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Churches: Presbyterian pastor steps down after 31 years in the pulpit

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

The Rev. Frank Holsclaw finally got to sing his solo at Pawleys Island Presbyterian Church.

It took 31 years for him to convince a music director, but Dr. Lana Pollard wasn’t about to object. This was his day, the last Sunday that Holsclaw would be in this pulpit as pastor.

The song selection was a natural: “Precious Memories.” Tom Aker came from the choir to harmonize the first verse with him, and Holsclaw took it from there:

As I travel on life’s pathway / I know not what the years may hold / And as I ponder, hope grows fonder / Precious mem’ries floods my soul.

Memories weren’t the only things flooding the congregants’ souls. Most dabbed at their eyes with tissues as they realized the end was at hand and their church would never be the same.

The church office manager, Tina Hair, called Holsclaw “the most godly man I’ve ever met.” Sunday’s service began with the usual pastoral good humor. Holsclaw mildly objected to the fellowship hall being renamed the Holsclaw Fellowship Center. He said it sounds too much like “Coleslaw,” one of his nicknames in college. He discarded the little clock he uses to time his sermons. It was going take a few extra minutes for him to say what he needed to say, and he had advised old folks during a moment of low comedy at a Saturday night tribute to skip their diuretics. By the end, the service seemed like a joyous funeral.

“Very emotional,” Hair said. “He’s been a part of these people’s lives for a long time. He was the best shepherd. He truly cared for people in the congregation. In the hospital, sick, babies born, he was there for it all. It wasn’t just his job. It was who he was.”

Todd Middleton, a member for 21 years, said he got emotional at the reception after church. “I fought through it during the sermon,” Middleton said. “He has a way with his Tennessee drawl of delivering a really good message. When I shook his hand and gave him a hug at the reception I got so choked up I could hardly stand it. Sunday was a tough day.”

Middleton said he and his wife joined Pawleys Island Presbyterian so their children would have a church family. “Rev. Frank seemed more like a grandfather,” he said. Young families found Pawleys Island Presbyterian a friendly church and joined in growing numbers in the ’90s. “I think the older folks liked that and fostered it,” Middleton said.

Church member Bobb Rastello said Holsclaw changed his life. “I had been attending church for years,” he said, “but until I came here 22 years ago I wasn’t going for the right reasons. He helped me understand the love of Jesus and the Holy Spirit. He’s helped me become a better person.”

That didn’t stop Rastello from razzing his pastor during the retirement ceremony Saturday night in the fellowship hall. Thirty-one years of goof-ups were there to be used as material, though Rastello said the six years since his 25th anniversary roast have been “flat — sermons, tending the sick, weddings and funerals.” That didn’t stall Rastello’s comedy routine.

Holsclaw couldn’t seem to remember his office manager Tina’s name. Rastello said she began answering to “Uhh, Uhh.”

The pastor’s forgetfulness was a theme. He once served the wine before the bread at communion. Holsclaw fainted when visiting church member Bill McElroy as he was being prepped for melanoma surgery. McElroy’s wife kept him from cracking his head on the hospital floor.

He’s preached enough sermons to fill 21 days. “Give us some credit for listening,” Rastello said with a deadpan delivery before presenting him a box of business cards that said, “Frank Holsclaw, retired minister. Don’t call me. I’ll call you.”

Rastello said the congregation has certainly benefitted from his wife Gail Holsclaw’s musical talent. “Not yours, Frank,” he added.

Once Holsclaw got the microphone from his good friend he led off with an impression of singer Dean Martin before breaking into the big laugh that everybody has come to know. He was presented with a minister’s stole embroidered with a church scene, a shepherd’s wooden staff, a scrapbook compiled by Gloria Player and a painting by Gail Joley of a statue in the church garden.

He was named pastor emeritus, a job with no duties or pay, Rastello pointed out. Anne Burgin read a poem that she wrote about his years in Pawleys Island.

Typically, Holsclaw said the members of Pawleys Island Presbyterian were responsible for his success. “You have been there supporting me, leading me and being patient with me,” he said. “So, if I look good, it’s only because of you, because of the leadership in this church. We have been a team.”

Holsclaw said that he’ll follow the advice of Billy Graham in retirement and make it a time of meaning and purpose along with his wife’s “Honey Do List” and some fun things.

“God grabbed hold of me 31 years ago to come here,” Holsclaw said during his final sermon Sunday. “God grabbed me that I might take hold of his purpose in my life. That is my prayer for this church.”

Church takes on the personality of its pastor

By Jason Lesley
Coastal Observer

Leaders at Pawleys Island Presbyterian Church hope to call the Rev. Mark Diehl as interim pastor to follow Frank Holsclaw. He will guide the church through a transition that will ease the way for a permanent minister to follow the man members regard as a legend.

“The interim will come with a five-step process and a thick skin,” said Ragan Ormond, chairman of the search committee that selected Diehl, a Texan living in Tarboro, N.C. Diehl’s first sermon will be July 19, Ormond said, assuming the Presbytery approves him. He expects Diehl to be at the church for up to two years. Office manager Tina Hair said the interim’s job is to help the church heal. Members have been in tears for the past week as Holsclaw cleaned out his office and said goodbye.

