More than a month after Antioch Baptist Church North voted overwhelmingly to name the Rev. Kenneth L. Alexander its pastor, hundreds gathered on a recent Sunday to celebrate.
There were the usual sermons and singing and congratulatory remarks from city and community leaders, including Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms and Westside Future Fund President and CEO John Ahmann to mark the consecration service.
But there was an undeniable heaviness to the historic occasion, too.
Rev. Kenny’s ascension to the head of the church comes just months after both of his parents, the Rev. Cameron Madison Alexander and Barbara Jackson Alexander, passed within weeks of each other.
Cameron Alexander, you may recall, was pastor of Antioch for 49 years, president of the General Missionary Baptist Convention for 29 years and a vice president of the National Baptist Convention. Mrs. A, who passed just days after his burial, was founder of the Barbara J. Alexander Realty Company and coordinator of Antioch’s Women’s Division and church newsletter.
We miss them terribly.
And so naturally, the celebration honoring their son was a bittersweet moment.
Still, it was as the Rev. Rodney Turner said: “I know Pastor and Mrs. A are proud.”
Turner, pastor of the Mount Vernon Baptist Church and guest speaker at the 10 a.m. March 31 consecration service, said he could feel their presence. A lot of us felt that way and were especially grateful that Antioch had made yet another peaceful transition from one pastor to another.
“I’m so happy I don’t know what to do,” Turner said, beaming like the sun.
Not only had he and Rev. Kenny been baptized into the ministry by the Rev. Alexander, they had been ordained together and, well, after years of drug addiction, had both successfully exorcised that same demon.
“I would not have been called had it been up to you,” Turner told those gathered.
But, he said, “we serve a God who can see the best in us. God saw something in me that I couldn’t see in myself.”
He cited men from Scripture that defied human reasoning to be chosen by God for divine assignments: Moses, who killed a man but led the children of Israel to the promised land. Noah, who was a drunk but built the ark. And King David, who committed adultery but was a man after God’s heart.
“Thank God the call of a preacher and the sending of a preacher is divine,” he said. “It’s the Lord’s doing.”
And thanks to Cameron Alexander, Turner said, Antioch is able to bear witness to what can happen when God’s involved. By simply pressing rewind, the church could see her blessings, including the continuing legacy of the late pastor through his son.
For years after my family joined Antioch in 2000, there were near-constant reminders that in the church’s more-than-140-year history, the congregation had never split.
If you’ve ever been a part of one, you know how damaging church splits can be. They can stress even mature believers and disillusion new ones. They can wreak havoc in the lives of pastors and their families and bring reproach upon the name of Christ.
Given how common church splits are, the vote to retain Rev. Kenny and stay together could’ve easily gone the other way.
That Antioch remains intact is understandably a source of great pride to this day.
I think I know why. I think Antioch knows she is getting another servant leader in Rev. Kenny; that, like his father, he loves the Lord and will strive always to rightly divide the word. I think the church knows, that like Mrs. A, Sister Lisa is a virtuous woman committed to being the best helpmate possible for her husband.
Rev. Kenny, a Morehouse man like his late father, had served faithfully the past few years as Antioch’s co-pastor. Not only was his father a church pastor, so was his grandfather. His skills as a servant leader were honed and nurtured at Antioch, where he served three years as the president of the church’s ministerial alliance and 20 years as the presiding minister of Lakewood, one of Antioch’s mission churches.
On the last Sunday in March as hundreds of us gathered to honor and celebrate what God has done in Rev. Kenny’s life and his family — his wife, Lisa, their children and grandchildren — Turner reminded the church that God never makes a mistake when he calls us to a divine assignment.
“When he calls you, he equips you to do what he called you to do,” he said.
In giving us Rev. Kenny, he said, God had once again shown Antioch Baptist Church North favor.
It would be hard to disagree with that and even harder to not understand why at the beginning of his sermon, Turner couldn’t help observing that Pastor and Mrs. A were looking down on their son and their beloved Antioch, as proud as can be.
I think we all are.
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