RIVER of LIFE Presbyterian Church
Ministry Staff - Pastor Bill Slack
“One beggar leading other beggars to the place where bread can be found.”
That modified version of the D.T. Niles quote is how Pastor Bill defines his ministry. His mission is to see people come to Jesus Christ and be saved, and to grow in Jesus Christ, becoming disciples.
Bill began his ministry as a worship leader at New Life PCA in Glenside, PA. In 1985, he was called to plant an Orthodox Presbyterian Church in Frenchtown, NJ, which, in 1993, merged with River of Life Christian Fellowship (a home mission work of Calvary OPC in Harmony township) becoming River of Life Presbyterian Church (OPC). He has been a pastor and worship leader for more than 35 years. Prior to being called to the ministry, Pastor Bill was both a cabinet maker and a rock n roll musician.
Bill and his wife Tina, and their dog, Dug, live next door
to the church, on South Main Street. They bought their home
in 2003. Bill believes that a pastor needs to live in the midst of the
community he serves, interacting with those in the neighborhood. River of Life itself is “a church of place” (a phrase coined by Dr. Harvey Conn, one of Bill’s mentors). That means the church is called to minister where it is planted, to be a true community church.
Bill and Tina have been married for forty-five years. They have four married children, Kristy (Hard), Liam, Brian, and Stephen, and 15 grandchildren. All of the kids live within an hour of Bill and Tina, and family gatherings are frequent and crazy!
An Unlikely Story
In my parents’ generation, church attendance was part of the culture (at least for women and children). So every Sunday my mother dressed me in my Sunday best and off I went. In that environment, I learned the classic stories from the Old Testament (David and Goliath, Daniel in the lions’ den, etc.), and a version of the gospel. The gist was that a Christian is someone who lives a good life and doesn’t hurt anybody. That’s not a bad way to live, but as I would later learn, it’s not the gospel.
In elementary school, I developed a love for music. Soon I was taking piano lessons and learning Beatles’ songs by ear. I was hooked on rock ’n’ roll. By high school, I had in mind to make it in the music business, and that mindset would stay with me through a good part of my early adult life. It wasn’t just the music that I became enamored with—it was the whole “sex, drugs, and rock ’n’ roll” lifestyle.
I did a year of college, only to drop out to pursue my dream. I moved in with my girlfriend, telling everyone (including our parents) we had married. We even carried the charade to the point of buying a house as husband and wife. I was living a lie, and I felt no remorse.
After playing in a number of local bands, I joined a group that seemed to be on its way to the top. We began playing the bars along the Jersey Shore. That’s how I met the woman who would become my wife. We met in a South Jersey bar. Two weeks later I abandoned the girl I was living with and moved in with Tina at the band house in Atlantic City.
It’s painful to look back and realize how terribly I treated my former girlfriend. I left her with all the responsibilities of selling the house, as well as all the fallout of our lie being exposed. This was a genuine low point of my life and a clear revelation of a deep, dark side of me. After that summer at the shore, the band began playing concerts around Reading, Pennsylvania. An agent from Cleveland saw us and offered to manage the band and land a record contract. We were on our way! We all moved to Cleveland, did some recording, and played a few concerts with some well-known groups.
Well, the dream turned into a nightmare as our manager ripped us off and didn’t follow through with his promises. The band members were at each other’s throats, tearing the band apart. To top it off, Tina became pregnant. We moved back to New Jersey, where Tina and I married (she was eight months pregnant), and soon our daughter was born. I got a day job, and we settled in as a family. Sort of.
By this time you would think I had learned, but I wouldn’t give up. I was bent on making it in rock ’n’ roll. I determined to put together another band. I was still looking for the big break, still craving the life of a rock ’n’ roller. As I chased my dream, my marriage began to fall apart, and the worse part of it was I really didn’t care. I didn’t care about my wife, my child, or anything else that would keep me from my dream and its rewards: women, drugs, and all the rest. I committed adultery a number of times and was usually high.
Time went on. Tina and I stayed together (an act of God’s grace), and we had our second child, a boy. I was still pursuing my dream. I had assembled almost all the musicians. There was only one piece missing, a drummer. I heard through the grapevine that the drummer from my last band might be available. But there was one hitch. Frank had become a Christian. I talked with the other guys about adding Frank to the group, being sure to get in my put-downs about his Christianity. As far as I was concerned, Christians were a bunch of weak cripples who needed the crutch of Christianity to hold them up. We concluded we could overlook Frank’s “religion” since he was such a good drummer. I would contact him and see if he was interested.
After some convincing, Frank agreed to bring his wife and join Tina and me for dinner. The evening they came to our home, the Lord wasn’t part of our conversation (not that I wanted Him to be!), but He certainly was there in the way Frank acted and spoke. The Frank I had known had embarrassed me more than once in public with his lack of concern for others and his verbal sewage! His whole life was drums, and he didn’t care what anyone thought about him.
This was a new Frank. The same in many ways, yet totally different. This Frank was calm. This Frank was controlled. This Frank was at peace. This Frank was humble. I was none of these. The changes Jesus had brought about in Frank didn’t have to be verbally expressed. They were evident. After he left, my wife and I talked a long time about these changes, yet didn’t think much about what Frank’s faith had to do with them.
