Robert Benn Vincent, Sr.
A Brief Autobiographical Sketch

I am a native of South Carolina, having been born in Bennettsville during the second year of the post World War II baby boom, but I have lived in Louisiana since 1975, serving as the pastor of Grace throughout this time.

My ethnic background is British and European, but all of my ancestors arrived in what is now the United States between the early seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries.  All of my father’s people were Reformed:  Huguenots, Puritans and Presbyterians.  On my mother’s side, in addition to Huguenots, a goodly number were Anglicans, some of whom later “backslid” into Methodism or became Baptists.  Mama’s father was a Presbyterian minister, married to the daughter of a Methodist minister.  On her side, I am descended from ten preachers — five Baptists, four Methodists and one Presbyterian.  As a child, I remember Mama telling me that I was going to be a minister, but, like many children, my teen years were spent in trying to distance myself from the Church.  For a while I professed to be an atheist and plunged into drunkenness and immorality, but the Holy Spirit pursued me, and I came to the Lord Jesus on September 4, 1964.

Almost immediately I became part of an assembly of the “Plymouth Brethren.”  It was there that I learned how to preach and share my faith with others.  Before I was re-baptized, this time by immersion, my father told me that he wanted me to talk to our pastor, a minister in the old Presbyterian Church U.S.  Our pastor told me that I had always been a Christian, but I wasn’t convinced.  

My family had moved to Myrtle Beach, South Carolina in 1951, and I graduated from Myrtle Beach High School in 1965.  During my high school years I held a variety of jobs — my first being at Chapin’s Shell Service, beginning when I was thirteen.  I worked the summers of 1962 and 1963 at the South Carolina Home, located in Montreat, North Carolina, the conference center of the Presbyterian Church.

After my two summers in the mountains, I worked at Fort Caroline and Pirateland, adventure parks located near Myrtle Beach, doing some acting and singing, and worked as the night desk clerk of the Caravelle, a small hotel also in Myrtle Beach.

A year after my conversion, much to my parents’ chagrin but with their permission and help, I enrolled in Bob Jones University.  During that time I discovered the Reformed faith, became concerned about racial reconciliation (I attended Martin Luther King’s funeral in 1968.) and became involved in the Charismatic movement for a season — strange things to happen to someone enrolled at “the World’s Most Unusual University,” because they expelled Calvinists, were thorough going racists (in the paternalistic way of some people in the old South) and outlawed all Charismatic phenomena.

While a student at Bob Jones, I spent the summer of 1966 in Great Britain on a missions trip under the Gospel Fellowship Association.  It was a quite an experience.  During the week that I was in Belfast, Northern Ireland, I visited militant Protestant leader, Ian R. K. Paisley.  He was incarcerated in the Crumlin Road Prison.  That Sunday, I sang in the Ulster Hall at his church’s evening service.

I had to leave Bob Jones in 1967, because I had been selling copies of the Westminster Confession of Faith.  But I also met my future wife there, the beautiful Sandra Price of Jacksonville, Florida.  Sandy had wanted to go to Mercer University, but her parents insisted that she go to Bob Jones.  I have always been grateful for her parents’ decision.

After we were married on July 6, 1968, we worked at Thornwell Orphanage in Clinton, SC, and I finished my undergraduate education at Presbyterian College. Both were institutions of the Presbyterian Church U.S., which merged with the United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. in 1983, to form the Presbyterian Church (USA).  

On January 1, 1970, we arrived in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, along with two cats and a dog (Every time we got the urge to have a baby, we got a new pet.)  That was one exciting time — I had never lived up north, nor in a big city before.  Within several days I was sitting in class under people like Cornelius Van Til at Westminster Theological Seminary.  What a professor — no one ever fell asleep in his class — I remember him throwing a piece of chalk at a student named Plantiga — he actually drew blood!

