Gregory E. Reynolds
It was a great privilege to interview Pastor Harold Leonard Dorman on Sunday, September 26, 2010. Harold has been in the ministry for over fifty-two years in Maine, the same congregation in two locations, first in Cornville and later moved and renamed Skowhegan OPC in 1977. He was ordained back in 1958 in the Presbytery of New York and New England. He actually began ministering before his ordination in 1954, shortly after graduating from Westminster Theological Seminary. So, he has been laboring for over fifty-six years in all.
Harold was interviewed in the house of his son Ron Dorman, who is an elder in the church in Skowhegan, and with Harold's wife, Marjorie. Many thanks to Pat Clawson for taking the raw material of the transcript of this interview and arranging it in its present thematic format. Thanks also to David Veldkamp for transcribing the interview.
Harold was born on July 4, 1917, in Hamden, Connecticut. (Italic sections are summaries of parts of the interview.)
Did you have anything to do with the Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Hamden, Connecticut in the early days?
I became a part of the church in June 1938. Probably in March of that year, I went to a prayer meeting next door at the Shepherds' house. Marvin Derby had not yet been ordained to be the minister. Mr. Bebe asked me, "What does God want you to do?" And I said, "Well, God wants me to obey his commandments." I could see by the look on Mr. Bebe's face that wasn't what he wanted. So I told him I did come to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and I was absolutely sure that he was my Savior. That came about as the result of a meeting that was in town when Craig Long was the minister there. Mr. Shepherd took me there, and I sat down and listened, and the biggest word that came to my mind and stuck with it was that Jesus was my substitute. That made good sense to me. Mr. Long wanted to know if I would like a copy of the Gospel of John, and he gave it to me. I read it, and by the time I got to the end of it I knew that I belonged to the Lord. There was no question in my mind about that whatever.
We started in New Haven [Connecticut]. We were in a big church building for a while, but there was no way that we could afford to keep paying for that building, even though it was a huge building for probably $15,000. But back then $15,000 was a fortune! So we had to give it up. Then we moved upstairs over an office building on Orange Street in New Haven. We couldn't make the payments on it. The church was pretty poor, so we moved to different places.
Then I was off to the army for thirty-eight months. And in the army I found a church, Second Presbyterian, in Pensacola. It was Southern Presbyterian, and it didn't take them long to give me a job to teach young people. I don't remember that there was anything in what the minister preached that I didn't approve of.
When I got out of the army, I went to college. And that's where I met my wife. I went to Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan, for four years. I graduated from there [in 1950], and then in the fall I went to Westminster and went there three years.
When did you graduate from Westminster?
In 1953. I came into the church in June 1938, two years after the OPC started. The thing that I missed the most is that I never met Dr. Machen.
Who were your favorite professors?
I liked them all! I was a handyman, and I worked for all of them. I worked the least for Professor Murray. All I did was take care of his car one summer while he was over in Scotland. He wasn't an American citizen, so he had to go back to Scotland every so often. I did a lot of remodeling for Dr. Van Til in his house. One time I was working [at Van Til's house] and I accidentally put my hand down, and a drill poked a hole in my hand. Right away he was so pleased he could exercise his doctor's degree and give me a little medication. I got to know them in a way that you wouldn't from the classrooms.
And for Dr. Clowney it was the same thing. I even helped Professor Kline build his house. And let's see, who else? I put linoleum down in one of Professor Woolley's rooms, and Mrs. Woolley, she got down on her hands and knees and wanted to do a little bit of it next to me. She was not brought up to do labor; she was a member of [Russian] royalty, which of course, mystifies me.
Yes, that's not something we're familiar with here in America. Were there any books that you can remember reading that left a strong impression on you?
Well, Professor Murray's books. I read quite a few of those. And Dr. Machen's books. And of course Van Til, too. I loved all of my professors. Dr. Van Til may have been my favorite.
How did you come all the way up here to Maine?
The (Cornville) church had a vacancy; there was no minister here then. The Rev. (Charles) Stanton moved on to Lewiston or some other place, and so my sister, Emily, was instrumental in getting me to come up here. It's not advisable, usually, to preach to people who are members of your family, but it worked out fine. They invited me to come, so I came up and preached to them (in Cornville). The church building had been vacant for a long time. So (Rev. Stanton) got a group of people together and had a congregation there. And then I came around and took over from where he left off, more or less.
I noticed that between graduation in '53 from Westminster and your ordination in '58, there's a gap. So did you come back and preach?
Well, actually, I got the feeling that they didn't want me up here because it was Mr. Stanton's area. But the Lord prevailed. So, in spite of it, I did become the minister there. I came in '54, but it was '58 before they (The Presbytery of New York and New England) actually ordained me.
How did you survive financially during that time?
