Rev. George D. Armstrong
Dr. Jason Leon MacMillan
Rev. Joseph Venable
WWII plaque
The Cross
The Tapestries
The Bells
The Organ

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Dr. Jason Leon MacMillan
Newsletter: The First Presbyterian Church
June 1959 issue

Memorial Issue to Dr. J. L. MacMillan.

Our congregation suffered a great, shock in the sudden death of our beloved Pastor Emeritus, Dr. Jason Leon MacMillan, on Tuesday morning, April 28th, at 9:1.5 a.m. of an heart attack. Funeral services were conducted in the sanctuary of the First Presbyterian Church where he served for twenty-five years as minister. The pastor paid this tribute to the life and ministry of Dr. MacMillan:

"Know ye not that there is a Prince and a Great Man fallen this day in Israel?" (II Samuel 3:38) is a verse of Scripture singularly appropriate for the occasion which has brought us together today.

For Dr. Jason Leon MacMillan was a Prince among men, as all who knew him will testify, and truly a Great Man.

He was a Man Great of Heart: For he loved people and had a heart of compassion for people. He was a true Shepherd to his flock and pastor of his congregation.

He was a Man Great of Faith: He was proud of his Covenanter background and his Scotch-Irish heritage—of those who had died for their Faith—and he was a minister and preacher of that Faith.

He was a Man Great of Vision: He dreamed dreams and saw his dreams fulfilled. He saw new communities and planned new churches. He saw people needing Christ and he brought Christ, to them. He looked out upon the fields and saw that they were white for the harvest. His last achievement was the cooperative effort of the churches of Ghent to make a religious survey of this area and an evangelistic visitation in an effort to church the unchurched, to reach the unreached for Christ and His Kingdom. He was the moving spirit, in the establishment of the Norfolk United Preaching Mission.

He was a Man Great of Friendship: Your presence here this afternoon is evidence of his friendly spirit. As one who labored closely with him I know the warmth of his friendship.

He was a Man Great in His Home: His character as husband and father in the home is indicated by the love and affection with which he is cherished by his wife, children and grandchildren. Here is the example of a Christian home, for which Mrs. MacMillan deserves equal credit. He was proud of his children—their successes in life—their position of leadership in their churches as elders, deacons, teachers, officers.

He was a Man Great of Character: Success is not measured by what a man has, but what he is. Emerson once said, "What you are speaks so loudly I can't hear what you say." Dr. MacMillan's integrity of character was never questioned.

He was a Man Great of Influence: He held many positions of responsibility in the religious, cultural, educational, social and civic life of the City of Norfolk. He served on committees of the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church. U.S.; as Moderator of the Synod of Appalachia and the Synod of Virginia; as Moderator of the Presbytery of Norfolk; as a Trustee of Hampden-Sydney College; of Sunnyside Presbyterian Home; and the Presbyterian Home at Lynchburg. He was conferred the honorary degrees of Doctor of Divinity by Tusculum College, King College and Cedarville College.

"Know ye not that there is a Prince and a Great Man fallen this day?"

Every one of us here today cherishes some memory of this Man of God. He married us. He baptized our children. He counselled us in time of need. He comforted us in our sorrow. He strengthened us in our weakness. He visited us in our sickness. We are all indebted to this preacher of righteousness, this servant of Jesus Christ, this faithful minister of the Gospel. He was a tower of spiritual strength to all who knew him.

But our Day of Sorrow is his Day of Triumph. He has entered into the Presence of Christ his Saviour, and has received the Crown of Righteousness that fadeth not away, eternal in the heavens. So we do not sorrow as those without hope, but rejoice in the joy of salvation and the blessed assurance of the resurrection and of the life everlasting.

How appropriate the words in Bunyan's "Pilgrim's Progress," written of Mr. Valiant-for-the-Truth, are for "Dr. Mac" —"So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side."

"Father, in Thy gracious keeping
Leave we now Thy servant sleeping."


The following resolutions were prepared for the Synod of Virginia and for the Presbytery of Norfolk, and will be printed in the minutes of these two church courts:

"Dr. Jason Leon MacMillan, beloved pastor-emeritus of the First Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia, entered into Glory on Tuesday morning, April 28, 1959. Funeral services were held in the First Presbyterian Church on Friday, May 1, 1959, with burial in the Forest Lawn Cemetery, Norfolk, Virginia.