During that time, after dabbling in Herman Dooyeweerd’s Philosophy of the Cosmonomic-Idea, I settled into a more thoroughgoing Reformed mode of thinking, becoming a convinced cessationist, and I eventually joined the Reformed Presbyterian Church of North America, sometimes called the Covenanters.  I plunged myself into their distinctives such as the a cappella singing of the Psalms exclusively in worship.  As part of the requirement for ordination, I transferred and finished my senior year at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

I was ordained and became the pastor of the Park City Reformed Presbyterian Church of Wichita, Kansas, on May 28, 1973.  Less than two years later, I became convicted that I had sinned when I took one of my ordination vows involving Christian liberty.  I repented of that vow, and the result was my being suspended from the exercise of my office as a minister.  Having a pregnant wife and two little girls, I desperately tried to find work.  The only thing that opened up was a part time janitor’s job for a United Methodist Church there in Wichita.  Everything that could go wrong did go wrong, and I ended up having to put in full time work for part time pay in order to correct my mistakes.

I was very angry at how things had turned out, scrubbing brick tiles on my hands and knees with steel wool and a paint scraper.  I’ll never forget those feelings.  Some of the parishioners were pretty disrespectful — I had made quite a mess of their main entrance — but I kept thinking about how smart I was, how I could read Greek and Hebrew and knew all that Church History and theology, about how benighted the pastor of this large Methodist Church must be — he was an Arminian pastor, and I was a Calvinist janitor.  It seemed the world was turned upside down.  But God was dealing with my pride.

During this time a friend named Dana Stoddard wrote and asked me if I had thanked God for the things that had happened to me.  His letter made me angry, but the Holy Spirit convicted me, and I began to verbalize thankfulness even though bitterness was still in my heart.  I think it went something like, “Thanks, God. Thanks a lot!”  My oral confession eventually “kick-started” my heart, and within a few days I was able genuinely to pray, “God, if this is what you want me to do the rest of my life, I’ll do it and be happy doing it.”

It seemed that God was taking me up on my prayer — a few days later the pastor of the Eastminster Presbyterian Church (PCUSA), Frank Kik, son of Marcellus, offered me a job as their full time janitor at almost twice the money I had earned as a pastor — he threw in a free house to boot.  There was only one stipulation:  once I had committed, I would not quit until I had completed at least six months.  Four days before I was to meet with his session and agree to their terms, our telephone rang; it was the pastoral search committee of the church here in Alexandria, Louisiana.  

They had heard about me from a friend of a friend of a friend and asked me a bunch of questions over the phone.  Thirty minutes later they called back and asked me to fly down and preach for them that coming Sunday.  I called Mr. Kik and put off the weekend meeting, preaching here instead.  Ten days later, they formally called me, and we’ve been in Alexandria ever since.  Having formally been examined and received by Louisiana Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America on September 11, 1975, I was installed as pastor a little over two weeks later on September 27. 

The lesson I learned out of that whole ordeal has done me in good stead ever since:  a willingness to give up everything and praising God out loud, even though I may feel like cursing him, will always lead me, not to a stoical resignation, but a joyful acceptance of the will of God.  Would that I always practiced this!  In my experience, I have never had to give up what I was willing to give up to the Lord.

God has blessed us greatly here in Central Louisiana.  We have three daughters, two sons, five grandsons and one granddaughter.  

Our first child was born in Philadelphia in 1971, Lydia Price (Mrs. John Uhl). Our second child was born in Pittsburgh in 1973, Amy Rose.

A lot of wonderful things have happened to us since we moved to Central Louisiana. On Sandy’s birthday in 1975, our third daughter, Virginia Ruth (Mrs. Sean Preston), was born. Our son, Benn (Robert Benn, Jr.) missed my birthday by one day and was born in 1978. Andrew William was born in 1984. 

We are very proud of all five of our children, and they are all very dear to us.  Each is unique and a special gift from God.  One day my wife and I faced the reality that God had granted us a little girl with a slight mental handicap.  Little did we realize at the time all of the pain we would witness as she grew up — handicapped enough to experience rejection after rejection as her peers outgrew her, perceptive enough deeply to feel it.

