One has to become a detective if he wants to learn about and appreciate the life and ministry of John Earl Naegele. Earl was known intimately by a small group of friends, and they are unanimous in testifying to his modesty and genuine humility. “Small in stature; tall in faith” says Vivian Noblett. Richard Kauffman describes him as the “consummate Presbyterian” who lived his life as he led the church he loved: “decently and in order.” He continues;
The Apostle Paul could well have been speaking about Earl when he wrote to Timothy “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman …rightly handling the word of truth.”
John Earl Naegele was born September 5, 1924 in Edison, PA and was reared in the Doylestown community. He graduated from TempleUniversity in 1946 with a B.S. in Education, an interest which he pursued throughout his entire ministry. He received his M. Div. from the ColgateRochesterDivinitySchool in 1949, and pursued some additional work following that course of study. Though he was ordained May 13, 1949 by the Baptist Association of Rochester and Monroe County, he affirmed his coming to the light by accepting the call to the Margaretville and Pine Hill Presbyterian Churches, a yoked rural field, in 1951. Under his leadership that yoke stabilized with the addition of the New Kingston Church, and the recruitment and training of solid lay leadership. He also broke their pattern of changing pastors every two years.
His ministry of organizing and developing strong lay leadership continued when he assumed the pastorate of the First Presbyterian Church of Stamford, NY in 1957. When a ski resort opened near the church Earl invited the skiers to come as they were to worship, opening the congregation to a new ministry. After his twelve year pastorate that congregation was financially stable, efficiently organized, and growing in faith.
The move to Emmaus in June 1969, had to be a summons from God. He writes, “When I accepted the call to the Faith Presbyterian Church, the church was divided, the facilities were inadequate, the program was minimal and the finances were poor.” Earl’s description is bland, compared to one given by a member who lived through it all. “The church was in spiritual and physical turmoil. Half the membership had left, leaving fifteen in worship. Finances were a disaster. The previous two pastors had been terminated, and Earl had a short time to turn things around.”
Following the pattern he mastered in the previous congregations, he again turned to the task of building strong lay leadership. He empowered members to take on their ministry. He used his creative and analytical gifts to build, with the laity, sound and well-supported budgets and capital campaigns. The congregation united around biblically-centered sermons that edified and motivated for service to Christ, and music that inspired. New groups formed for youth, women and adult education. The community acted upon Session’s invitation to make use of the facilities. A weekday nursery opened to serve younger families. At the heart of these accomplishments was the pastoral care that generated Sessional care that rebuilt FaithChurch. That basic ministry still has its effect today.
When Earl retired in September 1989, the facility was doubled in size with a Christian Education wing. The Fellowship Hall was reconfigured and expanded into an attractive sanctuary, offices and classrooms. On that occasion, Earl wanted the church to celebrate the burning of the mortgage which was finally satisfied, rather than his twenty years of faithfulness. They did as he asked, but on condition that he accept the honor of being named “Pastor Emeritus.” Then he stole away to BucksCounty to retire quietly and enjoy the company of family and grandchildren.
Though Earl’s ministry was centrally focused on being the pastor and offering one-on-one care so as to build the congregation, he also made time to serve the presbytery and the larger church. He was Stated Clerk of Susquehanna and Susquehanna Valley Presbyteries, and the Presbytery of Lehigh from June 15, 1971 to February 14, 1978. On the order side of things, he took pride in establishing the Permanent Judicial Commission in 1973, and keeping careful records of presbytery work. By means of beautifully handwritten notes he fulfilled the need for ardor by thanking everyone who served the Presbytery. On a personal note, I thank him for allowing me to preach at Faith Church when First Easton was finishing their pastoral search in February, 1973. What a privilege it was to carry out that opportunity in a lively congregation with an organist who played hymns well!
Let these words from his pastor, George Blakesley, recently retired from the Presbyterian Church in Newtown, PA, speak for themselves:
My most wondrous memory is about Earl’s caring for his lovely wife,[Najla]. No matter how frail he became she was always first in his life. I would talk with them as pastor and attempt to turn the conversation around to Earl’s health, but he would have no part of it. After a cursory response he would immediately turn the conversation to praise and lift up the love of his life. And every Sunday he was by her side no matter how his health might have deteriorated. What a love story.
John Earl Naegele joined the Church Triumphant on May 2, 2013. His life and ministry was celebrated at a Memorial Service on Saturday, May 11, 2013 at the Historic Presbyterian Church of Newtown, PA.
Our prayers continue for Najla, his wife of 64 years; his daughter Barbara and husband, David Clark; granddaughter Kristen and her husband, Douglas Castonguay and great granddaughter Sylvie; grandson Jonathan Clark and wife Michelle.
Blessed are those who die in the Lord, for their deeds shall follow them. Amen