"Dr. MacMillan was born April 5, 1882, in Cedarville, Ohio, the son of the late James MacMillan and Elizabeth Murdock MacMillan. He was a graduate of Tarkio College, Missouri (1905) and Princeton Theological Seminary, New Jersey (1908). He was licensed and ordained on December 2, 1908, in the Reformed Church of America and began his ministry as pastor of the Oyster Bay Reformed Church, Long Island, New York (1908-1911). The former President of the United States, President Theodore Roosevelt, was a member of that church at that time. He served successful pastorates at the Sinking Springs Presbyterian Church, Abingdon, Virginia (1911-1916) and the First Presbyterian Church, Johnson City, Tennessee (1916-1924).

"He was called as pastor of the First Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, Virginia in 1924 and began his ministry January 1, 1925, and served with great distinction for a quarter of a century in the religious, educational and cultural life of the City of Norfolk. Upon his retirement February 1, 1950, he was elected pastor-emeritus of the church in loving tribute of his long and fruitful ministry. He was awarded the Doctor of Divinity degree by Cedarville College, Tusculum College, and King College. He served as Moderator of the Synod of Appalachia (1920) and the Synod of Virginia (1927). He was a trustee of Hampden-Sydney College, the Presbyterian Home at Lynchburg, the Sunnyside Presbyterian Home at Danville, and the Massanetta Springs Summer Conferences. He was the father of the Norfolk United Preaching Mission in Norfolk, Virginia.

"He was united in marriage to Nelle Theresa Rankin in Tarkio, Missouri, September 29, 1908. From this marriage were born the following children: Miss Theresa MacMillan, Harrisburg, Pennsylvania; Dr. James Murdock MacMillan, Richmond, Virginia; Mrs. Martha H. Semple, Cleveland, Ohio; David Gavin MacMillan, Vero Beach, Florida; and Robert R. MacMillan, Norfolk. Virginia. There are also twelve grandchildren surviving.

"In Norfolk Presbytery he served as Moderator of the Presbytery and as chairman of the important Home Missions Committee, and the Commission on the Minister and His Work. He had a very active part in the organization and establishment of the following churches in Norfolk Presbytery; Coleman Place Presbyterian Church (1929); Royster Memorial Presbyterian Church (1941); East Ocean View Presbyterian Church (1941); Franklin Presbyterian Church (1949); Oakdale Presbyterian Church (1949); Calvin Presbyterian Church (1955); and Yorktown Presbyterian Church (1966).

"Dr. MacMillan was a pastor beloved by his congregation, a preacher of force and power, a man of persuasive personality, a born leader of men, a tower of strength in time of need, a comforter in the hour of sorrow. He was a true patriarch in his home—a devoted husband and a revered father. He was a man great of heart—great of faith—great of vision —great of courage—great of friendship—great of character—and great of influence.

"He was active in the ministry to the very end. He was preparing to preach in the Lafayette Presbyterian Church, Norfolk, the Sunday morning he suffered his heart attack, and died the following Tuesday morning in a local hospital.

"He lived a triumphant life and he died a triumphant death. Thanks be to God who giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ over death, who hath given us the assurance of everlasting life, and the promise of a crown of righteousness that fadeth not away, eternal in the heavens. How appropriate the words written of Mr. Valiant-for-the-Truth are for 'Dr. Mac'—'So he passed over, and all the trumpets sounded for him on the other side.'"

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Rev. Joseph G. Venable, D. D.

We, the members of the Brotherhood Bible Class of the First Presbyterian Church, have learned with deep sorrow of the sudden death at Chattanooga, Tennessee, of our former pastor, Reverend Joseph G. Venable, D. D. The three years during which we had the privilege of being under Doctor Venable's Christian leadership while he was pastor of our church was to all of us a period of inspiration and spiritual development.

He attended our class whenever his other duties would permit and frequently taught the lesson and whenever the members knew he was to speak they showed the appreciation and esteem in which they held him by invariably filling the class room to overflowing.

The Lord in taking Dr. Venable to his final reward and relieving him from all suffering has deprived us of a sincere friend and spiritual adviser whose memory will be a guide to us through life to become better men and more useful citizens.