Well, I'm a handyman, so I had no problem doing things to earn a little money. So I never went hungry. There were lots of empty churches when I came up to Maine. We met in South Solon, but rarely did we (meet) in a church. There was a little house that belonged to one of the families and they kind of renovated it a little so we could hold services there. But then, when they moved to Solon, for a little while I held services in the church on Main Street over there. But that didn't last too long. That's about twenty miles maybe, from my house to where the church was.
Now, since '77, you've been meeting right here in Skowhegan? Do you own that building?
Yes. We bought it right away. It was a laundromat, and then I guess it became a garage where they fixed cars. So we had to put a new cement floor in it. I remember hauling away all the pieces of broken cement. But it made a good church for us.
Elders of the church include son Ron; Myron Moody, Sr.; John Hilton; and Freemont Moody. From this point on in the interview Ron contributed substantially.
Ron Dorman: Back in the past there were quite a few people in the town of Cornville for whom you did baptisms [for their children], and you also married quite a few of the people in that area.
There was one family that wanted me to baptize their child, but they weren't members of the church. So I told them, "I can't do it."
Ron: You did funeral services for a lot of people.
Oh, a lot of funeral services. And people that I'd never heard of beforeI got requests to do funeral services for them. But that's kind of dwindled down. See, back then there were fewer ministers. Now there are a lot of little churches all over the place. The Protestant Reformed Church caused us a problem. What happened, you see, the Protestant Reformed Church wanted to establish a church. And they wanted me to be in it, but I didn't want to be in it. Hyper-Calvinists is what they were, and I didn't feel comfortable with them, so I said no to them. They tried to have a church about ten miles down the vine from us, but that didn't work. They couldn't reach people. We've got to have a free offer of the gospel. God is sovereign; he knows who his people are. We know God will gather his children. We're only his instruments.
When you first got involved with the presbytery, what were meetings like?
It certainly was small, but the presbytery was geographically bigger then. They cut it down to the northern and southern parts, more or less. Connecticut and Southern New York. Massachusetts and Maine were separate. The Presbytery in the past was small enough so we did have meetings of presbytery at Cornville.
I remember you as a fixture. You always were right up front, and you were always there. I missed you when you were not able to come as you got older and your eyesight failed. Thankfully you can still preach.
I can drive twenty-five miles.
Do you have memories of Professor Murray coming up here?
I do remember Professor Murray coming up, and he'd stay with Emily and Myron. I remember him walking down the street by himself many times, exercising himself, I guess, out in the country a little bit.
Did he ever preach at presbytery?
Oh sure, he must have. And I know that it was mostly different from others. He was very dogmatic. And I know in his classes, when he taught us, and we had a test, we'd better make sure, if we were going to organize it, that we did it the way he did it.
He was a disciplined man. But I loved him and I got along fine with him. It was such a delight when I found out he found a wife and he was going to get married. I never did know which eye was the glass eye and which was the real one.
Ron: You remember telling about how you used to go around the town of Cornville and pick up a lot of people to bring them to church? And you had about sixty people in vacation Bible school sometimes.
Yeah, we had pretty good vacation Bible schools. It was quite a job running around picking them all up, but I was glad to do it.
Ron: I remember you telling about sometimes you spent more money on gasoline going around picking people up to bring them to church than what came in the offering plate.
I certainly lost money running around to these outlying places. I remember one time on the South Solon I ran out of gas because some kids in the neighborhood had siphoned out my gasoline.
Ron: I guess what amazed me growing up was how many hours you put in a week. You put in a lot of hours in preparation for church, and you also put in many hours doing handyman work, repairing people's washing machines and putting up a ceiling for somebody or working on fixing a neighbor's barn cleaner that got hit by lightning. So you were doing all those kinds of things to earn enough money. Like Paul, the tent-maker, you had a side job so you could support everything.
I didn't mind. It gave you a chance to get acquainted with people, too. You don't go into the ministry to make money. Twenty dollars a week, I guess, is what I first got. Of course, back then twenty dollars was much more than now. Go into the ministry because you feel that people need to know the truth.
Ron: You remember how many services you used to do over there in Cornville?
Well, at first it was only oneand in the afternoon. Two o'clock or something like that. That's the way it began. But then I changed it so that we could have a service in the morning. And I don't know how much longer it took, but I wanted one in the afternoon too. And sometimes, of course, I preached in other areas, like South Solon and Brighton even. There wasn't much up there, but we went up there with just a few people because Mr. Stanton had been in the habit of going to these different places. So I kind of followed him, but it wasn't very practical.
Ron: You also had a service at the Barkers' boarding home for many years in the afternoon.
That was interesting, too. I had a chance to talk to the boarders up there. The Barkers were members of our church.
