It all started forty-six years ago in 1946 when a teenager walked into a small Nazarene church in Rock Hill, South Carolina, and inquired, “I’ve come here to see who Vivian Hinson is. For three weeks, my dad has been walking the floor and praying for someone named Vivian
Hinson, and I had to see who she is.”
The young man was Paul Kelly, and the floor-walking, praying father was Rev. Arthur E. Kelly, the South Carolina District Superintendent. His perplexing dilemma was a young woman named Vivian Hinson, zone NYPS president and the Sunday school superintendent in the West Main Church. Since God had called Vivian to preach the gospel, Kelly asked her to fill the pulpit at Rock Hill West Main Church and be the interim pastor “until they could call a pastor.”
Now Kelly thought the church might call her to be pastor, and like many district superintendents in those days, he was not anxious to have a woman pastor on his district.
In their search for a new pastor, the church considered several men including one all the way from New York. But when District Superintendent Kelly met with the church board to finalize their pastoral choice, he came out of the meeting and said, “Miss Vivian, you are the pastor of this church.”
Forty years later Miss Vivian, who had become Mrs. Pressley, was still pastoring Rock Hill West Main Church of the Nazarene in South Carolina.
The 40-year marriage is a fascinating story, too. After Vivian and Marion married, he trained for the ministry at Trevecca Nazarene College while she stayed to continue pastoring the church. When he returned to Rock Hill, he became a part of the ministerial staff.
Unique Pastoral Journey
Mrs. Pressley reminisced about her pastoral pilgrimage: “I was a charter member of the West Main Church. Though I had been saved a little while earlier when I was 19, I walked into Rock Hill First Church of the Nazarene from an unchurched home and felt immediately that they were my people. They have been my family, my people, ever since.”
About her conversation, Pastor Pressley said, “I suffered for three weeks under the delusion that I was going to die. At the end of three weeks I sought the Lord by praying, ‘Lord, don’t let me die.’ I didn’t know how to pray, but the lady kneeling next to me said, ‘Just tell the Lord you want to be saved.’ And the Lord gloriously saved me that night.” The change was profound.
A few months later, at a revival meeting, Rev. R. T. McElveen preached on Abraham’s sacrifice. Vivian said, AI knew nothing about theology, but I k new I had to give the Lord me–myself. There I also laid the unknown bundle on the altar. My call to the ministry was in it.
“I knew I was called. Nothing was ever more certain. I never told the Lord I would not preach; I always told Him I could not.”
Feelings of Inadequacies
It was not because she was a woman, and women preachers were almost unheard of in that day, but that she felt inadequate. It was a matter of fearful inadequacyCthat surely the Lord could not use her. But Evangelist Maurice Finger preached one evening on the text, “And Jonah paid the fare thereof and went down.”
Rev. Pressley continued her account of the faithfulness of God, “The Lord said, ‘Vivian, you settle your call to preach tonight, or else.’ It was that vivid. I said, ‘Lord, I’ll do whatever you want me to do. I’ll preach.’ The very next Sunday I preached at the Chester Church of the Nazarene. I had a place to preach every Sunday after that until I retired 40 years later.”
Vivian completed the ministerial course of study, was licensed and ordained. Two other women would later be ordained on the South Carolina District–Connie Swisher (nee Kelly) and Nina Gunter.
Pastor Pressley never allowed herself to be intimidated by those who thought women were out of place in the ministry or inferior. “Oh, I had some discouragements, but I did not let them deter me. When people said women were not supposed to preach, I just said, ‘The Lord called me, and I will obey and preach His word.’
“However, I never really felt that I was not being treated with respect or equality or with fairness. When critical remarks were made, I just smiled and kept getting the job done. I often quoted the prophecy made on the day of Pentecost, ‘Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy’; and I had the promise the Lord gave me in the early days of my ministry, which He
also gave to Joshua, ‘As I was with Moses, so shall I be with you. I will never fail thee nor forsake thee.’ To this day He never has.”
Testimonies About Effective Ministry
Jack Brazzell, who grew up under Rev. Pressley’s preaching, says “She proved herself in the community. She had to. The church faced a lot of ridicule for having a woman pastor. There were denominations who were very much against it, and she was active in ministerial association. She eventually proved herself worthy of her calling and gained the respect of her fellow pastors. And she was eventually elected to most district boards.”
Chris Beard, now a math teacher in Rock Hill, was three years old when his parents were converted under Rev. Pressley’s ministry. He says, “We knew she was a wonderful, tremendous pastor, and when my friends in the community made comments about our lady preacher, I just said, ‘Don’t pass judgment until you hear her.’ She has established herself with a high level of credibility through the years.”
Another evidence of the church’s effectiveness is its growth record. From an attendance of about 50, West Main Church had grown to a peak attendance of 8000 on its 25th anniversary, with an average attendance of 250-275.
Integrity and Recognition
Recently, West Main Church celebrated its 50th anniversary in the fifth year of Rev. William Ulmet’s tenure as pastor. He reports, “I had instant credibility in this community because of Rev. Pressley’s strong influence. This includes Marion, her husband, who worked along beside her in every phase of the work. But her longevity in the ministry here is partly the result of impeccable character, faithfulness to her calling, and her commitment to holy living.”
When asked about the success at Rock Hill, Vivian Pressley will tell you, “When we get to heaven and are given recognition for our accomplishments, I will have to step aside. The Lord will first call my husband and my sister Vermelle. They were my best supporters. Marion served as associate. I did most of the preaching and calling, but he did those things, too. And Vermelle has always had a vital interest in missions, she still corresponds with 100 missionaries.
The three of us worked together as a team
“I never tried to be anything but a woman, in or out of the pulpit. Marion and I made decisions together. We shared as families do. I love to cook. I made my own clothes, painted, and hung wallpaper. When we built the church, I helped with everything but the brick work; now I wish I could say I laid at least one brick.”
To women called to preach today, Rev. Pressley recommends, “Always remember you are a woman and people will respect you as a woman. If I were starting out again today, I would just believe God to open the door and I would enter the door wherever it was and however humble. God opens the way, regardless of what others say, if you really are eager to fulfill His call.”
Vivian Pressley closed the interview with a testimony: “I faced double jeopardy with the stigma against women preachers and an impediment of speech; but when the Lord sanctified me wholly, He took the speech difficulty away–well, He left enough to keep me reminded of what He had done. And in place of my shyness, he gave me holy boldness so that I am not afraid anywhere under any circumstances.”
Wilbur W. Brannon, veteran pastor and evangelist, is director of pastoral ministries in the Church Growth Division.
Nina Beegle, free-lance writer and editor, is a pastor’s wife who lives at Canon City, Colorado.
Beegle, N., & Brannon, W. W. (Spring, 1992). Vivian Pressley served for forty years in one church. Grow, 37-40.