Lester Pifer was recently featured in This Week online in the Columbus, Ohio, area. To see the original, click here.
At age 65, the Rev. Lester Pifer retired from his role helping to establish congregations for the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches, but that didn’t prevent him from continuing his career with the church for the next 25 years.
Pifer oversees the senior ministry, runs the men’s prayer group and heads the cancer support group at Grace Brethren Church of Columbus, 8225 Worthington-Galena Road in Westerville. The church celebrated his 90th birthday and 70th year in the ministry March 27. His birthday is April 2.
“There’s no reason to stop, just keep right on going with the Lord,” Pifer said of his nearly lifelong career as a minister.
Pifer grew up on a farm near Akron and said he didn’t attend church until he began attending a Grace Brethren church in 1939. In April 1940, after speaking at a church meeting for young people, Pifer felt pulled to the ministry.
“I got a call from the Lord to start that ministry,” he said. “That’s been it from then on.”
Pifer abandoned plans to go to Ohio State University to study civil engineering and headed to William Jennings Bryan College that fall to study for the ministry. He took his first job as a minister, preaching at a church the college’s students had just built in the mountains surrounding the Tennessee school.
Pifer served there for three years while attending college before being drafted to serve in World War II.
Upon returning from his service, he attended Grace Theological Seminary in Winona Lake, Ind. He served as pastor of a church in South Bend, Ind., before starting a new Grace Brethren Church, where he served for seven years.
Pifer was recruited by the leadership of the Fellowship of Grace Brethren Churches to help start churches across the country.
For the next 33 years, he said, he traveled the nation, networking with people who had Grace Brethren backgrounds. He helped bring them together, build church buildings, find pastors and grow.
He served on all of the denomination’s major boards and helped found more than 200 churches, including the Grace Brethren Church of Columbus, which he has seen grow to 4,500 members and establish 17 branches.
Pifer said he traveled more than 70,000 miles a year, either by car or in a small plane he flew himself. He said the job was possible with the support of his wife, Genevene, and their three children.
At age 65, Pifer was told to retire, and did so, but then found a position with the church’s Florida district, which he worked with over the next 12 years starting up new churches.
Pifer moved to Worthington for a position at Grace Brethren of Columbus 13 years ago, when his wife was diagnosed with cancer.
After she died, Pifer helped to start a cancer support group. Through it, Pifer met Bonnie.
Pifer said he plans to continue at Grace Brethren and credits God for giving him the drive to make a 70-year career of the ministry.
“He gave me that call for the ministry, and he gave me that passion,” Pifer said. “I can testify that when the Lord speaks and says something, he means it, and he’ll back up his word.”
What’s made his career most worthwhile, Pifer said, is the faith that he’s passed on to his family and those who worship in the churches he helped found.
Pifer’s son, Mark Pifer, is a teacher in Worthington; one of his daughters, Beth Reece, serves as a hospital chaplain in Chicago; and the other, Deborah Peters, is a missionary in South Korea.