Simpson steps down as pastor at First Christian Church

Published 3:19 pm Wednesday, February 21, 2024

By Sandy Brown

For The Middlesboro News


Astor Simpson officially stepped down as full-time pastor at First Christian Church of Middlesboro at the end of 2023– but that doesn’t mean he has stopped serving the community.

He sees himself as a servant – not only to God but to area churches and residents of all ages. He served in a variety of roles before beginning his ministry: Sunday school teacher, assistant pastor and youth leader, as well as bus driver and maintenance man (“janitor, actually,” he says). Before taking on the role of pastor at First Christian, he served as pastor at Northside Baptist in Middlesboro and Mill Creek Baptist in Pineville and as interim pastor at East Cumberland Avenue Baptist, Old Yellow-Creek Baptist and First Presbyterian in Middlesboro, as well as Hossman Baptist and Jenson Baptist churches in Pineville.

He, along with his wife, Sally, (high school sweethearts who wed in 1968) began their Christian service in February of 1977. “In 1983, I began to sense the leadership of the Holy Spirit in my life beyond the ministries I had performed for a number of years.”

While teaching a class for elderly women, he realized that God had more extensive plans for him. “It was during my work with these beautiful sisters that I knew God had called me into a wider preaching and teaching ministry. Like all young men, my presumption was it would be as a pastor of a church. I prayed earnestly, but the call never came.”

However, another type of call did come that led to a 35-year career at University of Kentucky’s Southeast Community College in Bell County. His teaching career began with a call from an old friend and coincidentally a Church of God minister, Jim Blair, who had previously worked with Astor. The college was searching for a sociology teacher, and Blair felt an urge to seek out Astor for the position.

“He (Jim Blair) nor anyone else on that committee who knew me was aware I had a master’s degree in the subject. Thus began my teaching career – and at a secular college! I taught both sociology and psychology, returning to receive a master’s degree in that as well. It was a glorious 35 years!”

In addition he taught adjunct courses at Lincoln Memorial University and Clear Creek Baptist Bible College where he also served as a student counselor. He also served as campus minister at Southeast for more than 25 years and led the Fellowship of Christian Students for most of that time.

However, this stage of his career didn’t begin with a concentrated effort but with acquiescence. “Having prayed for years for a church pastorate, I surrendered. I accepted God’s will for my life. In a prayer I exclaimed that I was ‘willing to do anything He asked me to do’ in ministry.” Blair’s call came that very day, an event that Astor characterizes as “quite miraculous!”

Astor, a native of Pineville, spent much of his younger years in Wallins, Harlan County and up Happy Holler. “The mountains and fields were my joy,” he says. These days, he feels most relaxed while working on his farm in Virginia.

Later on the family moved to Detroit, Mich., where his father worked for Ford Motor Co. Mostly due to layoffs by Ford, the family moved frequently (11 times by the time Astor entered sixth grade). Detroit was a “scary place,” Astor says, and he grew used to being the “new kid.” He graduated from Redford High School in 1967 and from Eastern Michigan University in 1971.

He first worked for the Michigan Department of Education in Research and Development and traveled extensively in the state. Through a grant with the Upper Great Lakes Regional Planning Commission, his duties were expanded to include northern Wisconsin and Minnesota. Tiring of the constant travel, he took the position of Grants Coordinator for the Ingham County, Mich., government. The longing to return to Bell County caused him to start a seven-year career with the first Health Maintenance Organization in Kentucky. His next move was to Southeast Community College.

Astor served as pastor for the local church from 2018-2023. “Pastor Astor’s passion for proclaiming the Gospel of Jesus Christ has been demonstrated over the decades as he has touched lives and impacted individuals,” says church elder Mark Woods. “His service to our fellowship has touched many lives and families beyond the walls of the building. For that, we are grateful.”

Elder Jane Shaeffer echoes Woods’ feelings. “Astor has a passion to help anyone with a need in their life. He has the love of Christ in his heart. He has a pastor’s heart.” Shaeffer notes that he helped a lot of students during his time at Southeast Community College.

As for his next step – no surprise – he plans on finding new ways to serve while expanding old ones. One of his plans is for a prayer ministry, and though he doesn’t have concrete steps yet, he sees the need. “I do feel led by the Lord into prayer more. I am not certain precisely how this might be expressed in the church collectively or if it is simply a calling to my heart personally. All I know is I am looking eagerly for the next steps.” He credits God’s leadership in the implementation of several of the church’s current ministries: Grief Share, Youth, Chaplaincy program at Bell County Detention Center and the National Parks (summer worship services at Cumberland Gap).

He remains convinced that the goal of the Christian walk with God is service. “Our Lord and Savior declares He has come to serve. We who follow him – how can we possibly be or do anything else? We are to serve Him – and in serving Him, to serve others.”  “We achieve success when we follow and serve as He leads. We fail when we do not.”