Once a month, the Bible class for seniors at First Presbyterian Church of Augusta meets over cake to sing Happy Birthday to those celebrating another year of life.
On Thursday, the class turned its attention to longtime teacher Peter Letchford, who turned 95.
Letchford has taught the church’s Trinity Bible Class for seniors for nearly 17 years. Many of them gathered Thursday, along with family, friends and church staff, to share stories of Letchford’s lifetime of ministry.
Letchford has worked as a missionary to Africa, a church pastor and a Bible college dean, among many other positions in church leadership and missions.
“He’s 95 years old and still going strong,” said Jack O’Tyson, a member of the class.
Letchford is a native of England. He was born in 1917, when Woodrow Wilson was president and a first-class stamp cost 3 cents.
He attended Oxford University when C. S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien were professors there. Letchford studied classical languages and literature as an undergraduate student, and earned graduate degrees in music and education.
As an organist, he played at revivals led by English evangelist Tom Rees.
“He was England’s Billy Graham. He filled arenas with tens of thousands of people. I used to travel quite a bit with Tom. That was my brief flirting with fame,” Letchford said with a laugh.
As a young man, Letchford was called into missionary service. He left for northern Rhodesia, in what is now Zambia, just as World War II began. There, he worked for eight years to build a network of village schools.
Letchford met two fellow missionaries, who would offer him boarding at their home in Canada when he left Zambia.
Letchford eventually married their daughter, Dorothy. They have been married for more than 50 years and have four children and 15 grandchildren.
In 1962, Letchford became dean of the Graduate School of Missions at Columbia Bible College, now Columbia International University, in Columbia.
The couple didn’t settle in Augusta until 1995, but had visited for many years to participate in missionary conferences and church events.
“This church is a great supporter of work overseas,” Dorothy Letchford said of First Presbyterian. “We felt at home here.”
Every Thursday at the church, Letchford leads a Bible study of between 30 and 40 seniors. Lately, they’re working through the book of Luke.
This week, however, he shared his testimony and gave thanks to God for a fulfilling life in ministry.
“Peter has this gratitude to the Lord. He just gives thanks for everything,” said Claire Jackson, a family friend of 21 years. “This is an incredible man of God.”
Friends shared photos and read poems describing Letchford as witty and wise, mild-mannered but firm, and a straight-talking, humble servant.
“To be 95 years old, you could have all sorts of reasons why you don’t come to teach the Bible class on Thursday mornings,” John Barrett, the church’s executive director of discipleship, told the crowd.
Letchford, however, doesn’t make those sorts of excuses, Barrett said. He shows up week after week with joy.
On his 95th birthday, Letchford said he would hardly change a thing about his life so far.
“I wouldn’t hesitate for one minute to do it all again,” he said.