1995 was very significant: our grandson Robert Wilder Uhl was born in July, and our grandson Brian Paul Dauzat was born in December. Three years later, the Lord gave us a third grandson, John Vincent Uhl, in 1998. 

That same year, on August 9, 1998, I had the privilege of preaching at the ordination of my son-in-law, John Uhl, as pastor of Shepherd of the Hills, a church plant of the Palmetto Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America.  In the winter of 2000, John and I traveled to Israel with a group of pastors connected with Dallas Theological Seminary — something I had always wanted to do.  This trip was a blessing beyond all my expectations, and I could not recommend anyone more highly than Sar-El Tours

John served as an assistant pastor at the Second Presbyterian Church of Memphis, Tennessee, until the end of 2004.  On Sunday, November 28, 2004, the Hope Presbyterian Church of Opelousas, Louisiana, unanimously called John to be their pastor. John was received into the Catawba Presbytery of the Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church and is now serving the Lord in Cajun Louisiana.

In November of 2000, Nathan William Uhl was born, and Christian Andrew Preston was born in June of 2002.  In the spring of 2004, Savannah Rose Preston was born at home, delivered by her father.  Zoe Sophia Uhl was born in the fall of 2006.

While the Uhls live an hour away in Opelousas, Ginny and her family live in Central Louisiana. Our daughter Amy returned home from Chicago to continue her education here in Louisiana.  She graduated from Northwestern State University in Natchitoches and then earned her Master of Social Work degree from Tulane University.  She is a social worker at Rapides Regional Medical Center.

Benn, a graduate of Tulane University and the Paul M. Hebert Law Center at Louisiana State University, is an attorney with Kean Miller in Baton Rouge.  On October 10, 2003, Benn was admitted to the Bar. On December 23, 2004, Benn became engaged to Amanda Martin of Alexandria — Amanda is an accomplished musician with a master’s degree in opera from the University of Texas.  They were married at the Burnett Fountain in the English Garden section of the Conservatory Garden, Central Park, New York, New York, on Friday, May 27, 2005.  The Tavern on the Green hosted their reception.  God blessed Benn and Amanda with Noah Martin Vincent in the summer of 2006, followed by William Robert Benn Vincent in 2009.

Andrew transferred from Louisiana Tech in Ruston, the University from which his sister Lydia graduated in 1993, and went on to graduate from the University of Memphis in 2006.  That same year Andrew married Haley Lynn.  Their wedding took place at the Panda Exhibit of the Memphis Zoo.

To celebrate Benn’s graduation, Sandy, Benn and I toured the south central and south eastern United States in May of 2003.

Our church founded Grace Christian School on August 27, 1984, offering kindergarten through the sixth grade to about twenty students; this fall we look forward to an enrollment of about four hundred forty, kindergarten through the twelfth grade. I have served as chairman of the board for about ten years.

Sandy and I will have been married thirty-seven years on our next anniversary. Our life has had many ups and a few downs. There was a time when every fall seemed to bring a new tragedy.

On September 18, 1985, my only sibling, William Wyman Vincent, Jr., died of a sudden heart attack thirteen months after retiring from the Air Force. An Air Force Academy graduate, he had survived being a B52 pilot over Vietnam, but couldn’t survive retirement.  I will never forget receiving the tearful telephone call from my wife, who had just hung up the phone from my sister in law. I couldn’t understand her, and at first I didn’t know who was calling. “Who is this?” I asked. 

She responded: “This is your wife. Marie called. Your brother is dead!” I dropped the phone, fell on the floor and began to scream. Off and on, I cried for six months.

During the fall of 1986, our church went through a split over several issues, including worship changes and our having a parochial school. We eventually lost half our membership, some of whom formed a congregation of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.  It was an agonizing time for me, because I genuinely loved many of the people who left. In many ways it was worse than a death. The stress of those months was such that I had to take sleeping pills to rest, something I had never done before or since.