By this time in our lives, Tina and I had settled into a daily routine: each night I wasn’t rehearsing, we’d put the kids to bed after dinner, sit down in front of the TV, smoke pot, grab snacks, and watch a movie. A couple of nights after Frank’s visit, a notice came across the screen: “Due to technical difficulties, tonight’s scheduled movie, Erich Von Däniken’s ‘Chariots of the Gods,’ will not be presented. In its place, we will be airing ‘The Late, Great Planet Earth’ by Hal Lindsey.”
There we sat, high, mesmerized, watching Lindsey’s interpretation of the book of Revelation in the Bible. We watched as God’s wrath was poured out on the earth in the “last days.” We were in awe! No—more like terrified! We did what any reasonable person would do—we blamed it on the pot. So the next night, we watched it again—this time without the influence of weed! But our reaction was no different! By morning I was on the phone asking Frank to come back—this time with his Bible!
That visit was when Frank invited us to come to church with him. The following Sunday we attended New Life Presbyterian Church in Abington, Pennsylvania, where Dr. Jack Miller was pastor. The church service wasn’t vastly different from ones I had attended as a child. The music was more upbeat, I couldn’t help but notice. And there was something different about the sermon, but I couldn’t put my finger on it. That Sunday brought no lightning bolts from heaven, no “born again” experience. In fact, it took three months of hearing the gospel of God’s tremendous grace till I, then Tina, came to understand what Jesus had done to save us. During that time of attending church weekly and going to a Bible study most Wednesday nights, a couple took us under their wing and began sharing their lives and their faith with us. They would have us over after service every Sunday, and we would share our questions and doubts with them. The Lord used them greatly in our lives.
After going to New Life Church for those three months, I realized that something was missing. I wasn’t sure what, but I was certain that I still didn’t quite get it. One Sunday, after the worship service, I slipped a note into Pastor Miller’s hand. It said that I understood the facts of the gospel but that It hadn’t taken hold of me. Something was missing. I asked if we could get together and talk. He invited me to his home, and there in his living room, I came face-to-face with that dark side I had seen many years earlier, and saw that that dark side dominated my life! I realized the punishment I deserved from God, and most importantly, as Jack shared it with me, the offer of the gospel—that is, that Jesus Christ, God’s Son, had come to earth to take my sin away and give me a perfect record of righteousness. He died that I might experience LIFE in Him. Jesus led me to pray, and I believed the truth about Him, and I was set free! One week later the Lord gave me another precious gift; my wife, Tina, also came to faith in Jesus.
The Lord’s work in our lives has been tremendous. The shaky, doomed marriage we once had is strong and joyful. All of our four children are married and are raising our fifteen grandchildren in that faith in Jesus that saved us. Now nothing is ever bad in our lives – We walk in constant joy and peace!! NOT! We both still wrestle with that dark side. We still have our doubts at times. But now we know we have a Savior Who will bring us through all of that! He came that we would have life and that to the full! (John 10:10)
As amazing as it sounds, this sinner who still fails to love God and others as he should, is now the pastor of River of Life Presbyterian Church in Phillipsburg, New Jersey! That is OUTRAGEOUS GRACE! I’ve had the opportunity to see many other lives changed as mine continues to be changed, not by me, but by Him. The Lord’s grace continues to amaze me!
The bottom line is this: I would not trade one day with Jesus for all the thirty years I lived without Him! I hope this will help some who are still seeking, still trying to find the meaning to this life. Jesus is the answer. Only He can set us free and make us children of God. I hope you will ask Him to forgive you, transform you, and bring you into His joy!
Pastor Bill Slack
John Goretti is a staff elder at River of Life Church. He and his wife of 43 years, Terrie, live in Phillipsburg. They have two children and five grandchildren. John graduated from Saints Philip James Grammar School and completed his freshman and sophomore years at Phillipsburg Catholic High School before graduating from Warren County Technical School in 1971.
While at Warren Tech, John began his career with the Phillipsburg Free Press newspaper. When the Free Press was acquired by the Express-Times in 1975, John continued in various capacities, including production manager and general manager, until his retirement in 2009.
Like most guys growing up in the late ’60s and early ’70s, John had his challenges. When he was 21 and the sins of youth weighed heavily on his conscience, Jesus spoke to his heart through the preaching of God’s
Word after a friend invited him to a worship service. In return, John trusted in Christ. Seeing that the Son of God lived and died for him, and trusting in all that God promised in the offer of the gospel, John embraced forgiveness of sins and now lives a new life for Jesus, looking forward to heaven—all by Christ’s doing. He is the one who gives salvation to all who come to Him in faith.
In September of 1990, John was a founding elder of River of Life Church, which first met at 88 South Main Street as a mission outreach of Calvary Community Church, Harmony Township. He has served as a ruling elder at Calvary and then at River of Life since 1983.
Along with treasuring time with his wife, John enjoys bicycling along the D&L Trail, as well as the
scenic roads of Warren County.