News Articles

He spent nearly half a century as one church’s faithful pastor

GLEN ECHO, Md. (BP)–David Cole began preaching at Glen Echo (Md.) Baptist Church as a supply preacher in 1951. The proposed short term didn’t deter him. He immediately began a church visitation program and a Wednesday evening service. He also began using “contemporary” methods on Sunday nights — showing film strips as a community outreach. He donated the first $20 to begin a church nursery.

Attendance at the church rose from 20 to 115 in less than a year. The church offered the permanent position of pastor to Cole. He accepted it and stayed at the church almost half a century.

The church met in a tiny building not far from where the current church stands now. In 1958, the congregation purchased and remodeled what was then the Glen Echo firehouse.

Cole gave of himself completely to the church. He preached and visited, drove the bus and pulled the weeds. To prove how committed he was to doing things himself and not having to hire someone, he spent an afternoon on a ladder trying to fix a pipe in the church and fell. Cole lay for hours on the floor with a severe concussion. When he came to, he drove himself home, then with his wife’s insistence, saw a doctor.

In addition to his work at the church, it was necessary for Cole to work other jobs to support his family. “He was always good with his hands,” his daughter, Diane Meeks, said. He worked at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center, helping build the metal cage to send the first monkey into space.

Glen Echo may have been the first Washington-area Southern Baptist congregation to accept blacks at a time when the nation, including the church, was struggling with segregation. The situation threatened to split the congregation.

The little town his family grew up in was racially mixed and Cole had been close to many black families. “What is the great commandment?” Cole asked. “Jesus said first thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart and soul and strength, second to love your neighbor as yourself — it’s not complicated but we have to depend on the Holy Spirit.”

“It was a major issue then,” Meeks said. “My dad was firm. It had to be an open situation.”

Through the years, under Cole’s leadership, the church was a strong supporter of missions — commissioning more than 20 international and home missionaries and supporting others financially.

Cole personally has endured his share of pain and tragedy. He preached the funerals for his father and his mother. He also preached the funeral for his sister, a foreign missionary who came home and began teaching in the states. On her way to teach at a Christian school, she was in an accident that killed her and several of her children.

Cole grew up in poverty. His mother, he said, was left early on to raise eight children in a shack without running water. She didn’t have a lot of material goods, but she had heavenly wealth and prayed regularly for her children.

His spiritual pilgrimage started when his brother, Paul, got saved. “My brother met Jesus. He came home and started telling us about the Lord.” Cole was in his early 20s then and spent his Saturdays “carousing” and playing ball on Sundays. “I had no interest in going to church,” and at one time, he proclaimed himself an atheist.

After his brother began witnessing, Cole said he found himself wanting to read the Bible. “The Holy Spirit put a desire in my heart to read the Bible. Then changes started taking place. ‘Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.’ There’s a God and I met him. … Life without Jesus sooner or later can get very painful. You get sick and tired of being sick and tired. … Jesus saved this poor sinner. … God opened doors. I would travel three or four hundred miles to preach or just give a testimony.”

Soon after he was saved, Cole began working with Youth for Christ and was the director for a Washington chapter. He has also preached and helped at Central Union Mission and Gospel Mission in Washington for 50 years. “I worked with kids in reform schools, jails, wherever I had an opportunity to tell someone about the Lord.”

“David is very evangelistically inclined,” said Gilbert Brown, the new pastor of Glen Echo who grew up in the church and was saved and baptized there. “He spent a lot of time at different missions, nursing homes, hospitals. … I wouldn’t be surprised if he wasn’t out today walking around a hospital visiting people,” Brown said. “He was faithful.”

“He will reach out to anyone around him so they know Jesus. I don’t know any other living being who has the boldness he has,” Meeks said.

In recent years, Meeks said her father had to deal with an aging congregation, thus a diminishing number of people. At its peak, the church had 250 people attending regularly. Now it’s less than 100. Meeks said that Cole, like any other pastor, also dealt with the disintegrating values of society, and at times a hostile community. Through it all, she said, he never compromised.

Numbers never bothered Cole. He believes that ministry has always been more one-on-one. “God called Abraham. He called the apostle Paul. He called Timothy. Salvation is an individual relationship with Jesus,” Cole said.

Another challenge that Cole has faced, and preached in spite of, has been Parkinson’s disease.

When asked what he would say to younger preachers, Cole responded, “Preach the Word, follow Jesus, don’t worry about numbers. … Sometimes preachers get sidetracked with programs, buildings and activities — just be and do what God called you to do. … It’s not complicated. Don’t worry about records and reports — leave the results with God. Trust him to fulfill his promise — his Word shall not return void.”

Cole said that everywhere Christians go they need to pass out tracts and tell others about Jesus. He never misses an opportunity. Cole recently helped preside at a funeral for a neighbor. He and others distributed about 200 New Testaments and scores of tracts. Several people confessed faith in Jesus at that time.

Remarking on today’s society, Cole said he is “heartsick” to see people destroying themselves. “This is what we expected,” he said. “Jesus said it will get worse and worse. It is simply a matter of letting Sodom and Gomorra happen all over again, ending up in judgment.”

The church recognized Cole at an appreciation banquet in June. Approximately 270 people turned out for the dinner. Cole received a monetary gift and a plaque.

What’s he going to do now?

“Years ago they asked me that when I was ordained. I said ‘the same thing if I’m not ordained — keep on doing what I’m doing.’ That’s what I’m doing now. I have a good time giving out tracts, going to nursing homes, telling people about Jesus.

Cole said he’s also trying to help pass the responsibility to Brown and he plans to spend more time with his family — his wife, Ruby, his three grown children, David, Diane and Sharon, and his four grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.

“I don’t know where God will lead, perhaps Florida,” Cole reflected. “God is big enough to run the stars, the sun, and the universe. I’m going to trust him to run my life.”
Mager is a staff writer with Baptist Life, newsjournal of the Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware.

    About the Author

  • Sharon Mager