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Legendary pastor Rev. Dr.

John Touchberry dies at 80
Published: Friday, April 30, 2010
By: Brian Bingaman

A pillar of the community is gone.

The Rev. Dr. John Workman Touchberry, former senior minister of St.
John’s United Church of Christ in Lansdale, died Monday at the age of

Since retiring from St. John’s in 1999, after 26 years of service,

Touchberry had been living in Rosman, N.C., and attended First
Congregational United Church of Christ in Hendersonville, N.C.

He came to Lansdale in 1973 to become pastor at St. John’s, where the

emphasis of his ministry was on the disenfranchised of society.

“He was a person with a big heart for the little ones in society,” said The
Rev. Dr. Sue Bertolette, who worked with Touchberry for 19 years, co-
pastored with him during his last six years at St. John’s, and then became his successor.

“John always thought outside the box, and he encouraged me to do the same. And for that I give thanks. Up
until the day he retired, he was full of energy and life,” she said.

Touchberry founded Interfaith Community Services, Manna on Main Street and Community Housing Services
in Lansdale.

“He would never take the credit for (starting those programs) so there would be more ownership,” said Manna
executive director Tom Allebach.

“At the time (1981), there was a lot of resistance from the
community about ‘who it’s going to attract to the
neighborhood’ ... He was just a very caring man; very
compassionate to people in need, and a real inspiration to
me and a lot of people,” Allebach said.

Allebach recalled that the soup kitchen next door to the

church was once in danger of being shut down by the
county health department because of the proximity of a
bathroom to the kitchen.

“He took out that bathroom and made it a washroom,” he


He also started an AIDS support group at the church.

Among the 20 community groups he welcomed to meet in the St. John’s building were a Korean church, a
Montessori School, Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts and a program
for people with mental illness.
According to Touchberry’s obituary, he was chaplain of Fairmount Fire
Company, and on the board of Helpline and the American Heart Association.

Another thing he was known for was role playing from the pulpit of biblical
characters, including Jesus, Judas, St. Paul and Abraham.

“We would do dialogues together (when he would role play),” Bertolette

said. “It was one of the hallmarks of our ministry together.”

St. John’s member John Hendricks shared some memories in an e-mail:

“When I first attended St. John’s in 1986 with my future wife, Susan Badger
(a third-generation member of the church), I was immediately inspired with
John Touchberry’s messages of faith in action, reflecting the denomination of the United Church of Christ; and
continued to be impressed as I learned of his social involvement in the community, from forming major
organizations like Manna on Main Street, to ringing a bell in front of stores for the Salvation Army each
Christmas, without any publicity.

“He was never too busy to help someone who came into St. John’s with a need, and gave St. John’s the
reputation as the ‘yes!’ church in town, always willing to help people where needed, which has continued 10
years later under Senior Pastor Sue Bertolette and Associate Pastor Ryan Henderson.

“I have found that people in the area who know nothing else about St. John’s will remember that John
Touchberry was our pastor and remember all he did for the community.

“He was also a warm, friendly person. I will always remember sitting in his office in 1988 waiting for my
wedding to begin, as we joked that (Revs.) John & Sue (Bertolette) were marrying John & Sue (Hendricks) that
day, something he always remembered later.”

Ordained in 1955, his first pastorate was at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Cordova, S.C. A 1999 Reporter story
said that he was preaching racial reconciliation at a time when segregation was law in the South.

“Anyone who admitted that races should be integrated was an anathema,” he said in the story.

That same story said he also met some resistance in Lansdale, which was a much smaller town in the early
1970s, when he shared his view that homosexuality was not a sin.

In 1999, Touchberry commented: “I think (the community is) much more inclusive and open and responsive to

While working in student ministry as director of Georgia Seagle Hall, a Christian co-op at the University of
Florida, Touchberry joined the United Church of Christ.

He was called to be the minister of Faith United Church of Christ in Clearwater, Fla., where the main focus of
his ministry was housing for the poor through a program called Twinkle, that he was instrumental in starting.

Touchberry loved books and read constantly, according to his obituary.

A celebration of Touchberry’s life was held Thursday at First Congregational UCC. His obituary says that his
ashes will be scattered over Nancy Mountain in Transylvania, N.C.
Bertolette said that he had personally expressed his wishes to her by telephone that a memorial service also be
held at St. John’s.

A date has not yet been announced.

Pending that announcement, the family has requested that in lieu of flowers, memorial contributions can be
made to St. John’s, according to Bertolette.

Among the accolades Touchberry received in his lifetime are the Allen S. Meck Award for excellence and
achievement in parish ministry from Lancaster Theological Seminary; a Paul Harris Fellowship from the
Lansdale Rotary; a North Penn Chamber of Commerce Community Service Award; and a Lansdale Jaycees
Community Service Award.

Touchberry and his wife, Sheryl Dean Smoak, had celebrated their 50th wedding anniversary June 21. Besides
his wife, he is survived by sons Jonathan Dean Touchberry of Rosman and Roger Tillman Touchberry, and his
wife, Denise Showalter of Bradenton, Fla.; and grandsons Ramsey Tillman Touchberry of Bradenton and Matt
Kachurka of Downingtown.

Born Jan. 16, 1930, in Padgett’s Creek, S.C., he was the son of the late Tillman John Touchberry and Lillian
Avarilla Barnett. He was also preceded in death by his brother, William Barnett Touchberry, and his sister,
Margaret Elizabeth Touchberry Miller.

Touchberry graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Furman University, a master’s degree from Southern
Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., and a doctor of ministry from Lancaster Theological

He completed clinical pastoral training at Bowman Gray School of Medicine in Winston-Salem, N.C.

LINK: Manna on Main blog from the Reporter's community blog page


The following are comments from the readers. In no way do they represent the view of

jerassoc24 wrote on Apr 30, 2010 1:22 PM:

" I am saddened by the passing of Pastor Touchberry. He helped me when I lived in a room in Lansdale with
rent and food when I needed it. I always hated to ask for help and to pay it back in some way, I unloaded the
trucks that bought food from different agencys to the church to give to homeless people and senior citizens. I
later moved to NC and helped at a ministry and I also open my home to those in need. I owe it all to John
Touchberry, a true hero of the people. "

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Who wrote on Apr 30, 2010 12:53 PM:

" Rev. Dr. John Touchberry was a great man. He will be missed! My heart felt prayers and condolences go out
to his family. He married me and my wife at St. John's. I went to high school with his son John, also a great
guy. Thank you for making a difference in the North Penn Area Rev. Touchberry. "