July 20, 2019
For more than half a century Larry Steffee has preached the gospel from Pennsylvania to Florida to Tennessee. He is also known here as an educator.
Steffee, the focus of this week’s WJLE Preacher Feature, is currently the pastor of Center Hill Brethren in Christ Church, a congregation that will soon celebrate 20 years of service to the Lord and the community. Steffee will also reach a milestone next month—52 years of pastoring churches, 39 of which have been in DeKalb County.
“I felt the call to the ministry when I was in my first year in college at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania,” Steffee said. “I was there for one year then I transferred to Messiah (College) because that is our church college. It will become a university next year.”
It was at Messiah College where Steffee met his future wife Reta, though they had gone to the same school district in the York, Pennsylvania area.
“My wife and I both went to the same school district for a while but we never met until we got to college,” Steffee said. “When I was in the ninth grade I transferred to a different school district. We met at Messiah College which is where we both graduated. We married right after she graduated a year ahead of me.”
The first church Steffee pastored was in northeastern Pernnsylvania. “It was a little mission church in a place called Schuylkill County,” he said. Then we moved to Orlando, Florida, which was a big change in a lot of ways. “We served at the first church for seven years.”
In 1980 the family moved to Smithville and Steffee pastored Pomeroy Chapel for 18 years. Then in 1999 he started Center Hill Brethren in Christ Church.
“Basically when we started this church in 1999 our emphasis from the very beginning was to try and reach out to people who didn’t go to church rather than trying to get people from other churches to come join us,” he explained. “We wanted to get people started in church who hadn’t been to church, or who hadn’t been in church for a long time.”
Steffee fondly talks about his work and the history of the church.
“A couple, the husband has since passed away, had not been in church for 48 years and we met them in a local restaurant and got to be good friends with them and eventually they came to church,” he said. “I met another lady and her sister at a local restaurant one time and they found out I was a pastor and said they were looking for a church so I invited them to come to our church and they have been coming ever since.”
“One couple who comes to our church moved here from out of state,” he continued. “They were both in prison and accepted the Lord and they came to church and are members now. One couple who attended Pomeroy Chapel came to help start Center Hill, along with others who are no longer living. I have been their pastor for 39 years, the whole time I have been in Tennessee. I think there are five or six people presently attending the church who were part of the original start of the church. Everybody else has either moved or passed away.”
The church doors are open every Sunday with Sunday School starting at 10 a.m. and worship at 11 a.m. “We normally have 25 to 30” people and have been “growing gradually over the last few years,” he said.
While the anniversary was in January, “we are not celebrating until September,” Steffee said. “We want to meet outside with a 40×40 tent.” There will be a cookout after the morning service and then an afternoon celebration service. We plan to have the Heritage there to sing.”
Steffee said he has always been a part-time pastor and has served the community in other areas.
“I have always worked for the public otherwise, except in Orlando I worked for the church because we had a daycare center and I was the director,” he explained. “In Pennsylvania I worked as a social worker for the department of welfare and when we moved to Tennessee I got back into teaching and have stayed with it ever since.”
“We really like it here. It’s a lot like where we grew up with the country side and everything,” he said. “The people here are really great and being in the school system I felt like I was in a good position and didn’t want to move away. I have always taught math. I started at the high school in 1984 and retired from there in 2010. Before that my wife and I subbed at the middle school. In 1989 I got my Masters Degree from MTSU and in 1990 I was offered a job to teach part time at Motlow (College) so I did both—the high school and Motlow. I am still teaching at Motlow and just finished 29 years there.”
“A long as I am in good health I will continue pastoring,” he continued. “I take the same attitude toward teaching at Motlow, to continue there as long as I am able.”
Steffee and his wife have two children, son Richard Steffee, who lives in Huntsville, Alabama, and daughter Melissa Wannamaker, who lives in the same local neighborhood as her parents. They have two grandchildren, and a great granddaughter.
More information about Center Hill Brethren in Christ Church can be found on-line at www.centerhillbic.org. “There is a link to the general brethren in Christ church that is not only nationwide, but international,” Steffee said. “We have Brethren in Christ churches all over the world (including) Japan, Africa, South America and Central America.”