“The interim will be trying to make changes where they need to be made,” Ormond said. “With a pastor of 31 years, the church becomes an extension of his personality.”

Church member Bill McElroy said some programs are non-negotiable, beginning with the JOY School, a program that tends to 50 mentally handicapped individuals during the summer. Holsclaw gives his wife, Gail, credit for starting the first program when they were in Tennessee and bringing the idea to Pawleys Island. They have two mentally handicapped daughters, Abigail, 40, and Joy, 39. “JOY School is the biggest mission this church has started,” McElroy said.

Director Martha Insignares says more than 300 have attended the summer program. “Multiply that by all the churches providing lunch and all the kids from Waccamaw and Georgetown who have been volunteers and grown into special education teachers, occupational therapists and others related to the health field,” she said. “The ripple effect of goodness that came from these two people coming to Pawleys Island Presbyterian Church just goes on and on. They are like the best human examples of what good Christians are, putting others first, taking care of their community, loving everyone. You can’t talk about Frank without talking about Gail. She’s been there. JOY School was her idea, her vision. She was a mom who wanted something for her kids, and it happened for so many.”

The Holsclaws have kept their children out of the limelight, though they attended church on special occasions before Joy had a leg amputated. “I think I was probably here three or four years before I even knew about them,” McElroy said. “He started loosening up the last seven or eight years, and it’s been a very outward part of his ministry.”

During his last sermon on Sunday, Holsclaw said he watched his daughter Joy’s happiness at tossing pillows off a sofa. Her caregiver, tired of picking them up, moved them to a far corner. He slipped into the room and put them back within Joy’s reach. Such small moments are precious to him.

“That played a lot in his ministry,” Ormond said. “Caring for those children had a big impact on his life.” Holsclaw helped start the Presbyterian Agency for the Developmentally Disabled, a home for people with disabilities like those of Abigail and Joy and asked McElroy to join the board. “I never met a minister as caring and pastoral as Frank,” McElroy said. “He’ll never be replaced in that.”

Another untouchable program is the Bread of Life Kitchen that feeds people in need. “That’s another great ministry to the community,” McElroy said. He expects the church to maintain a relationship with a sister church in Cuba, where it has been sending members as missionaries for 10 years. Holsclaw has inspired other missions to India and Africa, he said.

The Saturday men’s prayer breakfast will keep going too. It began with a pot of coffee and a few men and has grown to a big breakfast that draws participants from Georgetown to Murrells Inlet. Charles Biddix, owner of Ace Hardware in Pawleys Island, is the cook.

Biddix said he and his wife, Maryanne, have been church members for more than seven years. They visited a number of churches before joining. “My wife was looking for the best fit,” he said. “I had been a Presbyterian all my life. I enjoyed hearing what Frank said in the pulpit, but it was the friendliness of this church, the environment he created. When you walked in, you felt welcome and warm.”

McElroy and Ormond said they had similar experiences and joined on the same day 11 years ago. “I was impressed,” Ormond said, “because the church was completely full in January.”

Much of the growth lately has come from families with children. McElroy said the children’s sermon would draw a few when he joined. There were nearly 20 this past Sunday to give Holsclaw a big group hug after hearing a message about change from Lee Brockington.

Holsclaw was a one-man show when he arrived at Pawleys Island Presbyterian 31 years ago to follow Stuart Wilson. Before that, the church shared a minister with congregations in Conway and Murrells Inlet. He’s had to work hard to give up control, McElroy said.

“Now, we’ve got a very structured session with committees that nobody has to worry about,” he said. “I think Frank’s very happy with how this church is running now, but it has not been easy.” Some volunteers would neglect their duties, or even worse, over-do them. “He had to learn to deal with that,” McElroy said. “Frank wanted to make everybody happy. It was his only fault.”

Members worry about what Holsclaw will do to fill his time in retirement. Tara Hall director Jim Dumm, who attended his retirement program Saturday, said Holsclaw is welcome any time at the home for abused and neglected boys in western Georgetown County. “Frank is a great guy,” Dumm said. “He’s had his church involved with Tara Hall for 20 years. They have us at their men’s breakfast, buy Christmas presents and donate to us.” Church men take boys on an outing to a ball game once a year. When one of the Tara Hall residents qualified for JOY School, it was the highlight of his summer. “It’s so uplifting what that JOY School has done for so many people,” Dumm said.

Biddix said he’s offered Holsclaw a job as a greeter at his hardware store, even though he’s not sure customers would ever get to the cash registers. Biddix said Holsclaw was the first caller at his house when his father-in-law died. “He didn’t know us that well yet,” Biddix said, “but he was there. Everybody has that kind of relationship with him. They are emotionally tied to him. It’s going to be very hard to get past.”

McElroy and Ormond are both retired and said it’s a tough transition. “Your job defines who you are and your circle of friends,” Ormond said. “In retirement, all that’s gone.”

McElroy said he’s had lunch with his minister for the past year, talking about retirement and the difficulty of letting go. “He’s part of everybody’s life,” said church office manager Hair. “He’s just precious.”

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