Sunday, February 26, 2017

Installing Jennifer as Pastor in a Baptist Church

This occasion reminds me a funny story. A little boy sat with his mother during the ordination of his Father to the gospel ministry. He kept watching. Watching.  He had never seen so many people in that church march to the front and laid hands on his Daddy's head. He didn’t know what was going on. He asked his Mama, “What are they doing to Daddy?” And Mama said, “Why child, they’re taking his spine out.”

But what I want to say today is that you know Jennifer. She’s worked with you for a number of years. And I think that one of the reasons that you called her was because nobody has been able to take her spine out. A secret: some have tried. Some always try. But Jennifer—your new Reverend-Pastor has her spine intact. 

She has integrity. Beuchner says the task of the preacher first is to tell the truth. The spineless don’t do that. I worked with her for eight months—and not only is she a good preacher—but she tells the truth. And unlike a lot of us male reverends she knows how to speak that truth in love. Maybe that’s one of the reasons that God calls women to the ministry.

She loves this church. There is a church in Atlanta. Inner city. Working with a lot of homeless and poor people. One Monday the Secretary went into the Sanctuary to collect the Sunday bulletins. And she saw a mark on one of the pews. Somebody had scratched something on the inside of one of the pews. She looked close and in a child’s scrawl a little boy or girl had scratched into the pew: “I love this church.” Some boy or girl had received something so precious that they had to leave their offering for all to see. “I love this church.” Jennifer McClung Rygg has been loving this church as long as she has been here. She has scratched her mark in this place already. Even as Associate Pastor she visited many of you in your homes. She has taken the Bread and the Cup out to shut-ins—I know because I have seen her in action. She has held your hands before surgery--and she has hugged some of you when you lost the best person in your life. She has preached often—and she has done a fine, fine job. Maybe one of the best things that Courtney ever did was to take a chance on this woman as Associate. And maybe one of the best things you have done was to ignore the Association and to take a chance on this woman-minister. And you have not been disappointed.

During the eight months I was here she was in charge. And I said: “Yes Ma’m” over and over to this woman preacher. She worked tirelessly when you did not have a Senior Pastor. And she assumed a heavy load of doing all sorts of things here job description did not call for. But she did what had to be done—and she did it with dignity and grace and much hard work. No wonder you called her. You knew here was someone who not only had a spine—but knew how to use it.

But she is more than a Pastor. She is also a sister and a daughter and a friend and a wife and a Mama as well as Counselor and answerer of the telephone in the middle of the night. So remember, folks—you didn’t call Jesus or his Mother. You called Jennifer recognizing that when God spoke years ago that God did a wonderful thing in calling dear Jennifer to the ministry. God did not call her because God wanted to make a statement or some other with-it reason. God called her because he saw in her a chance to let the light shine through her all-human-life until here and there somebody would be changed and somebody would have the scales fall off their eyes and some little six-year old girl sitting out there would see that in this big, big kingdom that God makes no differentiation between males and females. 

So  Pendleton—fertilize her gifts. Give her room to stretch. Help her be a good Mama to Thomas and Caleb. Encourage her to be a good wife to Travis because if the marriage is good—the ministry will not suffer. Hear me. I did not say perfect marriage…I said a good marriage. And you can help that along. 

Jennifer, I have been in this business since 1961. Which means I am about as old as Methusalah. And in my own circuitous pilgrimage there have been days of doubt and heartbreak but not many. Sometimes the human race that called themselves Christians would disappoint me. But you know I cannot remember those angry faces or most of their names. But looking back—all that is minimal. For the names and faces inscribed on my heart are those—and there were many—who graced me. They cheered me along. They forgave my stupidities. They loved me most days. They stretched me sometimes when I thought I could not be stretched. And so as I look back over my shoulder at ministry—even after al these years--Jennifer I am proud, very proud to be a member of this club called Pastor. And one day—years from now—I hope you will look back and count it all joy for what God has allowed you to do here and wherever else you might go.

Langston Hughes was a great poet. And a black man. And he wrote this poem that I want to leave as a challenge to The Reverend Jennifer McClung Rygg and to the First Baptist Church of Pendleton, South Carolina.

“Gather up
In the arms of your pity
The sick, the depraved, 
The desperate, the tired,
 All the scum
Of our weary city
Gather up
In the arms of your love—
Those who expect 
No love from above.” AMEN

(These remarks were made at the Installation of Jennifer McClung Rygg as Senior Pastor of the First Baptist Church, Pendleton, South Carolina , February 26, 2-17.)

Jennifer holding little Caleb and Travis holding Thomas.

—Roger Lovette /

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