By Shawn McMullen
I’ve known Gene and Frances Hester most of my life. Longtime members of my home church, they were my youth group leaders, Bible Bowl coaches, and parents of my childhood church buddies, Phil and Tim. Gene served as an elder and Sunday school teacher. Frances was a church organist, pianist, soloist, and choir director.
It was no surprise to me, then, that when Gene’s company transferred him to New York City in the early 80s, the two immediately began searching for a new church to call home. Finding a nearby church similar to the one they left, however, wasn’t an easy task. In fact, the nearest similar church was located in Wappingers Falls, 42 miles north of their new home in Somers, New York. Undaunted, the Hesters made the 42-mile journey every Sunday to worship with their new church family.
Several months before Gene and Frances arrived in Somers, a young Christian mother 22 miles to the west in Shrub Oak, New York began praying that God would send someone to her community to start a new church. This young mother and her family also made the long trek to Wappingers Falls on Sundays to worship.
Through a unique set of circumstances, Frances began a ladies’ Bible study in Shrub Oak with the young Christian mom and eight other women. Before long the group extended their study time to include lessons for their children. Several ladies in the Bible study were baptized into Christ as a result, and before long, a couples Bible study was formed.
With several couples from the study now driving 42 miles each Sunday to worship, the need to establish a church in the Shrub Oak area became even more pressing. So one year after the start of the women’s Bible study, the couples planned a weekend retreat in the Catskill Mountains to talk and pray about planting a church closer to home. By the end of the weekend, the small group had made the commitment and the Taconic Christian Church was born.
The first service of the new church was held on September 19, 1982. For a year, the minister of the church in Wappingers Falls drove to Shrub Oak on Sundays to preach for an 8:00 a.m. worship service. As you might expect, Gene led the adult Bible school class while Frances helped with the music and taught in the children’s Sunday school.
With the help of Go Ye Chapel (now the Orchard Group), the Taconic Christian Church hired its first minister. Since that time the church has grown considerably, moved from a house into a larger rented facility, and continues to reach the Shrub Oak area with the good news of the gospel. In its brief history the church has sent several young people to Bible colleges across the country, producing ministers and other ministry leaders, along with many faithful church workers.
When Gene retired, he and Frances returned to the Midwest and resumed their work with my home church. I often think about the two of them, and the amazing way God worked through them to plant a vibrant church—two humble and faithful Christian servants with no formal ministry training, who simply saw a need and responded in faith.