By Bill Webb, Word&Way Editor
Columbia — Fred Neiger is a minister who makes house calls. And hospital calls. And nursing home calls. He is the pastoral visitation associate at Calvary Baptist Church in Columbia.
Though his title has changed through the years, pastoral visitation is what he has done faithfully on behalf of his church for more than 20 years.
And he's going strong at 96 years of age.
Fred gets around more deliberately these days. He eases in and out of his car, grabbing a cane he keeps on the floorboard when he goes somewhere and must negotiate stairs.
When he pulls up in front of John and Oma Morrison's home, Fred leaves the cane behind and instead pops the trunk. Inside is a spiffy new four-wheeled walker, which easily unfolds and folds and comes equipped with brakes. He calls it his "Rolls-Royce."
The Morrisons have long been retired. A son checks on them every day, and Fred makes a weekly visit — a pastoral visit — that inevitably lifts their spirits.
"He's a beam of light," says John.
"A ray of sunshine," adds Oma.
John has been having pain in one of his legs, but he and his wife are both obviously happy to see Fred. "When he comes in, people feel better," John says.
When one of the Morrisons' sons passed away a year or so ago, Fred was there to minister to the couple and their family. He continues to do so.
What exactly does the pastoral visitation associate do?
Fred will tell you that he visits the hospitals and nursing homes and drops in on shut-ins, all of them on a carefully maintained schedule. He also "visits senior adults that I like," he says with a wink and a grin.
One gets the impression that there are few people that Fred doesn't like, and few people who don't like him.
At an age when others might have slowed down — or quit — Fred is adamant about keeping up his ministry of visitation.
"I feel like people need what I have to give," he explains. "I like to visit with people and I like to pray with people. I always did that in my ministry, too — when they were in the hospital, when they had a birth or a death in the family."
Calvary's senior pastor, Ed Farris, has nothing but praise for Fred.
"He does such a marvelous job," Farris said. "People just wait for him to come."
Farris makes hospital rounds, but he usually can't stay for the duration of a member's surgery, but Fred does. "He will stay during the entire surgery," Farris said.
"He is one of the most outstanding Christian men I know, and he is as sharp as a tack."
Fred Neiger's ministry goes back many years. He earned master and doctor of theology degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky. In 1941, while in seminary, he married Fern Fowler, his wife of 57 years — until she passed away in 1998.
He pastored seminary churches and accepted the call of Immanuel Baptist Church in St. Louis after he received his doctorate in 1945.
Four years later, Fred became professor of Bible at the Baptist Student Center at the University of Missouri at Columbia. By the time he retired from that position in 1975, the Bible teacher had influenced the lives of 6,666 students. During the earliest years of that ministry, Fred was pastor of Cairo Baptist Church.
Fred is a world traveler; he's made two around-the-world trips.
He participated in the Missouri-Australia Crusade in 1964, attended the Baptist World Alliance in Japan, served for 13 months as pastor of an English-speaking church in Mexico City, participated in WIN Schools in Taiwan and passed out tracts in China.
In all, he served eight churches either as pastor or assistant pastor in Kentucky, Indiana and Missouri.
Fred boasts of four children, 14 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren. They are scattered but Fred periodically visits each of them. The children took their dad on a cruise for his 90th birthday and did the same when he turned 95.
"There are no lemons in our family," he says. "They all love each other."
Fred faces a shift in how he goes about his ministry of visitation. The day following his visit to the Morrisons, he planned to surrender his driver's license.
He hopes that volunteer drivers will step forward — perhaps five men who will give one day a week. He plans to keep his car and allow his volunteers to drive it when they take him to his appointed rounds.
No one is praying harder than Fred that volunteers will be secured, unless it is the friends who have come to depend upon his weekly visits during the past 20 years.
God willing, his faithful ministry of presence, a fitting word and an encouraging prayer will continue. (06-15-06)