn (who ended up in ministry in Maine), John Vandegriff, John Grady, Bill Shad
From Hatfield: Doug Allen, Rick Harris, Dave Jones, Jim Bachlar, Jim Neher, Phil Morrison
From Allentown: Mark Bickel, Joel Klase, Ron Kohl, John LoRusso, Tim Schmoyer, Scott Kappes
I fear I have missed some—sorry!
Also, in each church we had a building program which always makes me chuckle because I am NOT handy at building! The only thing I ever built in my life was a coffee table and it took me two semesters in high school to do that.
In Denville we were meeting in Denville’s township library until we built a church out on Diamond Spring Road and it exists there today. In Hatfield we extended the size of the parsonage, bought a house across the street from the church and the house adjacent to the church. In Allentown after we merged we needed to have a larger facility so during the 24 years I was there we had three major building programs. We first built an addition to the chapel which became a Christian education wing and then we built the worship center and then we had additions to the education wing. It was over about $6 million in all. And they are still doing more to it.
It is also a joy to be pastor of the same church long enough to perform the wedding of a child whose parents I had officiated their wedding and twenty plus years later dedicate a baby of a couple whose dedication I officiated.
And I never could have accomplished anything in ministry without Darlene’s help and the help of my children. Ronnie was tiny when we went to Denville but no squabbling from my kids when we went to Hatfield and then from Hatfield to Allentown. They always, always were supportive of me.
When did you become Conference Pastor?
I was conference pastor from 2001-2016 and I enjoyed it. There are no words to express it. I hope that everyone has sometime in their life when they can sit back and say, “God, I know I am where you called me to be, doing what you called me to do, now help me Lord to do it faithfully.” And that was me the 15 years I was conference pastor.
When I served on the MRC, I kept harping that we needed a Conference Pastor, a man that could give his full time to our pastors and the churches. And it was discussed a little bit and then brushed off. Later, Randy Grossman said the MRC was ready to hire a Conference Pastor and asked me to write the job description. I wrote it up and turned it in and then they asked me to fulfill it! So I joke and say how often do you take on a position where you get to write your own job description?
Tell us about the Darlene J. Mahurin Memorial Fund.
In 2001 my wife of 43 years was called to be with the Lord. In her memory the Ministerial Relations Committee established the Darlene J. Mahurin Memorial Fund which for the last 21 years has been used to help pastors through difficult financial need. To date in excess of $33,600 has been received.
What gave you the idea to start that fund?
Love for my pastors. There was just no way many of them could live on what they were receiving. It just couldn’t be done. And when Darlene died $5,000 came in to the family in memory of her and unless it was designated to something else when we received it, we used that to start the fund.
What changes have you seen in the BFC over the years?
There’s been a huge change in the governance of the local BFC church and in the denomination. When I came in 1959 the local churches had what they called an official board. It was made up of the pastor, the secretary, and the treasurer of the church. And then there were two other people who had specific responsibilities and in Denville’s case they were both women. One was the building fund collector so if you wanted to give to the building fund you gave the money to her and the other was called the steward and she collected the pastor’s support, whatever you wanted to give to support the pastor financially you gave to her. And then twice a month the pastor got paid.
So you didn’t really have a contract that said how much you would be paid?
No. You had very little or no say about where you would go and there was no promise of any kind of payment. I think my first income from Church Extension was $3,000 for the year. But that’s probably why I had such a heart for establishing the Darlene J. Mahurin Memorial Fund because I saw personally how one struggles.
So then we changed from Official Board to Board of Elders and that was a very good move in my mind.
How did you work with a board of elders?
I worked well with them. I shared lots of ideas. Some of them they weren’t ready for but we got them out on the table. They would say, “oh, pastor had too much pizza last night!” Sometimes I had an idea and then we discussed it and when it came time to vote on it, I voted against it! When we had a big decision and it was a 7 to 5 vote we just wouldn’t do it even though we technically just needed a simple majority. That’s just not where I wanted to go. But I had wonderful, wonderful elders serving with me.
What other changes have you seen?
A greater recognition and use of women in leadership positions. I just can’t say enough for the women especially Cedar Crest church. There are so many, many women who without title, without recognition just serve the Lord with all their heart and those are the kind of women you want to have as deacons…I don’t need a title, just let me do the work. That is another one of the great joys of the ministry. And one of the things that have changed in the BFC.
There is also a greater tolerance on the conference level of those with whom you disagree without sacrificing doctrine or practice. At one time there appeared like there was a far left and a far right, but I saw it last conference year. A better spirit, a more healthy wholesome spirit.
There is an increase in support in Church Extension by the churches, that’s very evident. An increase in development in our Board of Missions program. New missionaries coming in all the time. I used to say to Dan Ziegler and even more so to Director David Gundrum…all these people you are getting for mission churches!!! Let me have some for pastors!!!
I also see an increasing development of small groups in the churches and a renewed interest in the importance and practice of prayer both in the local assembly and in the denomination.
Do you have any words of wisdom to share with us for the future of the BFC?
In all our dealings with one another we should commit to disagreeing respectfully (Galatians 6:1), loving unconditionally (1 John 4:19-20), speaking graciously (Ephesian 4:15) and giving glory to God, the credit to others and we will experience joy.
My prayer for the future of the BFC is: as we continue to grow in the grace and knowledge of the Lord we will find joy in praying: “May His beauty rest upon me, as I seek the lost to win and may they forget the channel seeing only Him” (Kate B. Wilkinson’s hymn)
“Not to us O Lord, not to us, but to your name give glory” in the BFC (Psalm 115:11)
If the local church would remain true to the word of God, if you will give generously to missions and to Church Extension, if you take care of the widows, the orphans and the destitute, God will bless you and your church.