Richard Wise Shreffler

Age 88: Pastor of Presbyterian church in Bel Air for 30 years, he ministered to homeless, AIDS patients in Baltimore.

"He rode a bicycle and was nicknamed the 'Pedaling Pastor' ..." Rev. Richard J. Link

May 08, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun reporter

The Rev. Richard Wise Shreffler, who had pastored the First Presbyterian Church of Bel Air for more than 30 years and was also active in Baltimore homeless and AIDS ministries, died May 1 of pneumonia at his home in San Antonio, Texas. He was 88.

Mr. Shreffler was born and raised in Shelby, Ohio. After earning a bachelor's degree in 1942 from the College of Wooster in Wooster, Ohio, he entered Naval Training School at Annapolis.

Commissioned as an officer in 1943, he participated in the D-Day invasion and was later assigned to the Pacific theater of operations.

After being discharged from the Navy, he entered Union Theological Seminary in New York City, from which he graduated in 1947. He also studied theology at Princeton and Oxford universities.

Ordained in 1947, he pastored a Presbyterian church in Ann Arbor, Mich., before rejoining the Navy in 1952. While serving in Korea as a chaplain, Mr. Shreffler, aided by his fellow naval officers and the Korean Presbyterian Church, helped keep an orphanage open.

"Compassion, kindness and his unselfish willingness to help were legendary qualities he exhibited throughout his life," said a niece, Sara S. Eyestone of San Antonio.

Mr. Shreffler left the Navy in 1954, and the next year was named pastor of the First Presbyterian Church in Bel Air.

"When I first came here, I heard a lot about him. He was a bachelor and liked visiting members' homes where he shared a cup of tea or ate a meal," said the church's current pastor, the Rev. Richard J. Link.

"He rode a bicycle and was nicknamed the 'Pedaling Pastor' because he made all of his pastoral calls on his bike," he said.

A popular pastor with a social conscience, Mr. Shreffler joined several other clergymen in helping to integrate businesses, restaurants and motels along Route 40 in the early 1960s.

"He did face some opposition in those years," Mr. Link recalled. "People put trash on his porch, and there was a whispering campaign by some members who said they wouldn't come to church because of his stance on integration, but that didn't deter him. He firmly believed in equality of the races."

Ms. Eyestone added: "He took risks that put him in harm's way and led to turmoil in his personal life. There were bomb threats, and his tires were slashed."

Mr. Shreffler was also interested in the plight of the homeless and, particularly, homeless families.

"He was the last pastor to live in a house that the church owns and which we turned into a shelter for homeless families. Oftentimes, they are split up, and this facility, which we named Shreffler House, allows them to stay together," Mr. Link said.

When he retired in 1983, Mr. Shreffler immediately became active in a Baltimore street ministry for the homeless and AIDS victims based at First and Franklin Presbyterian Church. He also often worked the midnight shift at the old Mother Theresa AIDS Shelter and also visited prison inmates.

"Dick was a marvelous guy with an amazing spirit. He was a gentle and incredibly humble person who always put others first," said the Rev. Alison Halsey, pastor of First and Franklin.

"He wanted to make sure that the homeless could take showers, have clean clothes and despite being homeless, give them a sense of dignity," she said.

Ms. Halsey recalled how supportive he was of her ministry.

"Every Sunday, he'd greet me at the door of the church after my services and say, 'That was just marvelous. I don't know how you do it week after week.' He had the ability to make others feel special as if you were the most important person to him," she said.

When Ms. Halsey announced his death in church last Sunday, there was a collective sigh.

"He was so loved by so many people. With his death, the world has lost a treasure," she said.

For years, Mr. Shreffler maintained a physical regimen that included swimming, hiking and riding his bike.

Mr. Shreffler lived for 12 years on Park Avenue before moving to Oak Crest Village in Parkville in 1996. He moved to San Antonio two years ago when his health began to fail.

A memorial service will be held at 7 p.m. May 23 at First and Franklin Presbyterian Church, 210 W. Madison St. A second memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. May 24 at the First Presbyterian Church, 224 N. Main St., Bel Air.

Also surviving are several other nieces and nephews.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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