Rev. James Reid Cress
With his family by his side, the Reverend James Reid Cress, 85, retired minister of the United Church of Christ (UCC), passed into the arms of the Lord in the early morning of March 4, 2017. A native of China Grove and former resident of Salisbury, Rev. Cress had resided near his children in Raleigh since 2010.
Born July 7, 1931, to Joseph Franklin and Mary Ophelia Patterson Cress, Rev. Cress grew up on a farm in rural China Grove, NC, with a large loving family of four sisters, Louise, Pauline, Martha and Frances and two brothers Duard and Charles. Both of his parents were school teachers in addition to running their large family farm as it had been for generations.
Rev. Cress graduated from China Grove High School as Valedictorian of the class of 1949, and then attended Catawba College in Salisbury, NC, where he graduated Cum Laude in 1953 with a Bachelor of Arts in English and Philosophy. He followed the calling of his faith and pursued the ministry at the Theological Seminary of the Evangelical and Reformed Church in Lancaster, PA, receiving his Bachelor of Divinity in 1956 and later a Master of Divinity in 1976. It was during this time he met his future wife Anna Mardelle Bayler. His Ordination into the UCC was in June 1956 at his family's church, Mt. Zion UCC in China Grove, NC. He and Anna were married in September 1956.
Rev. Cress served as pastor at four different congregations in North Carolina and Virginia over 40 years of ministry in the UCC: Brick Evangelical and Reformed Church (UCC), Burlington, NC (1956-1962), Ursinus UCC, Rockwell, NC (1962-1969), interim pastor at St. Thomas UCC, Winston-Salem, NC (1986-87), and Berea Christian Church (UCC), Suffolk, VA (1987-1996).
During these years he served in several capacities to the regional and national UCC, for the Southern Synod of the Evangelical and Reformed Church and Southern Conference of the UCC as Youth Fellowship Adult Advisor; as a Conference Christian Education Associate; as a Camp Director at John's River Camp and Moonelon Camp; as Adult delegate to several national Youth Meetings of the UCC; active in District Pastors Associations; as delegate to the General Synod of the UCC and on the Southern Conference Board of Directors as a member of the Executive Committee and Chair of the Mission and Church Development Committee.
For seventeen years (1969-1986) Rev. Cress served as Executive Director of Rowan Cooperative Christian Ministry (RCCM, now Rowan Helping Ministries) in Salisbury, NC, where he led the interdenominational work of 96 churches from 16 denominations, running a clothing center and outreach programs involving 3, 000 volunteers in a variety of means to serve those in need in Rowan County. He was also active in organizing Dial Help, a telephone crisis counseling service, and with the Yokefellow Prison Ministry serving inmates at the Rowan County Correctional Facility.
Rev. Cress had an enduring commitment to the care of people in all situations of need, always going the extra mile, sometimes quite literally! An avid runner, in 1982 he dedicated himself to a 100-mile run that covered 20 miles a day over five consecutive days, stopping and speaking in towns across Rowan County during the course of the run to raise money and community awareness for CROP Hunger Relief programs sponsored by Church World Service.
While serving at RCCM, Rev. Cress received numerous civic honors, including an Appreciation Award from RCCM (1971), Distinguished Merit Citation from the National Conference of Christians and Jews (1972), Good Samaritan Award from Salisbury Civitan (1974), Martin Luther King, Jr. Humanitarian Award from Mt. Zion Baptist Church, Salisbury, NC, (1979), 25 Year Outstanding UCC Minister's Award (1981), 15 Year Outstanding Work Award from Yokefellow Prison Ministry (1985), and the State of North Carolina Appreciation Award from Governor James Martin (1986).
Rev. Cress and his wife were always active and creative, enjoying sports, gardening, music, art, singing and performing, and encouraging this in their children. He sang regularly in the Salisbury-Rowan Choral Society and the St. John's Concert Choir. He appeared in several Piedmont Players theatre productions, including the lead role of Anne Frank's father Otto in the drama The Diary of Anne Frank, and musical roles as Ladislav Sipos in She Loves Me!, Lieutenant Cable in South Pacific, the Ship Captain in Anything Goes!, Captain Orton in The King and I, and in the choruses of Hello Dolly! and The Music Man.
Rev. Cress is survived by his wife Anna Bayler Cress and their six children: Karen Cress (husband Robert 'Bob' Burner), Jennifer Reavis (husband Tom), Janet Cress, Philip Cress (husband Walter 'Chip' Baker), Richard Cress (wife Polly McKenna-Cress) and Theresa Mersch (husband Michael); eleven grandchildren: Christie Reavis, Carrie Reavis Adams (husband Todd), Melissa Bost Napier (husband Ross), Russell Brickhouse (wife Victoria Reiter), Justine Lockheart, Isabelle Cress, Madeleine Burner, Sabine and Henry Cress, Megan and Molly Mersch; nine great-grandchildren: Taylor Aguillon, Alex Aguillon (wife Maggie Ellis), Spencer Adams (wife Brittany Proctor), Travis Adams, Marleigh Adams, Abby, Reid and Dillon Napier, and Lilly Brickhouse; and two great-great-grandchildren: Piper Adams and Isaac Aguillon.
Rev. Cress is also survived by one sister, Martha Cress Williamson, and her husband George of Clinton, S.C.; in-laws Robert and Lavon Bayler of Elgin, IL, and John and Rita Bayler of Palmyra, PA, and 22 nieces and nephews.
Rev. Cress was preceded in death by his brother Duard (wife Betty) of China Grove, NC, sisters Louise Grubbs (husband Dwight) and Pauline Grant (husband Sanford) of Charlotte, NC, Frances Linn (husband Duard) of Landis, NC, brother Charles (wife Joan) of East Lansing, MI, nephew Stephen Linn of Landis, NC, niece Nancy Grant of Charlotte, NC, and grand-nephew Matthew Cress of China Grove, NC.
The family will receive friends at Powles Staton Funeral Home in Rockwell, NC onMonday, March 13, 2017 from 2:00 pm until 3:00 pm.
Funeral services will be held at Powles Staton Funeral Home Chapel in Rockwell, NC, on Monday, March 13, 2017 at 3:00 pm and burial will follow at Rockwell Cemetery.
The family requests donations in Rev. Cress' memory be made to the CROP Hunger Walk of Church World Service or the Alzheimer's Association (Raleigh NC Chapter).
Powles Staton Funeral Home, honored provider of Veterans Funeral Care is assisting the Cress family. Online condolences may be made at www.powlesfuneralhome.com.