The Rev. Charles Sayre, 100, former pastor at Haddonfield United Methodist Church and a major figure in South Jersey for more than a half-century, died Monday, Aug. 10, at his Haddonfield home.
From 1965 to 1990, Dr. Sayre served as senior pastor of the church, although his ministering to his flock extended well into retirement, said the Rev. Chris Heckert, the current senior pastor.
“He remained an active resident of Haddonfield as an influential friend, leader, Rotarian, and mentor to countless people,” Heckert said in a statement to parishioners.
Under Dr. Sayre’s leadership, the church grew exponentially and expanded its outreach into Camden. He served as a leader for Respond Inc. and Fellowship House, both social service agencies. The former, which he helped to found, is secular, the latter faith-based.
“We, in the community of faith in the suburbs, are one with the community of faith in the city,” Dr. Sayre said in 2011. “We are one people, serving the Lord.”
Beyond the local church, Dr. Sayre was influential in the worldwide United Methodist Church. He was elected to the church’s world council, and was the lead clergy delegate to its General Conference for 32 years.
“I’m a minister,” he liked to say, according to family. “That’s my calling.”
In 2011, the New Jersey Senate and Assembly recognized Dr. Sayre’s achievements as a spiritual and civic leader, noting his “outstanding dedication and steadfast commitment for the benefit of the community at large.”
Born in Belmar, Monmouth County, the only child of the Rev. Woodburn Sayre and Elizabeth Hiestand Sayre, he graduated from Moorestown High School in 1937.
He earned a bachelor’s degree in history in 1941 from Michigan State University, a divinity degree from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1944, and a doctorate in divinity from Drew University in 1952.
He met Lucile Bush, a teacher, when she played piano at Mercerville Methodist Church, where he was the student pastor. They married in 1943. They were assigned to Cranbury United Methodist Church and then First Methodist Church of Asbury Park before moving to the Haddonfield church in 1965.
Their two daughters were raised in Asbury Park and Haddonfield. His wife died in 2017.
Dr. Sayre was a member of Rotary International for 67 years. Because of his dealings with the service organization, he was well-versed in how to network and effectively volunteer when he got involved in Camden.
In the late 1960s, the Haddonfield church formed a partnership with State Street Methodist Church in North Camden. Parents there told their suburban counterparts that they needed child care.
That led to the formation of Respond in 1967. Wilbert Mitchell, Respond’s executive director, said the agency’s educational and human service programs help 2,000 people annually.
“Rev. Sayre has dedicated half of his life to service to North Camden,” Mitchell said in 2011. “He’s been instrumental and resourceful. Wherever there’s a need.”
After retiring, Dr. Sayre was drawn to South Camden’s Fellowship House, which offers programs for children and families. He especially wanted to help people in addiction.
“He led with care, kindness, and respect, and believed passionately about fighting against racism, addiction, poverty, and injustice,” his family said in a statement.
He loved the Jersey Shore and kept a summer home at South Seaville Camp Meeting, for which he served on the board for four decades. He and his wife made frequent winter trips to Sanibel, Fla.
Heckert described his predecessor as a calm, self-possessed man whose favorite hymn, “It Is Well With My Soul,” conveys comfort:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way / When sorrows like sea billows roll / Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say / It is well, it is well, with my soul.
He is survived by daughters Judy Sayre Grim and Jill Sayre Lawlor; five grandchildren; and a great-granddaughter.
A life celebration will be held once the COVID-19 pandemic ebbs.