Our home was filled with music when I was a boy. My mother played the piano and sang continually. I was usually awakened with a bright song early in the morning and most nights my last waking memory as a little boy was of Christian music playing softly in the house.
My parents only had a few albums. Gloria Rowe. Helen Barth. We had all the albums of “The Singing Pastor” Larry Whiteford, founding pastor of Fulkerson Park Baptist Church in Niles, Michigan. Pastor Larry was my grandparents pastor. On Christmas evening for many years pastor and his wife Bonnie and their children would have a Christmas Concert. The church was full. (Only later did I realize that he and his family really had to give up anything like a normal Christmas for their family to present that concert).
When I was a boy I attended VBS at Fulkerson. Those were days of great increase and blessing at Fulkerson and the church became a model in my heart of a flourishing local church.
In 1981 I discovered that Larry Whiteford was looking for an assistant, a youth pastor. I called him and offered my services. Within a few month Lois and I and our little Kyle Pierpont moved to Niles and it was my privilege to serve on the pastoral staff at Fulkerson.
As I look back on it now it still stirs my heart with thankfulness to God that He would allow me the honor to work so closely with a childhood hero.
Pastor Whiteford and Bonnie were very, very good to Lois and I. We were very young. I had much maturing to do. I made mistakes and had much to learn. Pastor and Bonnie believed in us and they were very patient with us. If I had not been treated with understanding and patience by Pastor and Bonnie, that might have been my last place of service, but because of their love for us and their kindness to us we have been able to continue in ministry for now 40 years.
Pastor Whiteford had a rich, beautiful Irish Tenor voice. He was known as The Singing Pastor. Before every message, every week he would sing.
One day he took me to his study and played records by a singer named Ed Lymon, also an Irish Tenor with a beautiful voice and interpretive style. I remember thinking that, though Ed had a beautiful voice, Pastor Whiteford’s voice was even richer.
On occasion Pastor would welcome me to sing with him, big Hale and Wilder or Dick Anthony and Bill Pierce arrangements. A favorite was “Guide Me Oh Thou Great Jehovah.” I would sing baritone and he would, of course sing tenor… we would just thunder together. It was a great honor for me.
Bonnie would play. She had an incredible keyboard style as a soloist and an accompanist. He was at his very best when she played for him.
Pastor trusted me frequently with the Fulkerson pulpit. Many would not have given o many opportunities to a man so young with the formal training I had at the time. He would have me preach the full month of January when he was working with Clyde Narramore in Florida. He once had an extended absence because of an injury playing soccer with his children. I preached every week from January to Easter.
Pastor was very generous with us as a young couple. One Christmas I had presided over an orange sale for Christian schools. There were many boxes of navel oranges left. One weekday before Christmas I asked him what he was planning to do with the oranges that were left over. He said; “Brother Pierpont, do you think you could sell them?”
He gave me the day off and I loaded them in a pickup truck, went home to get my young family and drove around peddling those cases of oranges until they were all gone. There were 60 cases. I gathered over 600.00 that day. I was proud of my work and I was eager to call Pastor Whiteford and tell him of my success for the cause. Standing there at the phone booth I remember his response:
“Well, good job, brother Ken. Merry Christmas. You can keep that money for your family.”
After a few years of service at Fulkerson God led me on to another work. We parted with the greatest love and highest regard for each other. A few years later Pastor Whiteford decided that he would resign the church and begin a full-time ministry of singing. It was about March of 1987. He called me and said; “Brother Pierpont, I am going to resign and I would like you to be the next pastor at Fulkerson.”
He wanted me to follow him in the church that he had founded and poured his life into. I was deeply honored but I had just that day accepted a call to a church in Ohio. We would spend the next ten year sof our ministry in Knox County, Ohio, but the honor of that phone call still warms my heart.
I loved Larry and Bonnie Whiteford and their family. We spoke well of me. He was patient with me. He was understanding with my family. I learned a great deal of good from him.
A couple days ago he slipped quietly into the presence of the Lord. He is with his wife Bonnie and their daughter Judy and many, many others that Larry and Bonnie led or influenced toward Christ.
Working with Pastor Larry and Bonnie was one of the greatest honors of my life.
Ken Pierpont | Bittersweet Farm | Summit Township, Michigan | February 2, 2019