The author of the following biographical sketch of Rev. Ormond W Wright is unknown.
A Special Servant of the Lord
Wright Memorial Presbyterian Church called its first pastor, a Rev. James M. Denton in November of 1873. He was a full-time minister who, upon his resignation from the Church, was followed by three ministers who were Stated Supply from Presbytery.
In 1886 the Rev. Ormond W. Wright appeared on the scene. To say he was a servant of the Church and of the Lord was an understatement. He was a dedicated Christian and proved it by serving the Church to the full extent of his ability for 30 1/2 years. The Church was renamed the Wright Memorial Presbyterian Church and is a testimony to the love and respect of the Church members that he served with such Christian zeal.
The Rev. Wright had a very interesting background. As a young and upcoming servant of the Lord, he was sent out by the Board of Home Missions in 1877 to a town of the old Wild West called Dodge City, then called “The Queen of the Cow Towns”. The name is reminiscent of Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Matt Dillon who was glorified as Marshall of the town on television, and a few others of like renown. It was proud to be known at that time as “the wickedest town in the West”, and it deserved its title. Its main street was wide open, with saloons open all night and houses of prostitution that did a booming business. High-stake poker games, gun fights, all the liquor that a man could hold, and wanton killings that were more or less ignored, were the order of the day or night. It was into this sewer of evil and degradation that Ormond Wright was sent.
There had already been several clerics who had ventured into this town, but, since a church was something the town not only didn’t have, but didn’t want, they didn’t last long and left rather rapidly when the citizens of the town expressed their antagonistic feelings, sometimes with tar and feathers, or with the waving of a large pistol.
Then one day a small dignified man in a top hat and tail coat climbed down from a train and, taking his valise, made his way to the hotel on Front Street. Here without any hesitation he signed the register as Reverend Ormond W. Wright. He had come to plant the Cross of Christ firmly in this citadel of Satan – to build a church!
It is always amazing to see the way the Lord works things to get His work done. It just so happened that a prostitute had been killed in a saloon brawl and a delegation of dismayed and drunken cowboys came to the hotel and routed Rev. Wright from his bed. They told him what had happened and asked him to give the girl a “Christian Burial.” In those times, there were many ministers who would have been horrified to stoop to presiding at a burial service for such a fallen woman. But Rev. Wright officiated with compassion over the girl’s funeral and read the account of Jesus’ tenderness over the woman taken in adultery. His act of kindness and compassion acted as the catalyst in establishing a rapport between the minister and the rough citizens of the town.
He was not run out of town, but began to hold religious services wherever a place was available = saloon, dance hall, whatever – and soon reported to the Board of Home Missions that he had 13 regular members in his congregation. He received word that the Board would send $450.00 toward the construction of a church, if the local residents would raise a matching sum. The word got around town that the preacher needed $450.00 to match the amount sent by the Board, and it was only a short time later that the money was forthcoming, plus a few dollars to spare. Part of Rev. Wright’s success might have been due to the admiration of the Editor of the local paper, who gave his support and friendship to the minister.
Rev. Wright lived in Dodge City for six years and was an integral part of the town. It is believed that both Wyatt Earp and Bat Masterson were deacons of the church Rev. Wright established.
When Ormond Wright came to Barnegat in 1886, he continued his work of establishing the kind of church that would be of value in the town. He is remembered with love and respect by many people who still remember him and his family. It was at the instigation of Mrs. Elva Thompson that this report of his ministry came to light. Elva remembers him coming to see her grandparents and the fact that his daughter, Mrs. Helen Bunnell, would bring him. Mrs. Lillian Cranmer remembers clearly that he served Barnegat and Forked River churches and that he walked or rode a bicycle to get to Forked River. She attended Sunday School at his church. He was also remembered by Mrs. Virginia Coons.
Rev. Wright spent his last days in a wheel chair pushed around town by his daughter. He died in 1937, and at the time a letter came from Bat Masterson telling of the deep influence Rev. Wright had on his life.