October is recognized as Pastor appreciation month & I would be most dishonorable to the four pastors that God gave me over my lifetime and the God who gifted them IF I didnt take the time to give honor where honor is due. See, you're blessed to have one God given pastor but God blessed me with four. For that, I'm eternally indebted and grateful.
At a young age I sensed a call on my life to ministry. Pre teenage years I was already baptizing myself in the bathroom sink, running water all over the floor after reading the book of John. It wasn't until my early teenage years though that I became a regular church attender. Lord knows I needed it. I think we all do & the Lord not only hooked me up with my first after school job at the church but he gave me the man of God that would captivate my heart with his messages and special sayings in a way that only those gifted with such persons would understand. I hung on his words. I paid close attention. I read my lessons & did my homework. The words he spoke meant something to me. Dr V. Simpson Turner of Mt Carmel Baptist church, Brooklyn New York, was a great visionary and pastor to me. He baptized me [one of my 3 times .... much repentance was needed] and set an outstanding example of manhood, fatherhood & what being a man of God looked like. After leaving home for the military, I would often write him & to my surprise as busy as he was, he still took the time to write me back. Going home on leave and having the chance to visit and personally thank him meant a lot. He's with the Lord now and I have every reason to believe that the rich deposits he sowed into so many inner city lives are compounding interest daily and eternally.
After a period of backsliding and needing much repentance to get my mind back right the Lord took me to Joshua Baptist Church. There I would meet another young man that would become more like a father to me than anything. I learned so much not just from his words but from his actions. He taught me not just the word but life. We studied, prayed, broke bread, played Scrabble; tennis & basketball just to name a few. Whether it was the chance to wash his car or run an errand with him I was always honored to be around him & on most occasions he was more than happy to make room for an often troublesome young man. We had moments of tears, joy, anger, frustration, misunderstandings, disappointment, reconciliation and for me an utter heartbreak when I received the word that my pastor and father in ministry had passed away. My heart literally stopped beating & I sobbed like a young child. I felt as though I was just getting my father back when the Lord took him. His words carried a lot of weight in my life, much more than he probably ever realized.
Many moons ago I had one desire to be his youth pastor but the Lord never allowed me to see any further than that. Serving in the ministry after him was definitely not anything I had planned I can promise you that. I actually separated from the Air Force because I sensed the need to stay here in San Antonio to assist him with his vision. I miss him much but in a strange way he is always present. Strangely for many years he lived in my dreams. For the first seven years of my pastorate, one dream in particular would come about once a year. Pastor Phillips would return to the fellowship as if his whole passing away had been a misunderstanding on our parts and I would very quickly & more than willingly turn everything over to him to take the lead. Each time he came back we celebrated but he would reluctantly agree to lead the congregation but only with my assistance. About eight years ago however, Pastor returned again but the dream ended altogether differently. He came back but this time when I asked him to take the lead, he refused. He told me matter of factly, "That's your job." I can remember it like it was yesterday and as if it really happened. That was seven years ago and he hasn't returned since.
Then there's Bishop T.L. Craig, I came to know him at a very low point in my life navigating my way through a spiritual and emotional crisis. It was a very dark period where if not for the grace of God I would have broken & lost everything, my mind and maybe even life itself. No matter who we are or think we are, life can be fragile at times. Bishop T.L.Craig was the most tough as nails, no nonsense, no loose cannon, X marine corp, sworn to total privacy and secrecy, funny as all get out, dont push me kind of pastor that you could ever possibly meet. He was had a brilliant mind; an unbelievable work ethic; an entrepreneurial acumen; a big bark; an infectious laugh & a faith that moved mountains and that got him through more than 40 heart attacks, a kidney transplant and almost a heart transplant too. He almost made it; I really thought he would. What money I would pay for another conversation with him; another ride out of town; another weekend to serve as his armor bearer and listen to his stories about God knows, just about everything. I saw him in his strength & I saw him in his utter weakness and even in his weakness he was a man of incredible strength. To know him was to love him. To know him closely like only a few did was to love him dearly [because he only gave his "life password" to a handful of persons.] I miss him dearly.
Last but not least, there's a young, greying pastor with more years pastoring than seems to be natural for his age. He's articulate, brilliant and passionate about leadership and church growth. "I wish I had a witness." I got that from him along with hundreds of other special growth moments. He exposed me to all kinds of learning opportunities. He made me thirsty to study more; to read more; to learn more. I took my first theology courses under his leadership. In fact, if I remember correctly, I think he paid for them. It was an honor to carry his bible and bottled water for a few seasons. "If I had more time" I would tell you a few things; like that time we're flying out to a conference during the 911 era and there was a heightened alert at every airport in the nation. If you could have seen Pastor Brown's face when the officer detected metal in my carry on bag and pulled out those bolt cutters. To this day I still think Pastor Ray D. Brown Sr. planted those bolt cutters in my bag. That's my story and I'm sticking to it. It's also my story that he's made me better and I owe him lunch again if I can catch him. Its time to give my "Purple Dama" [his personal assistant] a call to see what she can set up for me. She got the juice. He's the last of the four. I have to let him know I ain't got nothing but love for him and that I'm grateful to still call him pastor.
Role Call: Dr V. Simpson Turner, Pastor Clifton Phillips, Bishop T. L. Craig, Pastor Ray D. Brown Sr., Happy Pastor Appreciation month mighty men of valor. I honor each of YOU. I would have never made it this far without you. I thank GOD for the GIFT of each of YOU. We're blessed to have ONE but God gave me FOUR and I'm eternally indebted.
Pastor Mel Keyes,
Joshua House of Worship