The year just past saw the deaths of a number of faithful, long term members of First Baptist Church. We rejoice that the heavenly cloud of witnesses is expanded, but we grieve their absence here below. No one will be missed more than Pastor Ed Stelle, who passed away suddenly on December 29 at age 95.
Pastor Ed had served as visitation pastor at FBC for fifteen years, a longer tenure than any of our current ministry staff save our Cambodian pastor, Rev. Peter Im. He had visited the shut-in and the hospitalized, he had participated in prayer and planning with lay leaders and his fellow pastors, he had shared leadership in worship. He was a friend and confidant to many.
Pastor Ed first came to FBC at the invitation of Senior Pastor Ron Johnson. Beloved visitation pastor Rev. Carl Jones was no longer able to drive so Pastor Ed became his chauffeur and sidekick. But soon he was overseeing the visitation ministry, and also recruiting lay leaders such as Gloria Wetmore and Evelyn McNeel, who herself just passed away on January 5, to expand this vital ministry.
Pastor Ed liked to say that his ministry at FBC spanned the tenure of three senior pastors and five interims; certainly he was a rock of stability in a time of constant transition. When I arrived on the scene ten years ago, he and I soon established a routine of sharing lunch after Wednesday staff meetings and then going visiting together. Driving around together as we did for almost ten years provided a lot of time for sharing our life stories, our insights about the ministry and — in Ed’s case — lots of funny stories. In the last few years of my father’s life — he died in December just short of his 101st birthday — when his memory of events recent and not so recent failed him, I could always tell him one of Ed’s stories and rejoice with him in the bond of a shared laugh.
Though Pastor Ed’s ministry at FBC was lengthy, it was just the tip of the iceberg of his life-long service to the Lord. He grew up in the Apostolic Faith Church headquartered in Portland. Their founder, Mother Florence Carter, had been part of the Azuza Street Revival — fountainhead of the modern worldwide Pentecostal Movement — in the early years of the last century. Brother Ray Crawford, her son, assumed leadership in the Apostolic Church upon her death. Brother Ray took the young Ed Stelle under his wing as a protegee; it was he who first sent Ed to visit the Portland chief of police to inquire about security issues at their headquarters church on Burnside Street.
That initial encounter with the chief led, through a series of truly divine interventions, to Ed’s sixty year career as a pioneering chaplain to law enforcement officers. When “Chap,” as the officers called him, retired in 1986 from his position at the Portland Police Bureau, the then sheriff of Multnomah County asked him to come over to the county for “a short time” to help them set up a chaplaincy program similar to the one he had constructed for the police. That was thirty years ago! Ed served under six sheriffs, led the search for a full-time chaplain to the Multnomah County jails, and continued to recruit and supervise volunteer chaplains in the jails right on up to his passing. This in addition to his ongoing work as counselor, de facto pastor and trusted mentor to law enforcement officers both churched and unchurched. No one understood them like Chaplain Ed did.
Ed’s father had become a pastor in the Apostolic Church in his middle years, and pastored small churches until his death. The older Rev. Stelle literally died on his knees at the prayer altar at the conclusion of a Sunday service. Ed followed this example. On Sunday, December 25, he was on the platform with me in worship; on Monday he called me with good news about a contact he had made with a FBC member; on Tuesday he called to say he was feeling under the weather and probably shouldn’t come in on Wednesday; by Thursday he was at home with the Lord and with his beloved Zel. Ever since Zel’s death not quite two years ago, he had said that he would serve the Lord as long as he was able, but that he was ready to go home and be with Zel at any time. They had been married 75 years at the time of her death! And so we smile as we think of the joyous reunion in heaven, and we echo the Lord in saying, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”
— Dr. David L. Wheeler