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Charles Stanford, proponent of PC(USA) move to Louisville, dies at age 83

Pastor, justice advocate, and mid council leader served church for nearly 60 years

by Gregg Brekke | Presbyterian News Service

Charles Stanford (right) and Bob Abrams in April 2014, serving as volunteer coordinators for Presbyterian Men. (Photo by Jerry L. Van Marter)

LOUISVILLE — The Rev. Charles Leo Stanford Jr. died Dec. 18, 2017, after nearly 60 years of ministry with the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.). He was 83.

Stanford graduated from Louisville Presbyterian Theological School in 1958, serving congregations throughout the Midwest and South and ending his career in Louisville. Notably, he served as pastor at New Covenant Presbyterian Church in Vidalia, Louisiana; Jones Memorial Presbyterian Church in Meridian, Mississippi; and Okolona Presbyterian Church in Louisville, Kentucky.

Stanford was pastor at Jones Memorial when James Meredith became the first African-American to gain admission to the University of Mississippi in 1962. In response to the controversy over Meredith’s entry to the university, Stanford preached a sermon titled “Love Disqualified,” based on 1 John 4:20, which reads, “Those who say, ‘I love God,’ but hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who hate a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” His sermon is included in the book The Unsilent South: Prophetic Preaching in Racial Crisis (1965) by Donald Shriver.

In 1980, Stanford joined the staff of the Louisville (now Mid-Kentucky) Presbytery and became executive presbyter in 1982, serving there until his retirement in 1996. While executive presbyter, he was a member of a group led by then-Louisville Seminary President John M. Mulder who advocated successfully for the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) to move its national offices to Louisville.

Following the decision to move the denomination to Louisville, Stanford was on the committee that worked with the architects and designers who joined two old buildings into one new building on the riverfront in downtown Louisville and helped families coming from the North and South branches of the church to relocate.

After retirement, Stanford served as interim pastor of the First Presbyterian Church of Mayfield, Kentucky; First Presbyterian Church of Caruthersville, Missouri; and First Presbyterian Church of Madisonville, Kentucky. He most recently volunteered two days a week with the National Council of Presbyterian Men. Stanford was named a Distinguished Alum by Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary in 2016.

“What I remember most is that when I became a presbytery executive at the age of 40, Charles mentored me without even saying so,” said the Rev. Gradye Parsons, former Stated Clerk of the PC(USA) General Assembly. “He never treated me like a kid. He was always a great colleague, a great mentor. To see Charles weekly in Louisville was a gift. He had a great sense of humor and a great sense of what it meant to be a Christian.”

A memorial service for Stanford is scheduled for Saturday, Jan. 6, at 11 a.m. at Central Presbyterian Church in Louisville.

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