ASHLAND—Pastor Charles Stewart, who impacted not only Baptists in northeastern Kentucky but those throughout the state during a 30-year ministry at Rose Hill Missionary Baptist Church, died peacefully on Dec. 31. He was 90 years old.
Rose Hill grew from 50 to 1,500 members under Stewart's leadership from 1964 to 1994. He had been in failing health for some time and the church recently honored him during a celebration of his 90th birthday.
"I'm the pastor of the man who set the bar for what it means to be a pastor in this area," said Rose Hill Pastor Matt Shamblin, who has heard the many stories of Stewart's unrelenting drive when it came to doing God's work. "God did something extraordinary through Charles Stewart."
A bivocational pastor during much of his ministry, Stewart didn't have an off switch. His wife, Clara, would have dinner waiting on him at 4:30 p.m. and then he was off visiting prospective members or making hospital calls.
"His saying was that if you'll sit on their couch, they'll sit in your pews," Shamblin said. "God used Bro. Stewart and Mrs. Stewart in remarkable ways."
Stewart's work ethic came quite naturally. He never met his father and was raised by a single mother. She took him to Pollard Baptist Church where W.K. Wood was preaching boldly.
"He is the product of a healthy local church. He looked at men like W.K. Wood like a father," Shamblin said. "Whether they knew it or not, they very much were preparing Bro. Stewart for the calling that God had on him. I know for sure W.K. Wood was a hard-working pastor and Bro. Stewart followed in those footsteps."
His first church was a small one in nearby Kenova, W.Va., but it grew so rapidly he thought it was more than he could handle. Stewart wanted something smaller so he took over Rose Hill, a mission church started by Pollard with only 50 members. It began to quickly grow too but he continued being a bivocational pastor, essentially working two full-time jobs. He had four full-time staff members at Rose Hill before he became full time himself.
It was a heyday time for the Greenup Association with Stewart at Rose Hill and Harold Cathey at Unity Baptist Church, which was about a 10-minute drive away. Stewart and Cathey's churches were mirror images.
"Bro. Stewart was more of the pastoral side of things and then you had Harold, who was more of a Bible teacher," said Paul Badgett, a close friend of Stewart and an East Region consultant for the Kentucky Baptist Convention. "It was a good time in Baptist life (in northeastern Kentucky). We've not seen that in recent days but hope we can find that again."
Stewart was a pastor who loved preaching and loved encouraging. His hospital visits were memorable and often included a song, said Badgett, who worked alongside Stewart for almost 10 years before being sent out to become a pastor himself.
Badgett said Stewart "had good horse sense" when it came to running a church. He always had strong Vacation Bible Schools, revivals where the preachers were better than him and ongoing visitations that often resulted in winning souls, he said.
In 1980, he took the ministry a further step into the community by opening Rose Hill Christian School. It will be 40 years old in two years and currently goes from preschool through high school with more than 160 students.
Stewart was instrumental in raising $1.2 million for a much-needed facility that included a gymnasium and classrooms for the high school. Paul Thompson was a former high school coach in Ashland and Stewart was a manager. When the basketball team was scheduled to go play in Charleston, W.Va., on a Wednesday night, Stewart informed Thompson that he couldn't go because that was a church night.
Later, some of the players and coaches thought it was time to get rid of him as manager. But Thompson said no, he was a good Christian boy and respected him. He watched the ministry at Rose Hill grow over the years with Stewart at the helm and when his former manager was looking for financial help, it was Thompson, who he had baptized, that gave him $1 million.
"He had confidence that Bro. Stewart was genuine and he (Stewart) got the new building," Badgett said.
During the mid-1990s, Stewart's church was getting attention for its growth and baptisms numbers and he was elected president of the Kentucky Baptist Convention. "He became a flagship pastor for the Greenup Association and also had an impact on Kentucky," Badgett said. "He was elected a conservative president for the KBC when being conservative wasn't cool."
Stewart, who retired a second time in 2003 after coming back to serve as an interim, received an honorary doctorate from the University of Cumberlands and his ministry became a model for others to follow, Badgett said. (KT)