Just five months ago, Pastor Terry M. Ferrell was interviewed by reporter, Stephanie Trotter, in Town Carolina magazine, which featured a most intriguing story of his life. Titled, “Kingdom of Clay,” the introduction to the article stated, “Terry Ferrell is a man of many lives. As a boy, he enjoyed conversations with iconic photographer Ansel Adams. As a pastor, his work has taken him from California to Minnesota to South Carolina. As a collector, he has almost single-handedly unearthed the artistic legacy of Edgefield.”
The reporter was referring to the collection of pottery that Terry and his son, Stephen, had accumulated which started one day in the early 60’s. It so happened that he was at an old Piedmont jockey lot and saw a couple of antique jugs that were by a fellow named Collin Rhodes. Rhodes was one of the men making stoneware in Pottersville before the Civil War, according to the article. One thing led to the other and as the search for pottery grew, so did their knowledge. It opened a whole new world for the Ferrells so that over the next few decades, they had started antique shops which included pottery made of the red clay soil around Edgefield, near the Georgia border.
It is reported that “Edgefield Potters became the first in the nation to succeed commercially, by pairing Scotch-Irish entrepreneurship with the talents of African-American artisans. Historians estimate enslaved men and women created 75 to 95 percent of Edgefield’s pottery…totaling some 100,000 vessels before the close of the century…” https://towncarolina.com/article/kingdom-of-clay
The success he had with his collection of pottery and other artifacts is not only fascinating from a business or historical angle. It is especially intriguing from a Biblical perspective, as well. For his 76 years in ministry and his “kingdom of clay” run parallel to the rich legacy of faith he has left for generations to come. There are spiritual lessons we can learn from this “man on a mission.”
There are several scriptures that come to mind with symbolic messages based on the potter and the clay. Jeremiah, chapters 18 and 19 provide a detailed example. God told Jeremiah the prophet to go down to the house of a potter where God would illustrate his relationship to Israel. In Jeremiah 18:2-6 God said to the prophet,
“Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will announce My words to you.” Jeremiah said, “Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something on the wheel. But the vessel that he was making of clay was spoiled in the hand of the potter; so he remade it into another vessel, as it pleased the potter to make. Then the word of the Lord came to me saying, “Can I not, O house of Israel, deal with you as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Behold, like the clay in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel.” (All scripture quotes are from the New American Standard Bible, NASB.)
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul also referred to the potter and clay illustration when he wrote in Romans 9:19-24,
“You will say to me then, ‘Why does He still find fault? For who resists His will?’ On the contrary, who are you, O man, who answers back to God? The thing molded will not say to the molder, ‘Why did you make me like this,’ will it? Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction? And He did so to make known the riches of His glory upon vessels of mercy, which He prepared beforehand for glory, even us, whom He also called, not from among Jews only, but also from among Gentiles.”
The lesson to be learned is that although God gives us a will to make choices, he is still the one in control. God is working in us, so who are we to question him and the decisions he makes? What right do we, the clay, have to question the Potter when life is filled with sorrow or if things don’t go our way? Many times, like Israel, we want to go our own direction but in the process, God has another way—a better way—so who are we to insist on something God doesn’t want or like? Or, as the Prophet Isaiah recorded, “Woe to the one who quarrels with his Maker—An earthenware vessel among the vessels of earth! Will the clay say to the potter, ‘What are you doing?’ Or the thing you are making say, ‘He has no hands’”? (Isa. 45:9.)
Bro. Ferrell would have agreed that the Potter knows better than the clay what is best and what is right. He traveled all the way from his home in Pomona, California, to the little town of Oregon, Illinois at the young age of 18 to attend the church’s Bible college. Thus his commitment of service to the Lord was formed and shaped by his submission to God’s will. It would all add up to 76 years of ministry which touched countless lives for the Lord.
His life was also dearly blessed when he was married to his beloved Orpha after he graduated in 1943. He would always smile when he said that many eyebrows were raised since she was a 37-year-old widow and he was a 21-year-old college graduate when they married. He would jokingly say, “They accused her of robbing the cradle and me of robbing the grave!” He spoke very highly of his wife saying the best thing he ever did was marry her. And that “she was a wonderful minister’s wife.” They were happily married for 54 years.
But even in the happiest of times, I’m sure there were moments that he could feel the hand of his Maker working away even when facing difficulties and challenges. Such is life. But God was still in control, molding and shaping and providing the way that would ultimately bring showers of blessings. Of course, the final product that was always his aim—that one day, and not that far away—Christ will come and he, along with the faithful, will some day enter that glorious Kingdom. Now doubt, that’s why his sermons were always referenced with the Good News of the Kingdom of God.
What’s amazing is that all throughout those years of his life, though his body became weak, his mind remained as sharp as a tack. Longevity and a keen mind seemed to run in his family. According to the magazine article, in mentioning that his mother lived to be 97, he said she still “had all her marbles to the end.”
