The Reverend Dr. Ray Aiken King, Sr., of Highlands, NC, passed away peacefully in the morning of December 20, 2022, at Vero Health and Rehab in Sylva, NC. A native of Atlanta, GA, Ray was born on October 11, 1933.
After attending the Atlanta ARP (Associate Reformed Presbyterian) Church during his youth, Ray considered going to dental school at Georgia Tech but, under the mentorship of the Reverend Tom McDill, he was instead called into the ministry. Ray attended Erskine College from 1951-1955 and Erskine Theological Seminary from 1956-1958, an ARP Christian Academic Community, in Due West, SC. This choice of college led to Ray’s mission: he devoted his life to Erskine College and Erskine Theological Seminary, to the ARP Christian Community, and to his ministry.
In 1958, upon graduating with a Bachelor of Divinity degree from Erskine Theological Seminary, Ray was ordained by Second Presbytery and immediately transferred to Catawba Presbytery where he was on the roll as the longest-standing member in service and retirement. Ray served as pastor of the Hickory Grove ARP Church in South Carolina from 1958-1959. He was elected by the General Synod to serve as a Seminary faculty member in 1959. Ray began teaching Church History and Missions and Evangelism at Erskine Seminary in 1962 after returning from graduate studies at New College, University of Edinburgh, in Scotland. Ray furthered his Christian education at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, where he received the Master of Theology degree, and did further graduate study at Emory University.
After returning from Edinburgh, Ray accepted a request from his presbytery to survey the eastern suburbs of Rock Hill, SC, with the hope of founding a second ARP Church in the area. It was during this neighborhood surveying that Ray met Brenda Kay Taylor, who became his wife and the mother of his three children. The church Ray helped to organize became what is now known as Rogers Memorial ARP Church on Eden Terrace in Rock Hill, SC.
Having settled in Due West, SC with Brenda to teach at Erskine Seminary and raise their three children, Ray also served as Supply Pastor of Long Cane ARP and Troy ARP churches for 27 years. Ray was beloved by his students and parishioners, many of whom stayed in touch with and visited him throughout his life. Erskine College later showed its gratitude for his many years of “outstanding service, exemplary character, and Christian leadership” at Erskine Seminary, in the ARP Church, and in the Due West community by bestowing upon him the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity on May 20, 2001. Ray retired in 2000 but continued to teach at Erskine Theological Seminary as an adjunct professor until 2004.
Despite all the achievements and personal satisfaction of a rewarding professional life, Ray cherished his family and friends most. Strangers did not exist for Ray. Everyone was a potential friend, or at least someone to while away the time or connect with on some level. He liked to think he could help someone with a simple kind word or acknowledgment that they mattered. His favorite words were Dad, Papa King, Pa King, and Grandaddy. His children and grandchildren were his proudest achievements. And he loved his grand-dogs, offering a warm lap and a scratch behind the ear whenever possible.
Ray’s family were frequently amused by his ability to recount and share memories with anyone willing to engage in conversation, but these very personal experiences are the lasting things—the legacy of Ray is that he experienced life to the fullest and loved connecting with others on a personal level. Recently, Ray’s dentist asked his daughter if he really met the Queen. His daughter chuckled and commented that only Dad could tell this lengthy story with the hands of a dentist in his mouth, but, yes, he did meet the Queen. In 1960, he met Queen Elizabeth II in the Palace of the Holyroodhouse, the residence of the British monarch when in Edinburgh. It was the four hundredth anniversary of the Scottish Protestant Reformation in 1560 and Ray was a fraternal delegate of the ARP church to that General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. He spoke with Her Majesty the Queen for about five minutes and, true to Ray’s nature, he surprised the crowds gathered there by making her laugh. This event in Ray’s life turned out to be a cherished moment and one that he delighted in sharing with others.
