A Salute to Rev. John Harrell--UPC Bridge City, Texas--Part 1
On March 20, 2011 the United Pentecostal Church in Bridge City, Texas will celebrate the 40th Anniversary of Rev. and Mrs. John Harrell in the role of pastor of the church. For the next several days, I intend on saluting Brother Harrell on the Barnabas Blog. He literally has lived out a life of preaching and has affected a vast amount of people, both laity and ministry, with his preaching ministry. Perhaps the noblest thing about it is that he rarely ever preached out of the church in Bridge City. His preaching in that pulpit has been the sole place of his efforts. In fact, I only know of four places that he has been to outside of Bridge City over the years. He preached for Pastors David Fuller at Atlanta West UPC, Ken Raggio in Commanche, Texas, Ken Gurley at his 25th anniversary in Pearland, Texas, and Ron Macey at Royalwood in Houston. Pastor David Fuller was a peer and the rest of these pastors were those whom Brother Harrell spent time working with when they were young preachers.
I first heard about Brother Harrell in the mid-90’s when I went to preach for Ken Raggio in Birmingham. Generally when I get around closer friends, I immensely enjoy talking about preaching, sermons, the craft of sermon building, books and tools that will help me become better, and other various elements of pulpit ministry. I can remember so well talking about preaching one night in Birmingham with Brother and Sister Raggio. We were at the kitchen table and as the conversation progressed, I told them who one of my heroes was among our men in the UPCI.
As time went by, I forgot the conversation until six or eight months later when I went up to Birmingham to preach again. I look back at the foolishness of some of the things I did when I got an opportunity to preach. I was still full-time at the hospital so I had to be back at work on Monday morning at 7:00 AM. I would drive up to Birmingham and get there in the middle of the afternoon on Saturday, and then preach Sunday morning and Sunday night. After the Sunday night service, Teresa and I would go out with the Raggio family and I would be pulling out of Birmingham around 11 or so and drive the three plus hours home arriving usually a little after 2 or so. By the time the car was unloaded with kids and such, it would be pushing three and I would have to be back up shortly after six to make it to work. I look back on that time and wonder how in the world it was managed.
On that next trip back to Birmingham, Brother Raggio had a bunch of blank cassettes and Chad, his son, made me a set of twenty-five of the sermons that Brother Harrell had preached. Still somewhat skeptical because I had never heard of Brother Harrell, primarily because he was not on the conference circuit, I put in one of those tapes. I started south on I-65 and hadn’t gotten ten minutes into the tape before I thought to myself, “Where has this man been?” It wasn’t long before I put in the second and the third and the fourth one before I reached home. I wasn’t the least bit sleepy despite it being after 2 AM; I had discovered another hidden treasure among Pentecostal preachers.
I still have those cassette tape copies that I got from Brother Raggio. The first sermons I heard of Brother Harrell were:
• The Root of Prayer
• When Wounded Men Rise Up
• A Talk about Prayer
• Conformed to the Image of the Son
• Moab Is My Washpot
• Snow, Hoarfrost, and Ice Melted by His Word
• The Snare of the Fowler
• A Sermon on Diamonds
• No More Sea
• The Palanquin
• The Favorite Sermons (total of 12 which I will blog about later)
• You Don’t Choose Your Own Cross
• Messages of Comfort (total of 10 which I will blog about later)
Those tapes were my introduction to the preaching ministry of Brother Harrell. I finally met Brother Harrell in October, 2003 when I was honored by the Raggio family to assist in preaching the funeral with him for Sister Raggio who fought a long drawn out fight with cancer before passing away on September 29, 2003. It would be in December 2003 that I would go to Bridge City and spend a weekend with the Harrell’s and Brother Raggio. (The connection with the Raggio’s and Brother Harrell is that he was their pastor in the early ‘80’s.)
We got to Bridge City late Friday night and stayed in Beaumont. Saturday morning around 10:30, Brother Harrell let me into his world. We went to this hole-in-the-wall restaurant called Sartan’s. It was a seafood joint that didn’t look like much on the outside but to this day, I have not had fried crab like I did on that day, it was fantastic. While we were eating, I started asking Brother Harrell about the ins-and-outs of preaching. I was not disappointed! For the next six hours or so, I got my wagon loaded! We finished there and he took us somewhere in the vicinity of Bridge City to a place called Rao’s where we had coffee, dessert and talked about preaching while I furiously scribbled on multiple napkins. When I got back to the hotel, I translated those scribbles into a notebook that I kept specifically for material like Brother Harrell had given to me.
Brother Harrell told me that when he first started preaching that he was off somewhere up in a little town in Louisiana working as an evangelist. In those days (late ‘60’s and early ‘70’s) the Pentecostal evangelists would stay in the homes of the pastors. So Brother Harrell told me that one of those pastors encouraged him to read Charles Spurgeon. He said one night after they got home from church the pastor lent him Volume 8 of the Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit which was being published by Pilgrim Publications in Pasadena, Texas. Long into the night did he read! It ended up that the pastor realized that he liked the book so much that he gave it to him.
A few observations for the preachers who read this blog that I have picked up from Brother Harrell along the last seven years.
• You have to be a disciplined student to preach well.
• You are no better than your devotion to God.
• Good preaching does not just happen, you have to work at it.
• Your personal library will either make you or break you. Be willing to spend money to get better.
• You’re local church is where you are going to make the biggest impact. Do your work well there and it will get out to the world without you having to go anywhere.
• Do Your Work!!!!
I will pick up tomorrow with some other things about Brother Harrell and his preaching. I have to say that I immensely appreciate the way that God used primarily Brother Raggio to get me attached to Brother Harrell. Furthermore I am thankful for the time Brother Harrell has taken with me in the last seven years primarily by way of phone. He has made me long to be a better preacher.