Our First Pastor
Today we will consider our first Pastor, Edmund Grindal Rawson. Dr. Rawson was born on November 3, 1868 in Saratoga Springs, New York. He was a graduate of Princeton University and Auburn Theological Seminary. In 1898 he accepted his first call as a pastor of the Richfield Springs Presbyterian Church in upstate New York. He served there for ten years before accepting the call to become Ardmore Presbyterian’s first pastor in 1908. In 1927 he received an honorary doctorate in divinity from the University of the Ozarks for his leadership in the mission field.
Those who knew him described Dr. Rawson as “a Christian servant of tender nature and broad sympathies,” and “a pastor of conscientious loyalty and loving leadership.” He was a kind man who was often compared to “the good shepherd” in his personal devotion to the members of the young church.
Two areas of leadership defined his pastorate and helped form the identity of our church. First was Dr. Rawson’s zeal for mission. He served on a number of mission boards and encouraged the congregation in its support of local and national evangelism and relief efforts, quickly making Ardmore one of the leading churches in the Presbytery for mission giving.
A glimpse of this leadership can be seen by reading our first Annual Report of 1908, in which Dr. Rawson commented: “It may seem to some a very unwise thing to encourage [mission] gifts while we are without a church building and our numbers are few, but experience has shown that no church can maintain a healthy spiritual life when its interests are centered in itself, and as a rule the Church that reaches out in service to others, at home and in the regions beyond, is the Church whose financial needs are met.”
The second area Dr. Rawson’s leadership was in ministry to children. The young community had many children, and Dr. Rawson led the church in its outreach to them. He took a personal interest in the growing Sunday school program, and was often present among the children, who responded to his warmth of personality. Some of you might remember Ida Burns, a charter member who was a small child at the time of the church’s founding. She recalled with fondness how Dr. Rawson would attend the annual Sunday school picnics, greet each child, and make sure that each had ice cream, which he himself would purchase on their behalf.
It was Dr. Rawson’s love for children that led the church to dedicate the Rawson Memorial stained glass window, whose outer panels depict the children of the Bible, from Moses being discovered in the bulrushes to the boy giving Jesus the loaves and fish from which he fed the multitude. The stained glass window is on the Montgomery Avenue side near the cross aisle, where the baptismal font once stood.
While still serving as Pastor, Dr. Rawson died on March 10, 1935 at the age of 66. Despite the grief that attends a congregation with the death of its spiritual leader, the church found strength in the vision of Christian charity that Dr. Rawson had modeled, and continued its focus in sharing Christ’s love with those around them and throughout the world.