Because of the high ideals and standards of service which he held before us, we will be better Christians and will strive to make this class the mighty force for the cause of the Kingdom which he believed it would be.

Looking back after several years upon Doctor Venable's work among us, our impression of his generous toleration, his broad dealing with men, and the sincerity of his own Christian life, stands out perhaps even more prominently than when we were directly associated with him. To so live as to leave behind one such influences as these hardly admits opportunity for eulogy Doctor Venable's life speaks so clearly for itself to all of us who knew him.

Probably our love and esteem for our former pastor can best be expressed in the words of a beautiful memorial to some of our soldiers: "It is not given to all men to be born to greatness, to hold within their keeping a destiny which shall write in immortal letters their names, which shall endure in marble or live in bronze, but to the manly man and the true Christian it is given to write his heart, his impulses, and his good living in the hearts and in the memories of others."

As we have known him and loved him we wish to express to his family our sincerest sympathy and our own deep sorrow; we weep with them as do all others to whom he brought such clear and convincing messages of "The Life Eternal."

These resolutions are to be sent to Mrs. Venable, spread on the records of the Class, and given to the press of Norfolk and Chattanooga and to the Christian Observer.


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World War II Plaque

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The Cross

NOVEMBER 19/20,1986
Richard Dickson Cooke Jr., left, and Dr. J. Shepherd Russell Jr. with the Celtic cross donated by the Cooke family to First Presbyterian Church.

Cooke Family Gives Cross to Church

WELL, Correspondent

First Presbyterian Church, which dates back more than 300 years, now has what its pastor believes is its first free-standing cross.

This is not to say that there weren't any crosses visible in the church on Colonial Avenue. The woodwork is full of crosses. There also are crosses in the stained-glass windows. In fact, the present sanctuary, built in 1911, is in the shape of a cross.

But it wasn't until this fall that a cross mounted on marble was placed in the front of the choir screen. The inscription on the base reads, "In loving memory of Fanny Royster Cooke and Richard Dickson Cooke by their children."

One of those children, Richard Cooke Jr., is a longstanding member of First Presbyterian. He said he and his sister, Mary Dickson Cooke Smith of Virginia Beach, wanted to give the cross because that was the desire of their mother, who died 14 years ago. She had wanted to give a cross in memory of her husband after his death.

"This church has been blessed with very generous members who memorialize loved ones with things that will stand the test of time," Senior Pastor J. Shepherd Russell Jr. said.

He pointed out that the Royster-Cooke family had given the Tiffany window over the entrance to the sanctuary, and other windows as well. The organ was also a gift from the Royster family.

Before the Cooke family could give the cross, a worship committee had to decide what type of cross to have made. A sculptor designed a model of a hanging cross, which the committee members deemed too modern for the traditional sanctuary. They wanted a cross with lots of meaning, also.

They found it in the Celtic cross design, which dates from the 10th century and is often called the Iona or Presbyterian Cross.

The Celtic cross that adorns the sanctuary at First Presbyterian Church is about 2 feet tall and is made of nickel. The symbols of the original Celtic cross in Iona have been reproduced in detail on the new cross. The vine, lamb, and alpha and omega, all Christian symbols of the New Testament, are represented on the cross. The circle in the center of the Celtic cross is thought to be symbolic of Christ's victory over sin and death.

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Excerpt from Church Bulletin October 19, 1986.

Cross of St. John
Given in Loving Memory of
Fanny Royster Cooke and Richard Dickson Cooke
By their Children.

This Sunday morning at 11:00 a.m. worship a St. John's Celtic Cross will be dedicated. Crafted by The Iona Shop, Glasgow, Scotland it is of solid brass covered with nickel and fits on a base of Iona green marble. The original St. John's Cross is a 14 foot massive schist on a granite pedestal and stands beside the tomb of St. Columba at the west door of the Abbey of Iona. The island of Iona stands among the Inner Hebrides off the west coast of Scotland. To this island in 561 A.D. came St. Columba, lighting the torch of Celtic Christianity, of which the Presbyterian Church is heir. The cross dates from around the 10th Century and is often called the Iona or Presbyterian Cross. We are grateful to Mrs. C. Gordon Smith and Mr. Richard D. Cooke, Jr., for this gift.

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Dedicated June 10, 1990.

Enlarge in browser.

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January 23, 2000.

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The Organ
May 1993

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