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The Rev. Dr. James Foster Reese, a beloved Presbyterian pastor and leader, dies at age 98


Reese announced his retirement from the Presbyterian Foundation only three years ago

October 14, 2022

The Rev. Dr. James Foster Reese

The Rev. Dr. James Foster Reese, a respected and beloved pastor and pioneer in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), died June 17 after a long illness. He was 98.

At age 95, Reese, a minister of Word and Sacrament in the PC(USA) for more than seven decades, officially retired from his position with the Presbyterian Foundation as Minister of Specialized Interpretation, a consulting position he’d held since 1995.

Watch the “Called into Ministry” video with Reese here. A Valentine’s Day interview with Reese and his wife Neola can be enjoyed here.

“Jesus taught a parable in Matthew 25 where a servant who had done well was commended by his master with the phrase, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant,’” said the Rev. Dr. Tom Taylor, the Presbyterian Foundation’s president and CEO. “That commendation speaks both to a person who used their abilities and accountabilities to the highest degrees.

“That statement is wholly applicable to James Foster Reese. He had many gifts such as hospitality, encouragement, kindness, preaching and teaching, and many others. I never saw him tire of using all of those gifts to their fullest extent. My heart sank today when I heard he went home to be with the Lord. Yet, I’m so grateful that I was able to know him and experience that marvelous glimmer and reflection of God’s grace.

“His work for the church and the Presbyterian Foundation touched thousands over the years. And his example continues to be followed by many. And we’re all better off and better led because of him. Well done, our dear brother in Christ. Thanks for your goodness. And thanks for your faithfulness.”

Reese, a native of Harrodsburg, Kentucky, held a bachelor’s degree from Knoxville College, a Master of Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and a Master of Education in Religious Education from the University of Pittsburgh. He held an honorary Doctor of Divinity from Knoxville College and a Distinguished Alumni Award for Excellence in Specialized Ministry from Pittsburgh Seminary. He is also the recipient of the Edler G. Hawkins Award from the National Black Presbyterian Caucus, the Lucy Craft Laney Award from the Black Presbyterian Women’s Association and the Maggie Kuhn Award from Presbyterian Senior Services.

It was only three years ago that the Rev. Dr. James Reese announced his retirement from the Presbyterian Foundation. (Photo courtesy of the Presbyterian Foundation)

Reese was first called to be pastor of Trinity United Presbyterian Church and Miller’s Ferry Presbyterian Church in Alabama. He was next called to serve as pastor of First United Presbyterian Church on the campus of Knoxville College. He took an academic sabbatical from the college to serve as Professor of Homiletics in Kenya, and upon his return, agreed to serve as the Christian education consultant for the Synod of Catawba in Charlotte, North Carolina.

Prior to his “retirement” in 1993, Reese served in a number of positions with the Presbyterian Church, with his last being director of Racial Ethnic Ministries, now Racial Equity & Women’s Intercultural Ministries. Post-retirement, he held nearly as many prestigious positions as he did previously, including service as the interim executive presbyter for the presbyteries of New York CityDetroit and Newark, now the Presbytery of Northeast New Jersey. At age 93, he “re-retired” as supply pastor for the Germantown Community Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia.

The Rev. Dr. SanDawna Gaulman Ashley, transitional leader of the Synod of the Northeast, called Reese an active member of the synod whose ministry exceeded “the concept of a trailblazer.”

“Throughout his ministry, he walked with the denomination and society through the many transitions in American culture. He lived through the Old School versus New School debates in history. To the shifting society and Church, he brought wisdom on how persons of color added value to the mission of the PC(USA),” she said. “A mentor to many, he lifted others as he climbed and made space for a legacy of ministry leaders to follow in his footsteps. A steady figure within the denomination, Rev. Reese’s service to the Church will not be forgotten. The Synod of the Northeast celebrates his Christian witness.”

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: The Rev. Dr. James Foster Reese passes away

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Cheri Harper, Mission Associate/Offerings, Presbyterian Women
Ginger Harris, Loan Operations Specialist, Presbyterian Investment & Loan Program

Let us pray

Thank you, God, for the opportunity to spread seeds of life through the Word of God. We ask that you would help us grow in love and service to others. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

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