Ron: So you did a morning service, an afternoon service at the boarding home, then an evening service.
That's right. It kept me busy.
Ron: And we grew a lot of vegetables. We had a big garden.
We used to have a big garden. In late years it's dwindled down. The deer used to come around and eat things up.
You're a chaplain over at Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan?
I've been a chaplain since 1972. So that makes thirty-eight years. There were no chaplaincies before that year. And so I'm one of the original chaplains, and many of the others have been long gone. But a lot of the ministers in town don't seem to make too much of it.
How have the communities of Cornville and Skowhegan received you as a minister?
The Reformed faith is not very well known or liked around here, so you don't get a very good response. I notice that when I go to the hospital as a chaplain there'll be lots of people say, "When I get out of here I'm going to come over to your church and listen to you." But it only happened once. And the poor man died. So he came, but he died shortly after.
So your ministry at the hospital was really to spread the gospel, not necessarily because you expected people would come to church.
I didn't figure I'd go there to proselytize people. But if they were happy with what I told themmy prayers or reading Scripture or answering questionsI enjoyed it. And I still do.
We go on a regular basis, but it's probably every two months or so. Most ministers are so busy they can't, but I don't have a big church with all these other things going on. I'm a little freer.
What's the thing you've found the most difficult about being a minister of the gospel?
I guess I never thought about it that way. I take everything one day at a time.
So that's why you've lasted for fifty-six years, then. You never look at the negative side of things.
I don't let those things get through to me. I'm not upset easily.
I saw this little sign in your kitchen that read, "Don't worry, God is in charge."
That's exactly true. I don't have to worry because God is sovereign and he's working everything for his own glory and according to his own ordained purposes. That's something I learned early.
When I was in the young people's group in New Haven I came into the youth group when Phyllis Bing spoke on the third question of the Shorter Catechism. And her brother, Elton, was the president of the young people. He wanted to know if I would be willing to take a turn. I didn't have the foggiest notion what I was getting into. I ended up with the seventh question of the Shorter Catechism. I'll tell you, it was an eye-opener. It really made me get a good solid foundation in the Reformed faith. I think I still have a copy of my message I gave for the seventh question, "What are the decrees of God?"
When you were at presbytery recently, you were asked what recommendation you would have for young men entering the ministry. What advice would you give to them?
First of all, I'd want to make sure they had some understanding that it wasn't going to be easy, because it isn't. But you don't let anything get to you, because there are problems no matter what it is you do in this world. The ministry, of course, has its own peculiar problems. But don't let it get to you.
What is the greatest joy that you have as a minister?
The greatest joy is to preach sermons. So I enjoy it every week.
Is there anything about preaching specifically that you would recommend to young men?
I would tell them to study as much as you can for each sermon because the more you know, the better it is. Because you're God's spokesman, and that's a tremendous responsibilityto be a spokesman for almighty God. That's something to be very serious about. It's not a time to tell jokes. I hated it when some ministers would spend time with all kinds of funny stories to keep people laughing
It's very serious because you're speaking for God and he's going to hold you accountable for every word you give out in the congregation. I have to answer to him.
What was your method for preaching? Do you go through whole books, or do you preach themes from Bible?
Mostly by books. I never really picked up themes.
What are you preaching on right now, Harold?
Right now one book is Habakkuk, and in the evening it's the Gospel of John. I like John, but Habakkuk is amazing to me. It's a little harder, but I enjoy it.
Do you take a large paragraph, or do you go slowly verse by verse?
I think it would vary. Sometimes it's a portion, sometimes it's one verse. I don't have any particular idea as to what I prefer. I guess it's as the Spirit leads me as I study the passage.
Back in the early days, was there one preacher you heard who really stuck out in your mind, and you said, "That's how I want to preach"?
Well, Professor Murray impressed me very much with his sincerity. My pastor was Dr. Clowneyhe wasn't "Dr." then, I guessbut he was a good one. So I liked him. Let's see, who else did I have? Rev. Marvin Derby [from the Hamden church].
You were making the point, Harold, that no one should go into the ministry for the money.
Ministers move around sometimes because they can get more money. I was invited to candidate one time for a church outside of Washington, D.C., but I refused to even come down there and do it. They were put out with me, but I didn't want to go down there. I figured, I'm a country boy, and to live down there in Washington, D.C., I'd be out of place. I couldn't see it.
So you believe that being committed to the people of a particular place is important.
Well, I think it is, because you fit better some places than others.
And people can tell if you really are wanting to move on.
Well, I haven't moved on, you see. I've stayed.
You have. For longer than anyone I can remember in the OPC.
I'll be here a while yet unless the Lord calls me home. I have no intention of stopping preaching.
Well, that's a wonderful testimony, Harold. Thank you.