From the Worldwide Faith News archives

African-American Elder Honored for

Date 04 May 1996 15:25:07


96078          African-American Elder Honored for  
                 40 Years of Christian Leadership 
                         by Julian Shipp 
LUBBOCK, Texas--As the nation examined the heritage of African Americans 
during February, Black History Month, the session of Messiah Presbyterian 
Church here honored Bettie M. Iles, who was among the first group of women 
to be ordained as elders in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) 
     Iles, whose father was one of the organizers of Messiah Presbyterian 
Church, has served  four decades as an elder and Christian leader, 
according to the Rev. Pam Powell, pastor of the church.  Iles was ordained 
as an elder at Messiah during the 1950s. 
     "We honor Bettie as one of the faithful leaders of our church," Powell 
said. "We thank God for Bettie and her ministry among us." 
     Iles was born June 3, 1908, in Rusk, Texas, to the Rev. William Venice 
Christopher, a minister in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church, and Mary Ann 
Tennison. When Iles was a preschooler, her mother died and her father 
     Ora Hancock Christopher raised Bettie Iles. Christopher is still 
living in Jacksonville, Texas, and will be 100 years old next Dec. 14. 
Iles' parents were strong Christian examples to Iles, her sister and their 
11 brothers, and she recalls being baptized by immersion at Mt. Hebron 
Presbyterian Church in East Texas. 
     "I can still remember the sound of the water as I was lifted up," Iles 
     Iles' father had a strong singing voice, and Iles and nearly all of 
her siblings became ministers or gospel singers.  "When I sang, I literally 
blew my top," Iles said. 
     Iles married Oscar Iles on Feb. 25, 1955. She said she met her husband 
while renting a room for $6 a week at his boardinghouse. Iles, who worked 
for Avon for 42 years and for Bobby Layne, the former Detroit Lions 
football player, supported herself financially. 
     One day, Oscar knocked on her door and invited her to come out into 
the sitting room.  He told her that he wanted to go to Clovis, New Mexico, 
to get married. Iles was absolutely astonished, but Oscar was convinced 
that God had sent Bettie to him. Iles said she considered Oscar's proposal 
all night, and the next morning, dressed in a gabardine suit and a straw 
hat, she married him in New Mexico. 
     "There was just a hint of snow on the ground," Iles recalled. "We were 
married for 14 years until Oscar died on October 14, 1969." 
     Iles suffered a dibilitating stroke in 1994 that has impaired her 
speech and her ability to walk, and  she uses a walker. Nevertheless, she 
faithfully continued to serve on Messiah's session until she rotated off in 
     When asked what was the most important thing to do in life, Iles 
replied, "To try and follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ." 

For more information contact Presbyterian News Service
  Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), Louisville, KY 40202
  phone 502-569-5504            fax 502-569-8073  
  E-mail   Web page: 


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