The Rev. Jack Risner, a visionary pastor who established a prominent church in the Antelope community, died Oct. 15 of pneumonia, his family said. He was 84.
After leading congregations in Missouri, New York and Michigan, the Rev. Risner moved to California in 1976 as senior pastor of North Highlands Assembly of God Church. Anticipating development in other communities near McClellan Air Force Base, he oversaw the purchase of about 100 acres in Antelope for a new home for the church in the early 1980s.
The purchase was a leap of faith for the small congregation and a vote of confidence for Antelope, a rural Sacramento County community that had been devastated by a 1973 explosion at a Southern Pacific Railroad yard.
“It was just fields and trees out there,” said his wife, Jean. “He felt that it would be a good location for a church. He figured that someday there would be development all around there. He was a planner.”
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Renamed Antelope Christian Center, the church campus on Antelope Road became a community landmark with 50,000 square feet of buildings. Besides a worship center, offices and meeting space for ministry programs and Bible study classes, the congregation opened Antelope Christian Academy, an accredited school for preschool through eighth grade.
The church sold much of its land as subdivisions began sprouting in Antelope in the late 1980s and today occupies about 30 acres, the Rev. Bill Clements said.
“The church would never have emerged as it is today without Rev. Risner,” said Clements, senior pastor. “Not only did he oversee the purchase of the land, but he built the church with no other structures around. There was no Antelope community then like it is now. The congregation had to be people who were really inspired by his faith.”
The Rev. Risner left Antelope Christian Center in 1991 to serve as a missionary in Africa. He retired in 2001 and lived for the last 11 years in Springfield, Mo.
Born July 23, 1929, in Guita, Mo., Jack Edwin Risner grew up in Tulsa, Okla. The youngest of 10 children in a religious family, he decided early to go into ministry and graduated from Central Bible College in Springfield, Mo.
“He had a strong sensitivity to people,” said his son Jack Jr. “If he was talking to someone and could detect if they were in any suffering or pain, he could give them answers from the Scriptures to help heal them.”
Besides leading Antelope Christian Center, the Rev. Risner supervised other pastors as an executive presbyter in the Assemblies of God church. He also served as a chaplain for the California Highway Patrol.
He had four children with his wife of 62 years. His son Jack Jr. is a pastor in Pennsylvania, and another son, James, is a Bible college doctoral candidate and former pastor. His daughter Jeanne Kelley and son Jay are missionaries.
He was followed in death on Oct. 22 by his brother James Robinson Risner, a distinguished Air Force pilot featured on the cover of Time magazine who was a fighter ace in the Korean War and spent seven years as a prisoner of war in Vietnam.
In addition to his wife and children, the Rev. Risner is survived by a sister, Peggy Goldstein, 16 grandchildren and 18 great-grandchildren. A funeral was held Oct. 19 in Springfield, Mo.