Pastor’s love changed those he met, friends say

Published 12:04 am Wednesday, August 10, 2011

NATCHEZ — The Rev. Steve Pearson likely had a joke appropriate for just this moment.

Or, at least, he’d be sharing a Steve-ism as close friend and associate pastor the Rev. Bo Swilley likes to call them.

The words would be encouraging, caring, probably funny, and delivered with a smile. Pearson would make you feel like you were the most important person in the world, Swilley said.

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And though Pearson lost his nearly two-year battle with cancer — he beat colon cancer only to be diagnosed shortly thereafter with liver cancer — Sunday, his testimony will live on in countless lives, those who knew him well said.

“With Steve, when you came to the church you felt like he cared about you,” Swilley said. “You can’t replace a Steve Pearson. You can put someone in his place, but you can’t replace him.”

Pearson, 56, served as pastor of Community Chapel Church of God in Natchez for 25 years, up until his death and loved every minute of it, Swilley said.

“He never got in a hurry with anyone. A whole lot of his ministry was personal time,” Swilley said.

But time wasn’t all Pearson was willing to give, long-time church member Alex Womack said.

“I’ve seen him give out his own money, from his own pocket,” Womack said. “If someone came by and was hungry, he’d write them a check. He was just a super person, I don’t even know how to begin to describe him.”

Swilley, too, said Pearson gave to others to the point of leaving himself empty handed.

“He never charged a dime for anything he did — weddings, funerals — he said, ‘God takes care of me,’” Swilley said.

Pearson had a great love for Natchez and the local community, Swilley said, turning down opportunities to go to bigger churches.

His community involvement extended beyond the walls of his church, and he would often counsel members of other churches or those who didn’t attend anywhere, Womack said.

Pearson’s passion for the community played out in significant ways through the Natchez Children’s Home and the Natchez Trace Kiwanis Club.

Pearson served on the children’s home board for at least 12 years, eight of those as president, Director Nancy Hungerford said.

“Steve loved everybody,” Hungerford said. “He adored his own children and those in church, but he ached mightily for children that were hurt.”

But it was Pearson’s focus and mediator skills that often meant the most to the children’s home, she said.

“I watched him handle our board, and he has such a way of negotiating differences in opinions, keeping people on task,” Hungerford said. “He was a good manager of difficult situations. He always would help us stay focused on what our mission was,” she said.

“We were all made much better — and this ministry too — by his presence.”

Pearson had 20 years of service with the Kiwanis Club, an organization whose focus is also on the community’s children.

“I think the big thing with Steve was always a positive attitude,” long-time Kiwanis Club member and board secretary John Leckie said.

“He was definitely a people person, and I think with him it was just, at least in his eyes, a necessity to be involved.”

Leckie said he doesn’t remember a Kiwanis service project without Pearson’s involvement and said Pearson led the club as president twice and the region as lieutenant governor as well.

But it was Pearson’s mere presence that made a difference, Kiwanis Club member Frances Cothren said.

“He had such a heart, and even though I didn’t sit and talk to him every meeting, you miss him when he’s not there.”

Pearson’s most recent testimony has been one of handling adversity with a smile, though, Swilley said.

“He’s the one with cancer and he would be trying to cheer me up,” Swilley said. “That exemplifies his attitude. Even when he’s suffering, he was encouraging others.”

That encouragement became a regular fixture in the chemotherapy room at oncologist Dr. Jack Rodriguez’s office, Swilley said, where Pearson used humor and smiles to lighten the load on those receiving treatments alongside him.

“One lady said Steve doesn’t have cancer for Steve, Steve has cancer for us,” Swilley said. “That wasn’t just a joke, He was an encourager, and he was ministering even when he was sick.”

Pearson never took even a moment to complain about his situation, Cothren said.

“I went to see him at his house a month ago, and his belief was, this is what the Lord dealt me, and I’m going to deal with it.”

Hungerford said Pearson’s example will live on.

“He has taught us how to live, and how to die, in Christ,” she said. “His witness has never failed.”

Funeral service for Pearson, who is survived by his wife and two children, will be at 4 p.m. today at Community Chapel.

Pearson prayed for healing, Swilley said.

“But as a Christian, ultimate healing is to be with the Lord.”