Pastor Dave LovelaceDec 21, 2020 11:23AM ● By Tricia Hoadley
Since he first arrived at the Lower Brandywine Presbyterian Church in 2000, Pastor Dave Lovelace has overseen a facilities expansion, two capital campaigns, increased community involvement and the church’s recent 300th anniversary. Just before he began the next chapter of his life in retirement, Pastor Dave sat down with Greenville & Hockessin Life to talk about his faith, his church and its people.
Talk about the early introduction to your faith.
People are sometimes saved out of things, and sometimes people are saved from things by being a part of the family of a church over a long period of time. My earliest memories of church and Sunday School were riding in a car with my grandmother to the Calvary Community Baptist Church in Merchantville, where she was the superintendent of the primary department.
When she got too old to make that journey, my parents started transporting the family to the First Presbyterian Church in Blackwood, N.J. When I was 12 years old, I was baptized and confirmed, and it was then that I made my public profession as to my faith in Christ.
You later served a one- year tour in Vietnam in the U.S. Army. What did you do there?
I was in college at the University of Delaware at the time of the Vietnam Era. I thought it would be wise to go through R.O.T.C. rather than take my chances with the draft. When I got to Vietnam, there were two requisitions for people with accounting degrees. One was to be the custodian and bookkeeper of the Saigon officer’s clubs. The other was a newly-created purchasing office.
At the time, I had a moustache, and the department head despised moustaches, so I was chosen because he could then tell me to shave it off. Often, the U.S. Army would give us choices of assignments in order to influence you to remain, and at the time, I was by mail dating by mail the woman I later married, and I wanted to go back to the greater Philadelphia area. The U.S. Army sent me there, where I worked at the National Inventory Control Point with electronics equipment.
This must have presented you with a conundrum. Here you are, a young man who was being led to a life of faith, working in a war zone halfway across the world. How did that juxtaposition play itself out?
We worked six and-a-half days a week, so there wasn’t any time for church in the traditional sense. One of my enduring memories of that time was walking down the street in Saigon on a beautiful day and telling God, ‘If this is the last day of my life, Lord, this has been a good life.’ It was the feeling of knowing that God was in control.
The journey and impact of your faith took on an even more vital role as you got older, yes?
Late in my Army career, I went back to the University of Delaware to serve on their ROTC faculty. During that time, I did some personal church hunting and found myself at the First Presbyterian Church in Newark, where I served as an elder, became the executive secretary of the Board of Elders, preached my first sermon, and reorganized several committees. It gave me a great respect for the importance of the people and the lay leadership of the church.
It also led you to the Lower Brandywine Presbyterian Church in 2000.
When I sent my dossier to the church, they met me at Red Clay Creek Presbyterian Church, where I was interim associate for education and congregational life. They heard me deliver a sermon, and then conducted a 75-minute interview with me. During the interview, I said that I did not have a strategic plan for the church in my briefcase, but that I would be very happy to conspire with them.
They listened to me deliver one more sermon, and then I went away for a week on a mission trip. During that week, they offered me the job as the new minister at the Lower Brandywine Presbyterian Church, but this was in the days before cell phones, so my wife had to sit on the news for a whole week. I officially came on board in October of 2000.
Over the course of your 20 years at the church, you have overseen a facilities expansion project, two capital campaigns, participated in several youth group trips, increased the church’s community involvement and, of course, the celebration of the church’s 300 anniversary – as well as the overall stewardship of this church. You didn’t do it alone.
It is said that a parish is only as strong as the power of its parishioners.
There have been so many people it would be difficult to name them all. One has been Linda Natali, who has been the long-time administrator here and the unofficial “mother of the church.” Another has been Phil Calabrese, who up until recently, had been our contemporary music director, and he and his wife Marilee were the coordinating hub of our Worship Consort.
There has also been Nancy Day, an elder on the ministry team, whom I kidded as being the “de-facto associate pastor” of the church. There was also Barbara Sypher, one of our parishioners, who became our Christian educator.
