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Area to lose lone black Presbyterian pastor

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published October 30, 2002

ST. PETERSBURG -- He started preaching at 16, worked his way through college and seminary and retired as a chaplain in the Veterans Administration and a colonel in the U.S. Army Reserve.

Sunday, the Rev. Frederick D. Terry, the Presbyterian Church's only African-American pastor in the Tampa Bay area, announced that he is retiring again.

Terry, 70, has been pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, 2830 22nd Ave. S, for almost nine years. His last service will be Jan. 26.

He will be missed, said Cynthia Harris, the church's clerk of session, or board secretary, and descendant of two of Trinity's founding families.

"He has done a great deal for Trinity. He came in and helped us to enlarge our building and establish a lot of community programs," said Mrs. Harris, 46, who has been a member of Trinity all her life.

"Once we were a stagnating congregation, and he just came in and got us going again. We've had over 30 to 40 members that joined since he came. We attribute all of that to his coming."

Today, Trinity, whose first services were held in 1926 in a house on 28th Street and Sixth Avenue S, has about 165 members. Most are black, but Terry proudly points to the diversity brought by white as well as African and Caribbean members.

During his tenure at Trinity, Terry has established a fellowship with predominantly white Presbyterian churches.

"We have about 15 members from First Presbyterian Church that are associate members of Trinity and about nine members from Trinity that are associate members of First Presbyterian," he said this week.

"We also have a pulpit exchange with Northwood Presbyterian. We have an annual picnic with Northwood. With First Church, we have a bridge committee that meets once a month and in that bridge committee we deal with a multitude of racial issues, how we can improve relationships within our community."

Terry has not always been Presbyterian.

"I came from a Baptist tradition," he said, explaining that as a chaplain he was exposed to many other faiths and Christian denominations.

He was ordained in the Presbyterian Church on Feb. 4, 1994.

"I thought that the Presbyterian Church was more in tune with the beliefs I had developed," he said.

Terry said he understands why it has been a struggle for Presbyterian churches to attract African-Americans.

"I think (Presbyterians') worship style is more ecclesiastical or more formal than Baptists' or Methodists'. We, as Afro-Americans, tend to enjoy and find meaning and purpose in a more evangelistic-type service," he said.

Gerry Tyer, executive presbyter of the Presbytery of Tampa Bay, which covers 77 congregations in seven counties, said Terry is the area's only black Presbyterian pastor.

"We will miss Dr. Terry's ministry after he retires. He has been an effective pastor, contributing a ministry that goes way beyond his church and he has had an impact on the community at large," said Tyer, who attends Trinity when his responsibilities allow.

"He is an excellent example of a servant leader, because his leadership has always brought service to others. I think that Dr. Terry is one of the most outstanding preachers in this part of the country."

Tyer said that a committee of four elders will help to select an interim pastor for Trinity. Another committee will be in charge of finding a permanent minister.

Terry became pastor of Trinity in 1994, after retiring as chief of chaplains at Bay Pines VA Medical Center in St. Petersburg.

The father of three children -- Fred Jr., an assistant principal, Linda, an employee of the federal government, and Delmar, a social worker -- lost his first wife to cancer three months before their youngest child graduated from high school. It was a difficult time.

"I can't describe the misery of that time," said Terry, who remarried five years ago. His wife is the former Maxine Griffin Davis, a retired supervisor with Delta Airlines.

The time has come for him to retire, he said.

"I have worked very hard all my years and with two grandchildren, I think I should spend my time with them now," said Terry, a member of the Downtown Rotary, a trustee for Eckerd College and Bayfront Health System, and a board member of the Bay Pines VA Medical Center Research Foundation.

"I will be doing quite a bit of traveling. We're going to Africa in February. When we come back we'll take a cruise and we will visit the children."

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