There’s something else that brings a chuckle. In recollecting his family history, he said his mother was born in 1889. His “maternal grandparents pioneered in orange ranching and his father pioneered in avocado ranching.” And he “was born on a 10-acre avocado ranch.” Then he says with a good laugh, “I tell people I was weaned on avocados, and cut my teeth on the seed.” Even toward the very end of his life, he was reported to eat one avocado a day. Makes me wonder if that’s the secret to why his mind was so sharp!
I imagine that his ability to remember names, dates, and locations, is what made him such an excellent Bible student as well as an historian. In fact, I’ve heard him say more than once that he didn’t think of himself as much as a preacher but a teacher of the Word. He stated that it wasn’t his manner to yell or wander around or pound the pulpit but simply share with the church what he’d learned from his studies of the Bible.
Many members have spiritually benefitted from his messages in the churches he has pastored across the United States. This includes the Greenville Church of God of the Abrahamic Faith, South Carolina, which he started and pastored for more than forty years. Unfortunately, he was unable to preach since suffering a fall about a year ago which led to his retirement. The church then hired a young minister who served until he answered the call to take another church in North Carolina. Occasionally, I filled in at the pulpit whenever he was away. Last fall, I was honored that the church asked me to take the reigns as the church’s pastor. I greatly appreciate the support that Bro. Ferrell gave me during the time he was able to attend.
My association with Bro. Ferrell, however, goes back a lot longer. I am most grateful that one of those churches Bro. Ferrell pastored back in the early 50’s was the Brush Creek Church of God in Tipp City, Ohio, which is my home church. I say I am grateful because he was my pastor when I was born in 1953. But now that I am pastor at the Greenville Church where he was, I am honored to have been his pastor until the time of his death. God does work in mysterious ways, his wonders to behold!
Sometimes we’d talk about his pastorate at Brush Creek. I was always impressed with his memory of the members who I likewise remember when I grew up in the church. I marvel at the way God used him to preach and teach to the same people who taught me God’s Word during my early years. Such an influence helped to point me into the direction of ministry in the coming years when I chose to enter Bible college. He knew my parents, grandparents, and great grandparents (Pearson and Brown families) who were active members of the Brush Creek Church. They all spoke highly of Terry and Orpha. And he spoke highly of them, too. He married an aunt and uncle of mine and vividly remembered their names as well as when they were married.
I think of how the Lord guides and provides when we, the clay, completely submit to our Potter. As we ponder how God blesses his people through a dedicated leader like Bro. Ferrell, we recall the verse in Isaiah 64:8, “But now, O Lord, You are our Father, We are the clay, and You our potter; And all of us are the work of Your hand.” Just as our Maker had a purpose for Bro. Ferrell, he also has a purpose for each and every one of us. We are the work of his mighty hand with gifts and talents to be used for his glory. And just as Bro. Ferrell touched many lives in his lifetime, we can continue that legacy as we serve him in the time we have, too.
As I write this post, it was only days ago that the Greenville Church of God, of the Abrahamic Faith, South Carolina, along with family and many friends, celebrated the day of his birth, January 20. The church he’d started 40 years ago held a social after worship on January 21, to honor him for his 96th birthday. He greatly enjoyed being there, he said that day. And everyone had a very nice time chating with him and sharing fond memories. Little did anyone know at that time that only eight days later he would peacefully fall asleep in death to await the call of his Savior when he comes again to waken all the faithful sleeping in their graves on that Glorious Day (1 Thessalonians 4:16-18).
Ironically, the magazine article (printed August 2017) started out with these words, “With a knock at the door, Pastor Terry Ferrell puts his Bible down upon a side table. At 95 years old, he knows the time to meet his Maker is drawing near.” These words were almost prophetic even though no one knew just how soon that time would be. But we now know that Bro. Ferrell truly was ready to meet his Maker, and he will when the Lord Jesus comes and establishes God’s Kingdom on the earth. And in his own time, the Potter himself will do away with pain, grief, and death forevermore (Rev. 21:3-4).
The fact that we are mortal, dying persons shows that we are only clay that can break and die and decay in time. The Apostle Paul compares our frailty to “jars of clay” which contain treasure. The treasure, of course, is the life source that comes from Jesus Christ. It is Jesus who provides that hope that as he was raised to life to conquer death, so will all those “jars of clay” be raised to life immortal on that Resurrection Day:
“But having the same spirit of faith, according to what is written, ‘I believed, therefore I spoke,’ we also believe, therefore we also speak, knowing that He who raised the Lord Jesus will raise us also with Jesus and will present us with you. For all things are for your sakes, so that the grace which is spreading to more and more people may cause the giving of thanks to abound to the glory of God. Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen; for the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal,” (2 Corinthians 4:13-18).
In view of our own losses and sorrows, we also “do not lose heart,” for indeed our affliction is only temporary compared to the “eternal weight of glory” that awaits all those who believe in Jesus Christ. He is our Treasure in vessels of clay that our heavenly Father is shaping day be day.
I am told that Terry and Orpha sang a favorite hymn called, “In Times Like These.” Here is a pianist’s rendition featuring the words for you to follow as you listen to this beautiful tune: http://youtu.be/_MT5wx5fRTY
Good News to You!
Greenville Church of God, Abrahamic Faith, South Carolina