“The Link” – March 2020: Robert J. Ostenson

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

Our brief-bio for the month is on Dr. Robert J. Ostenson (“Dr. O,” as many lovingly called him). He was my pastor at Trinity Presbyterian Church, in Montgomery, AL, as I grew up from toddler to teen. He impacts you in ways that are reverberations of his impact upon me as I grew up under his ministry. Plus, you’ll likely hear some phrases or quotes from him over time.

Dr. Ostenson’s ministry left a lasting influence upon my family in ways that can only be described as immeasurable and eternal as the Spirit worked through him. Much of this has to do with Dr. O’s preaching. Shortly after the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA) formed, my parents visited Trinity. They were present for the first sermon Dr. O preached there in 1974, and my dad was immediately hooked. He says he had never heard anyone preach in such a way, and he wanted to hear more. So, my family joined Trinity Church and the PCA. I was three years old at the time.

As I moved from the nursery to attending the worship service in my early years, Dr. O’s sermons were the first sermons I heard and remember. Eventually (after my parents had participated in the planting of Eastwood Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, and our subsequent return to Trinity), I joined the church when I was twelve years old as part of the seventh-grade communicants’ class (1983). Part of this was an interview with Dr. O. It was before church started, and he and I met in his office. I was quite intimidated by this distinguished Reverend, but he did his best to make me feel at ease and asked me some questions as to my testimony and other important considerations for church membership. I’m glad I was able to spend the one-on-one time with him, as such was rare for a youngster like me.

I suppose my impression of what a senior pastor is supposed to be like was formed by witnessing Dr. O in action. He was a man of great dignity, kindness, and wisdom. The experience of his preaching was like eating a good steak every time! There was no frivolity in Dr. O’s preaching and teaching. He boldly and uncompromisingly proclaimed the gospel of Jesus Christ, explaining the Scriptures and exhorting the people of God to live according to the Lord’s will. I can only hope that my preaching holds a candle to his.

If you are inclined, I have 97 sermons preached by Dr. O on my website (rogermccay.org), which I converted from tapes my Dad had collected of his sermons to digital. I’m not aware of any other collection of his sermons available to the public. They are wonderful sermons and carry a timeless relevance for us today.

Dr. O’s Bio:

Dr. Robert (Bob) James Ostenson was born on 19 October 1922 in Charles City, Iowa and passed into eternity on 3 March 2008 in Clinton, Mississippi. He was married to the former Peggy Otis and they had five children. Dr. Ostenson was one of the founding fathers of the Presbyterian Church in America.

When WWII broke out, Bob was a student at Iowa State College. He enlisted in the Army Air Corps on 27 January 1943 and left the service after the war on 14 March 1946 as a 1LT. Returning home, Bob married Peggy Otis of Los Angeles, CA in August of 1946. Following the wedding, he returned to college at the University of Southern California.

In 1953, Bob was awarded his MDiv at Fuller Theological Seminary. He was quickly ordained by Mississippi Presbytery and served for three years as the pastor of the Woodville and Gloster, MS churches. He then served as the associate pastor at Carrollton Church in New Orleans, LA leaving in 1958 to take a call in Brookhaven, MS.

In June 1965, Bob took the pastorate at Granada Presbyterian Church in Coral Gables, FL where he served until August 1974. During that time, he received an honorary doctorate (Doctor of Divinity) from Belhaven College in Jackson, MS in 1966. He also published two books: The Lord’s Prayer (1971), and God’s Happy Family (1972). It was also during his time in Coral Gables that he was part of the forming of the Presbyterian Church in America.

In 1974, Dr. Ostenson accepted a call to Trinity Presbyterian Church in Montgomery, AL, preaching his first sermon in September. He served at Trinity until January 1987. In 1987, he returned to Granada Presbyterian Church serving until his retirement in 1989.

My Dad’s (James McCay) Testimony about Dr. O:

In all my years of hearing God’s word expounded from the pulpit, I have never known or heard someone speak as Dr. O. To me, it was as if God had placed a heavy burden on his shoulders, “Tell your congregation the following.” As he preached, I could tell that God had worked in his life all week preparing him for his sermon and Dr. O. would deliver, his words echoing throughout the Sanctuary—words of conviction, exhortation and comfort.

Dr. O. was “one who walked the talk and lived the talk” in every area of his life, a man who loved God and lived a life answering God’s call to preach the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a lost and dying world. He was a man whose impact on the life of his congregation had no boundaries. He arrived at the church almost every day at 5:00 am to meet with “The Father,” seeking His face by reading scripture and praying. Truly, “a man after God’s own heart.”

I hope you can find some time to enjoy some of Dr. O’s sermons on rogermccay.org. I’ve found they make for a worthy devotional. Likewise, as we edge into Spring (20 March 2020), may the beauty of God’s resurrection of nature around us fill you with awe of the Lord in worship of him.