(Editor’s note: The following is from remarks given by Rev. Don Jones at the Jan. 20 funeral of the Rev. Richard “Dick” Chrisman, who died Jan. 13 Parts of remarks by Lauretta Scheller, conference archivist, who gave a tribute at the IGRC Historical Society luncheon at the 2015 annual conference are included in Jones’ remarks. The luncheon was celebrating the 31 years of service Chrisman gave as conference historian).
By Don Jones
DANVILLE – This morning, we have come to this sanctuary, and into the presence of God, because Richard Alan Chrisman has touched each of our lives in a very special and unforgettable way. He is husband, father, grandfather, pastor and a good friend. What he has been to each of us will influence us and live with us for a lifetime.
Each of you have special things you are remembering. He was active in 4-H. In fact, that’s where he met his wife, Anna Marie. He graduated from Illinois Wesley and Garrett Bible Institute. And now their family includes Nancy and Lon Henderson, Paul and Evie Chrisman, Greg and Deborah Chrisman, Stephen and Amy Chrisman, as well as seven grandchildren and great grandchildren.
He looked forward to seeing and being with family. Family was important. He would talk about their visits and their trips he and Anna Marie took to various parts of the country. Once, he told of going to an Atlanta Braves baseball game. I was glad for him – I thought it was great; he was being introduced to baseball, only to discover he had taken a book with him and he read the book during the game.
He was a husband, father and an excellent pastor. Growing up in a rural environment gave him a distinct advantage when serving rural churches. Several words seem to characterize his life for me – faith, family, friend, fun and farm. I am sure there are others.
He was a good friend. When we moved to Bloomington in retired relation, we decided on our church and a Sunday School class. The class was having a picnic that week, but when we got to the event, we found we were sitting at a table by ourselves. Richard and Anna Marie came to join us and after that, we ate a lot more dinners with them.
But I would be remiss if I didn’t say that for him, books and history were very important. In fact, I was glad he asked me to read some of his manuscripts. I learned a lot about some of our early pastors and the early days of our churches, especially in the Jacksonville District and surrounding area. I was interested in his Peter Cartwright writings and he did more to bring history alive than anyone I know.
In July 2015, Lauretta Scheller, our conference archivist, paid tribute to Richard for his 31 years of service to our conference and historical society. Here is just a gleaning of that information:
During the years of his active ministry, Richard served on the Council on Ministries and secretary of the Town and Country Commission. Richard served as an assistant to conference secretary, Larry Lawler, and was elected as conference secretary in 1980. Another era without computers the job required a lot of manual labor.
At a particularly lowly last-day resolution debate session, a call from the floor requested the secretary to “parade before us the remaining list of resolutions.” At the urging of Bishop Leroy Hodapp, Richard strutted his stuff across the platform eliciting laughter and applause from everyone, breaking the tension in the hall.
In 1984, he was elected the conference historian. Within in a few short months, the society elected him as chair to serve in dual roles. Anyone who is a member of the historical society received our quarterly publication, Historical Messenger, which advanced our knowledge as United Methodists in Illinois. Over 31 years, Richard has contributed 39 articles to the Messenger. Many areas of his research are so extensive it takes two to three issues to complete the writing. And usually one article per year is a presentation we have heard him give at the annual meeting of the historical society held during annual conference.
Richard’s interest in rural churches grew from his beginnings as a farmer’s son and his appointments to rural churches, further encouraged by two professors – Dr. Samuel Radcliffe at Illinois Wesleyan and Dr. Rockwell “Rocky” Smith at Garrett. With Dr. Smith’s influence, Richard was selected to conduct church and community studies in Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin.
His thesis, “The Relationship of Farm Tenancy to Participation in the Methodist Churches of Central Illinois” was the culmination of these studies of small rural congregations. At the request of the Board of Missions of the Methodist Church, Richard surveyed the rural churches in the Wisconsin Dells Charger, published later by the Board in 1966. This work brought notice to Richard for a nomination to the Nebraska Council of Churches and the Board of Missions of the Methodist Church. Even though he didn’t secure either position, it was an honor to be nominated.
Because of Richard, we have gained incredible knowledge of the history of Methodism in Illinois and how churches grew from small societies within farming communities, who were served by itinerant circuit riders sometimes on a four to six-week circuit. These societies planted the seeds of the rural churches that comprised the early Illinois conference.
We thank God for the life of Richard Alan Chrisman!
(The Rev. Donald Jones is a IGRC retired clergy member, who served 10 years as a counselor on the Conference Council on Ministries, five years as Director of the Conference Council on Ministries and six years as superintendent of the Jacksonville District, all in the former Central Illinois Conference, retiring in 1994).