The Rev. Charles G. Morse ‘on the job’
He Works For His Lord ~ Spiritually And Physically
At 84, He Builds House Of Worship
By Larry Sullivan
At an age when most men are retired, the Rev. Charles G. Morse gained worldwide fame by taking up hammer and saw and building his own church. Now, 14 years later and noticeably slowed by 84 years of living, he may still be found with the tools of carpentry and masonry in his hands doing “the work the good Lord intended.”
The Rev. Mr. Morse deplores retirement.
“Retirement is a great waste of human resources,” he said. “It is the height of folly to put someone out who has his health, when he is able to do things that he wouldn’t have dreamed of years ago, just because he has had too many birthdays.
It was with this feeling that the Rev. Mr. Morse set aside his forced inactivity seven years ago to lay the foundations—both literally and figuratively—for the Central Blvd. Baptist Church at Central and Oakdale in Pittsfield Townships. He has had some help, and expects the Baptist Convention to complete the edifice, but much of the work has been done by the gnarled hands of the Ypsilanti clergyman.
The Rev. Mr. Morse, who lives at 952 Washtenaw Ave. in Ypsilanti with his wife, Grace, also an ordained minister, was pastor of the First Baptist Church of Ypsilanti 40 years ago. He then took a position as district superintendent for the Baptist Convention for the southwest third of Indiana and later held a similar post in Washington and Idaho.
All told, he and his wife have had an official hand in the building of more than 100 churches.
But it was a single-handed effort by which he built a fieldstone and limestone church at Wheatffeld, Ind., that gained him fame. He was 70 years old when the edifice was dedicated and turned over to the congregation. Before that time he had toiled for years in cutting each board to fit, chipping and cracking each stone—some lugged from a distance of 20 miles by a small trailer — and mixing every bit of mortar.
News columnist Jimmy Fiddler gave the rural minister his first big plug by presenting him a diamond-encrusted wristwatch and Fiddlerr’s “American of the Week Award.”
Then Life magazine picked him up with a four-page picture feature. Other features followed, including an illustrated article in the Sunday magazine supplement of the Indianapolis Star and long articles in newspapers at Rensselaer, DeMotte, Nobles-ville and Lafayette, Ind., and a number of Michigan communities.
A cherished recollection of the Rev. Morse and his wife was a trip they took to Japan on an invitation from an official in the ministry of education.
“It was a revelation to the Japanese that a minister—a real gentleman by their standards—would grab a tool in his hands and begin to build a church.”
The Rev. Mr. Morse said he always regarded as advantages his background of being poor and of being familiar with hard work at an early age. His mother took in washing and he began working to help support the family by weeding onions at the age of 8 or 9, he said.
“I’ll bet I traveled thousands of miles on my hands and knees weeding onions.”
He grew up at Ovid and switched from the onion fields to jobs at a drygoods store and a doctor’s office as he continued through school. He went on to college at Kalamazoo College, continuing to work much of the time, and began ministerial studies at the University of Chicago Divinity School.
After a full life of traveling ministry—at one time having as many as seven country churches—the Rev. Mr. Morse came to the painful time when he “had too many birthdays.”
“It is a sad thing to be forced out of the job you love,” he said.
“But I promised the good Lord that I would do his work to the best of my ability as long as he gave me the health to do so. And that’s what I’ve been doing.”
“In building this church (in Pittsfield Township) we are like pioneers. They are building homes in that area like the early pioneers entered a new era, and they will need churches like the early pioneers did. When this church is finished they will have a church, and as nice a one as can be found anywhere in this area.”
In addition to building the church from the foundation up, the Rev. Mr. Morse has been busy over the years collecting stained glass windows and pews from churches being demolished throughout Michigan. He believes he has enough stained glass windows stored at his farm south of Williamston for three churches.
He believes young people today would be better off to follow his example rather than to build up large debts to build a church or to look to church organizations for support. He said he began “without one red cent” when he broke ground on the Wheat-field church.
“All you need is a hammer and saw and a lot of work,” he said.