Ray always said he had an earthly father and a spiritual father. His spiritual father was also his mentor during his student days at Erskine Theological Seminary, the longtime dean at the seminary, Dr. William Walkup Boyce, Jr. These two ministers of the gospel relished playing chess and discussing theology together, often late into the night. Ray took care of his spiritual father for years after Dr. Boyce’s retirement. The two of them enjoyed “antiquing” together all over the Southeast. Ray became an antiques expert in his own right through the guidance and knowledge of Dr. Boyce.
Always a sports enthusiast, Ray enjoyed playing tennis while attending college at Erskine and, during his time at the University of Edinburgh, he joined a fencing team. He treasured his swords, so his foil, epee, and saber, along with his mask and fencing gear, still hang proudly on a wall in his home. Ray was a competitive spirit in nearly everything that he did, including sports, racing his Austin Healey Sprite in Scotland, England, and throughout Europe, and in playing board games. He never pretended to lose a game of Monopoly or Scrabble with his children. He taught his children to accept the realities of life which included learning how to lose games with grace, a practice that occurred frequently with the King children. But his competitiveness always came with joy and laughter—he simply enjoyed the camaraderie with others. In his retirement, Ray continued to play tennis for a time but would eventually hang up his tennis racket in favor of the golf club. His passion for the game of golf persisted until his final days. His son, Wayne, continued to take Ray out onto the golf course and Ray often managed to play a full 18 holes into the year 2022.
In 1946, Ray joined Troop 10 in the Savannah, Georgia Boy Scouts, where he was living at the time during the war. When Ray’s family moved back to Atlanta, he joined Troop 31 and advanced in rank, becoming an Eagle Scout, and earning 65 merit badges, which hang in a framed box in his study at home. Ray earned his God and Country award while in Troop 31 and later said that experience put him on the path of becoming a “religious professional.” He was an Assistant Scoutmaster in 1954 and 1959, and later served on the Scout commission for Abbeville County. His time in the Boy Scouts helped make him an avid outdoorsman that would last his lifetime. Upon retirement, Ray fulfilled his life-long dream of journeying to Alaska (driving there 5 times) as well as packing up his treasured FJ Cruiser and heading to Canyonlands, Utah, camping and hiking in the back country. His love of God’s creation was celebrated by him through the small things in life—watching birds take flight from a bird feeder in his yard, taking hikes in National and State parks, relishing food he prepared in his kitchen with the herbs that he grew, utilizing the skills he learned in his youth as an Eagle Scout to pitch a tent, make camp, and reel in a fish or two, or playing golf with his sons and grandchildren or his favorite fellow golfer and long-time friend, Earl Troglin, who he lovingly called “Old Fart.” Annually celebrating the shared legacies of the members of his SIDS group (named for a friend) was important to Ray. SIDS members met annually, sometimes biannually, for many years either at Ray’s house, Bonclarken (an ARP Conference Center in Flat Rock, NC), Maine, or Edisto Island, singing songs, breaking bread together, and telling stories with each other. Ray loved traveling the globe, making connections with people along the way, but ultimately settled in Highlands, NC to build his final home on a mountaintop in the woods.
Surviving the Reverend Ray A. King, Sr., are his three children: Ray Aiken King, Jr., of Park City, Utah; Wayne Starr King (Elvira) of Clermont, Florida; Kay Allison King Stranges (Steve) of Asheville, North Carolina; and by his four beloved grandchildren, Taylor Aiken King of Greenville, South Carolina; Brett Larson King (Ashleigh) of Smyrna, Georgia; Steven Michael Stranges, Jr., of Asheville, North Carolina; and Caroline Raye King of Clermont, Florida. Also surviving Ray are a very special cousin, Dr. Chris Sheils of Highlands, North Carolina, and a friend he considered as a brother, Dr. James (Jimmy) Wilkinson of Charleston, South Carolina.
The children of Rev. King will announce a funeral and celebration of Ray’s life at a later date. Any memorial contributions can be made to the ARP Church Organization, Alzheimer’s Association, or the Alaska Wildlife Organization.