On September 26, 1987, my father died and my mother moved in with us. That was quite a time. She suffered from a measure of senile dementia — a once brilliant woman who had briefly taught at Vanderbilt, now had the reasoning capacity of a kindergartner. She lived with us until she died on October 23, 1991. During that time I sometimes had the crazy thought that someone had stolen my mother away and inhabited her body. Gone was the sparkle in her eyes and wonderful sense of humor.

On October 10, 1988, Sandy was run over by a log truck. She went into a light coma, had her pelvis broken in several places and a nerve severed in her brain.  During that time I had to tend to five children, from a senior in high school to a toddler, and my mother. It was a profoundly lonely time, and the emotional distance between Sandy and me began to grow.  But one fruit of that distance was that we began daily to pray together — apart from private and family worship — holding hands and pouring out our hearts to God. It was the best thing that ever happened to our marriage, and it is something we still do.

In 1989, I sought the counsel of my session and offered to request that presbytery dissolve the pastoral relationship, because I believed that I no longer met all of the criteria for an elder due to the difficulties of one of my children.

There came a break from some of those overwhelming storms, but in 1999 we had a diagnosis of the likelihood of cancer.  In the spring of 2000, we traveled to M. D. Anderson Cancer Center, where Sandy had surgery — thank God:  there was no cancer, but needless to say, it was a stressful time. When we returned home from Houston, we took over the primary care of her mother who was in the last stages of Alzheimer’s.  She died in our home almost a year later.  During that intense and vexing time, one of our children underwent a divorce and the discipline of the church.  But God in his grace brought repentance, public confession and restoration.

For six years I was stated clerk of the Louisiana Presbytery of the Presbyterian Church in America, from April 28, 1990, until January 16, 1996; I also did a stint on their General Assembly’s Theological Examining Committee from 1980 through 1982, and served as my presbytery’s moderator twice, including the year we voted to leave the PCA.  On January 24, 1998, both the church and I were received into Presbytery of the Central South of the Evangelical Presbyterian Church.

Other events in my life include having served as the secretary of a Rotary Club and having served for three years as Council Commissioner for the Boy Scouts and as a scoutmaster to the National Jamboree in 1997.  In January 2003, I was elected President of the Attakapas Council.  On November 15, 2003, I completed my Vigil in the Order of the Arrow of the Boy Scouts and bear the name Ktschillachton.

Back in April and May of 1981, a dear friend of mine, Merrill Blackburn, and I traveled to Mainland China under Open Doors with Brother Andrew.  The Sunday before we left, I made the front page of our local newspaper, the Alexandria Daily Town Talk.

One really neat Scouting experience was completing the last walking Wood Badge at Philmont Scout Ranch in 1994. This involved back-packing in the Sangre de Christo Mountains of northern New Mexico, some of the most beautiful country I have ever seen. I think that Scouting has really helped me be a better parent. I finally gave up being our church’s troop’s scoutmaster in 1996, but those were great years with my sons.

One of my big troubles in ministry was being so involved in the lives of the people of the church that I sometimes neglected my own family. In my first church, some people told me that I was a good preacher but a bad pastor, and I suppose that I responded to that in a reactionary way in Louisiana.

Through the kindness of my aunt, Sandy were able to make a down payment on a house for the first time in our lives and moved out onto Cotile Lake two years ago, July 1, 2000. With the new lower interest rates, we should have it paid for when I’m seventy.  

For hobbies, Sandy and I used to ride our old Honda Goldwing motorcycle — but I sold it in December 2004 — we still enjoy sitting on our dock and boating on our twenty-four year old catamaran, the Pulcheria, which is docked off our back yard. I like novels by people like Michael Crichton, Tom Clancy, John Grisham and Frank Peretti.  

I am a Type II Diabetic and try to be an exercise freak.  

I have also traveled to several countries:  Great Britain in 1966, China in 1981, Israel in 2000 and a number of trips into Mexico.

This was taken at a pastors’ conference in Mexico