Death of new pastor stuns congregation in Greencastle

Emily and Brian Adams attended a function at Grace United Church of Christ. He passed away Saturday, a week before his formal installation as pastor of the church.

The day he was supposed to be installed as pastor of Grace United Church of Christ, the congregation instead hosted a memorial service for Rev. Brian P. Adams. On Jan. 31 the members had the opportunity to express their feelings about the young man they hired to shepherd the flock, and who died early Saturday morning, Jan. 24.

Adams, 35, and his wife Emily were visiting her family in eastern Maryland over the weekend, according to Bob Gearhart, president of Grace Consistory. Adams' father called a parishioner Jan. 24 to notify them that his son had died in his sleep.

"It was unbelief," said Gearhart when the news reached him. "The whole world came crashing down."

Adams, the only child of Philip and Beth Adams of Hagerstown, Md., had attended the local schools there and graduated from Mercersburg Academy. He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Haverford College and a Master of Divinity degree from Lexington Theological Seminary. He previously served at Mt. Rainier Christian Church, Mt. Rainier, Md., while living in Hyattsville.

The couple had just bought a house in Greencastle, and were expecting a baby girl in March.

Grace UCC, 128 E. Baltimore St., began its search for a new pastor in April 2013. Adams was selected from the field of candidates in August 2014, and preached his first sermon Nov. 23.

"Brian was very outgoing and personable," Gearhart said. "He could speak, and you could understand his message. He knew the Bible."

Gearhart, elder Carolle Patrick and Brenda Brown were part of the call committee. They all saw Adams as a good fit for the congregation.

"I think he would have brought the young people back," Patrick said. "He was very nice and easy-going and had a lot of potential."

The church family was very sad, she said.

Brown continued. "We interviewed a lot of folks. We knew we needed a minister who was engaging across the spectrum. Someone to encourage us and help the church to grow."

Adams had planned to continue his social ministry projects in Baltimore on his days off, said Gearhart. Brown appreciated his sermon last Sunday, in which he reminded the congregation about atrocities in Nigeria. He had a heart for the downtrodden and disadvantaged, she knew. His death was a blow to her.

"He told us at first he wanted to be a doctor but the Lord called him to a different kind of ministry," said Brown. "I'll never forget that. He had a huge impact here in a short time."

Yesterday the worship service was altered to focus on Adams. Dignitaries within the church conference attended, and retired Waynesboro clergy Rev. Dr. Carol Kipe gave the sermon.

"It was just perfect, to start the healing process," said Patty Stepler, choir director.

She too, could not believe what had happened.

"I was in utter shock, just numb. I was looking forward to working with him. He was just what we needed."

Visitation for Adams was at Douglas A. Fiery Funeral Home, 1331 Eastern Blvd., Hagerstown, Md., Thursday. The service will be held Friday at Adams’ home church, First Christian Church, 1345 Potomac Ave., Hagerstown.

Rev. Fred Harris, retired pastor from First Christian, who was to be guest speaker at the installation, reflected on Adams’ life during the memorial service at Grace UCC. Rev. Wayne Warren also spoke.

As people entered the sanctuary for the service, they were invited to jot down personal memories regarding the impact of Adams’ short ministry at Grace. A dinner followed in the church social hall.