In April of 1967 – fifty years ago – I was called to pastor Newport Baptist Church near Morehead City, NC. I had pastored a church in Raleigh during most of my seminary days at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, but the Newport church was the first one to call me as pastor after my graduation.
This past weekend I was invited back to the North Carolina church to preach for their homecoming service on Sunday morning. With a few exceptions I had not seen the people I had been privileged to serve there in well over 46 years when I left to pastor a church in Gastonia, NC.
I was thrilled that some former members came from Durham, Raleigh, Fayetteville, and other cities and towns for the homecoming celebration. In fact, there were as many former members present as current members.
It was a great homecoming for Martha Jean and me. It seemed like we just picked up right where we left off on all those relationships that we established over four decades ago. It is true that “the fellowship of kindred minds is like to that above.”
Our twin sons, John and Jerry, were born while we were at Newport, so that reality adds to the fondness we have for the area and the sweet memories of those blessed days of ministry.
Manly Smith, age 90, is the only living member of the pastor search committee that risked its reputation by recommending me as pastor. Manly and his wife, Louise, took us and the current pastor (Gary Carroll) and his wife (Tammy) to the Sanitary Restaurant, a legendary seafood establishment, in Morehead City for dinner on Saturday evening. It was just like we remembered it – delectably delicious.
Louise gave a synopsis of the history from the years I was pastor. I was surprised that she remembered so much of what happened during my brief tenure at the church. She even read a poem I wrote and passed out to the congregation when John and Jerry were born.
Bobby Steen Lowery sang “My Anchor Holds” in the worship service. Bobby’s dad, Josh, was a Lumbee Indian and sharecropper in Newport when I was pastor there. They lived in a small wood frame house that had no running water in the 1960s.
Josh was deaf, but he could read lips and came to church every Sunday, sitting on the second pew in the middle of the church so he could see my lips move and understand what I was saying.
I remember well the Sunday Josh came forward in the service to make his profession of faith. On that same Sunday Marine Colonel Charles Thompson, who was stationed at nearby Cherry Point Marine Base, and his family united with the church. It was a beautiful picture of the truth that the ground is level at the foot of the cross.
Derryl Garner, age 85, who was a soloist in the 60s and often led the music, was present and joined two other men, including the pastor, to sing ‘It is Well with My Soul.”
It was a privilege to see Amos and Phyllis Palmer, a couple I had the privilege of uniting in holy matrimony. They have now been married 48 years.
Marie Pollard, age 91, was present for the service. She and her husband, Sam, had pasture land for their cows that joined the property behind the church parsonage. Sam has gone on to his heavenly reward, but the Pollard’s daughter, Sarah, and son, Sammy, were there. They were teenagers when I was their pastor. Sammy did a great job of barbecuing the chicken for the homecoming meal.
I was particularly pleased that the music was heart-warming and the service accented by frequent “amens” and “hallelujahs.” Several people came forward during the invitation to surrender themselves to the Lord.
The fellowship meal after the morning worship experience featured the best of North Carolina’s coastal cooking, a renewing of fond acquaintances, and provided a foretaste of heaven’s glad reunion.