Talk about the power of the parishioners and how they have helped grow the mission of this church.
Given that we are a regional church, we are blessed by people who come from everywhere – from Chadds Ford and West Chester to Newark to Wilmington. Our people have done significant things with important organizations for many years. They have various leadership skills. They take initiative and they follow through, and we give them the freedom to be themselves.
You are about to retire after two decades at the Lower Brandywine Presbyterian Church. What do you think you will miss most about being here?
Without a doubt, I will miss the many parishioners I have come to know. They are a very nice group of people with whom to associate. They are by no means clones; we have a wide diversity of life experiences.
I have always had a warm spot for confirmation, and my work with the church’s teenagers. It’s my chance to establish a relationship with them. I will also miss what we call our Parable Time -- often called Children’s Church -- which I’ve done three out of the four Sundays of the month, because it’s been my only chance to be eyeball-to-eyeball with our children, and it enables me to find out who they are.
What are your future aspirations in retirement?
My wife Mimi reminds me that when you turn 75 you should begin thinking about thinning out some of the stuff you have accumulated. I call myself a “book-a-holic,” and I have a lot of information that is bound in books that I hope is valuable, and the question is whether or not to what degree are these books that were quite essential in their time are of any interest to others. My background at First Newark before I went to the seminary was helping to develop adult education courses. I have also written curriculum for five-session adult education courses for their Academy of Christian Studies.
I did my doctoral dissertation on rest, and the product of that was a five-session adult education course I taught on incorporating rest into one’s life as an aspect of discipleship. I hope to take that on the road somewhere, as something that may be of value.
Who is God to you?
I have glass replica of a jewel that resembles a diamond that my three children got me for Christmas one year. I like to look at God as a gemstone with infinite facets. Each person who relates to God sees God from his or her own angle, as factored through the variables of our ethnicity, our economic status, what part of the world we live in, and whether we are male or female or young or old. It allows us to share our own visions with others.
What is your definition of religion?
In its purest sense, religion is a relationship. None of us are here of our own doing, but yet we find ourselves in the midst of a glorious creation as sentient beings with the ability to think we can step back ten yards and evaluate. Religion assures me that here is a wiser mind than my own that I can rely on. There is a verse in Psalm 46-10 that says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” I’ve been led to understand that the Hebrew version translates roughly to “Hush up!”
What is your favorite spot in Greenville and Hockessin?
We live in Newark, but Winterthur has always been a very special place. I have also enjoyed the few rides I’ve had on the Wilmington & Western Railroad. I actually did a wedding on the railroad once. We stopped the train, conducted the wedding at a creek bed, then got back on the train and went to the reception.
You throw a dinner party and can invite anyone, living or not. Who will we see around that table?
It would have to be done over the course of three dinner parties. My wife and I periodically think how would be wonderful to see our respective parents again, at a time in their lives when they weren’t in the latter stages. It would be a chance to reflect on how our lives all worked out.
In addition to having three children, we have been blessed with seven grandchildren, whom we haven’t seen all together because of COVID-19. It would be beautiful to have an opportunity to have them all around the table at the same time.
The third dinner party is a real one, not imagined. Each year, we have a dinner party for the key leadership for the church – the ministry team and others who have made significant contributions over the life of that year. We began having those dinners at the Dilworthtown Inn, and for the last few years, we’ve met at the Greenville Country Club. At each dinner, it gives me the chance to go around the table and celebrate each person and what they have done for the church.
What can always be found in your refrigerator?
I work on the Push System of Inventory Replenishment. I get things when they are cheap and I push them onto our shelves, rather than waiting for when I am desperate and pulling them off of the store shelf at whatever the going price is.
The Lower Brandywine Presbyterian Church is located at 101 Old Kennett Road, Wilmington, Del. 19807. To learn more, visit www.lowerbrandywine.org.
- Richard L. Gaw