New pastor at First Christian|Felty, a quick wit, is fan of phrases

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 23, 2010

The new pastor of Vicksburg’s First Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) is a man who loves slogans. Fortunately, his church does, too.

No creed but Christ. No book but the Bible. No name but the divine.

To the Rev. Dr. David Felty, the words don’t simply sum up the core beliefs of the Christian Church — or Disciples, as some refer to the church — but speak to the fundamental simplicity of faith and unity of believers.

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“The faith is knowing who Christ is and what he has done for us, then having the appropriate loving response,” Felty said in an interview this week in his office at “the church on the hill” at Porters Chapel Road and Indiana Avenue. “We prize the freedom of the individual conscience. We try to provide the resources for, as Paul might say, working out your faith in fear and trembling.”

A native of Ashland, Ky., Felty is enthusiastic about his ministry, and has a quick sense of humor and ready laugh to complement a deep knowledge of church history and practice across denominations.

He pointed out that three U.S. presidents have been members of the Christian Church — James Garfield, Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan.

“Any church that could include both Lyndon Johnson and Ronald Reagan has got a lot of range to it!” he said, laughing.

Felty earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Kentucky and a doctorate in philosophical theology from Lexington Theological Seminary. He also studied philosophy, biomedical ethics and issues in religion and science at graduate schools and medical schools, including the University of Virginia.

Along the way he’s been a pastor, professor and campus minister in Ohio, Arizona, Virginia, Kentucky and other states. He came on the job in Vicksburg Jan. 1 with the goal of returning to his first love — pastoral ministry in the local church.

And that entails a lot more than writing sermons, he said.

“We believe in practicing our faith,” he said. “We’re a practical and activist church, and we like to put our faith to work.”

He’d love to see his church members come up with something resembling a “Matthew 25” club — people ministering to the poor, sick, hungry and imprisoned, the list of the needy that Jesus enumerated as “the least of these” in the Gospel.

While in Virginia, Felty helped establish one of the first ethics committees at the Virginia Training Center, which comprises five residential centers around the state for genetically disabled adults who are wards of the state.

“I’m very proud of that,” Felty said of his work there, which ensured, for the first time, that the residents are given the dignity of choice and freedom in their daily activities. “If I do nothing else, I feel like I’ve earned my rent in this life. It helped ‘the least of these,’ and gave them training and freedom to the extent that their capacity allows.”

Felty has also been in intentional interim or transitional ministry, spending a year or two at a time at churches in Missouri, Ohio and Pennsylvania, shepherding congregations through the rifts and problems that can surface when a pastor has left. “Then they move on. The problems have been worked through and they are ready for another full-time minister,” he said.

In his spare time, Felty enjoys coin collecting and reading, and is a fan of C.S. Lewis, J.R.R. Tolkein and other science fiction writers as well as movies and television. He likes to travel, “taking short trips on small roads,” and looking for diners, and continues to further his interests in biomedical ethics and “the positive relationship between science and religion.”

The Christian Church was begun as a unity movement around 1800 by Barton Warren Stone, originally a Presbyterian minister in Kentucky and furthered by the writings of Alexander Campbell of Pennsylvania.

Vicksburg’s First Christian Church was established in 1913 at the Cherry Street home of J. Richard Bryan. It was known as the Bryan Memorial Church until taking its current name on May 21, 1961. The church at Porters Chapel and Indiana was dedicated in 1999.

The congregation now numbers about 100, Felty said, summing their worship up with one final slogan: “In essentials, unity. In non-essentials, liberty. And in all things, charity.”

Contact Pamela Hitchins at