Photography Cameron Flaisch
V3: Where were you in time and space when you decided to be a man who dedicated his life to teaching the word of God?
Rev. CI: Well, when I was growing up at Springfield Baptist Church, I was very much a part of the youth department. We did all kinds of things from putting on plays, sing in the choir, and I think we had the best choir in town (laughs). My grandmother was strict about at-tending church, so I was exposed early on to people like Deacon Evans Oliver and Rev. O.M. Collins, who would say to me, “You are going to be a preacher one day.” That’s where the seed was planted.
But it wasn’t until I was grown and stationed out in Denver, Colo., in the Air Force and we had our first baby when I recognized that I had a tremendous responsibility of being a good husband, and I wanted to be a good father for my children. That was when those early influences came back to me about a calling in my life. People who I trusted and loved spoke my destiny into my life and God had a plan for me.
I like to tell people rather than hear-ing the call of God audibly, I was inspired by people all of my life. I was blessed to be affiliated with a church where I could go to the pastor and fulfill my calling. It was Zion Baptist Church in Denver, Colo. Rev. W.T. Lee was the pastor, and I told him about my internal feelings and emotions, and that I was to be a preacher. He made a deal with me. He said he would license me for three months, and if in that time I felt like this wasn’t what I was supposed to do, I could give the license back. That’s been 38 years ago.
V3: Your approach has been much different than a lot of conventional Southern Baptist preachers in that you try to use things that are current, things that we can understand, and things that are relevant in our lives to deliver the message in a way that applies to our lives today. So, can you explain your approach to using the words of the Bible, words that are centuries old, to translate a lesson we can all grow and learn from?
Rev. CI: I think it is important that we pastors do stay up to date. It’s strange that you ask that because I was watching documentaries last night on BET about this very subject. One was the life of Kirk Franklin and the other one was Deitrick Haddon, and they are both gospel recording artists. They are at the top of their game and the one thing that they talked about was how often they were criticized or felt out of place around church people because they were not traditional in their approach. So much of what I was hearing was right in line with my train of thought. When I witnessed their early struggles, I thought, “Wow, sometimes I feel that way.”
I refuse to just be a Baptist preacher. I think that it is more important to be Christ-like or Christian than it is to be plugged in to just one denomination. Now, having said that, I pastor Lovejoy Baptist Church, and we do have two very important ordinances. One is that you must be baptized, and the other one is Holy Communion. Past that, I’m open to reaching out to people however I can. So, what I try to do is make the word of God contemporary in doing the same thing that Jesus did. I try to tell a lot of contemporary stories. If I’m talking about something in the Bible where Jesus fed the multitudes, I will try to bring up a situation that I’ve seen in the streets – like a time I saw a homeless man and I had $3 in my pocket and gave him $2. That’s really my approach.
The other part of it is, I love contemporary gospel, so if they play something bumpin’, I’m going to dance. I am going to enjoy ministry and I am going to enjoy the presence of God. I am going to enjoy church service. I am grateful and honored to pastor a congregation of people who understand my way of doing things, and most of them join in. So, we just have a good time around here because I feel like that’s what the Lord would want us to do. I like to say that we come here to get our batteries charged and get encouraged and fired up so that we can go out and make a difference in the world.
V3: Your ministry is, of course, based here at Lovejoy Baptist Church. But, what are some of the other things that you have done as outreach efforts in your community? I know that you are an author and you have written three books, right?
Rev. CI: I have written three books. I have been blessed to do some writing and I hope to have another book published before the end of this year. I said that last year, too, but I’ve been pretty busy (laughs). I’m also blessed to teach in the National Baptist Congress of Christian Education, which is a branch of the National Baptist Convention. I have taught in that capacity for a decade and that is certainly something that is very important to me. I feel honored because I get to teach people all across the nation.
I very much try to be a neighborhood pastor; I love South Rome. I was born and raised in North Rome, but my church is over here and the people in this community are so good to me. I walk the streets of South Rome and just try to encourage them and love on them.
Also, over the years I have been affiliated with a lot of local organizations. I was one of the co-founding members of 100 Black Men of Rome, which is an organization that tutors young kids. I have been on the Rome Boys & Girls Club Board and I am currently on the YMCA Board. I was the moderator of the NWGA Association for the last eight years. I gave that up this past November and passed that mantle on to one of my associate ministers who is now a pastor, Pastor Steve Caldwell at Mt. Olive Baptist Church. Mt. Olive is really our mother church. Lovejoy stemmed from Mt. Olive, and Mt. Olive formed from members of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church. Some people don’t know that story, so it was an honor to pass something on to him.
I had a radio broadcast, believe it or not, for over 23 years. I was on the radio for two hours every Sunday night on WRGA from 10 p.m. until midnight. Mr. Mike McDougald gave me that time absolutely free of charge. Unfortunately or fortunately, depends on how you look at it, he sold the company to another radio station. The new company that owns the station now allowed me another year to broadcast. Then, Steve Harvey & Keith Sweat bought out the morning time and that evening slot. That was awesome because it gave me a community connection. In fact, I would get calls as far away as Jasper, Fla. Callers would tell me they how much they appreciated the conversations generated from the program. And, of course, Ms. Willie Mae Samuel’s organization, the African American Performing Arts.
V3: Do you have any involvement with the production of those plays?
Rev. CI: I don’t now, but I did for quite a few years until I became involved in so much that it was hard to keep up. That’s the thing. At 61, I just can’t do all the things that I like to do or that I once did. But Ms. Samuel has certainly been one to encourage me about theater and about being myself in the pulpit. I was in several productions with her that were just awesome for me. We performed a play where I recited the MLK “I Have a Dream Speech.” We put on the Navy and I feel good that he is going to be all right because of my faith in God. I also get up every morning and say, “Lord, watch over my son. If it be your will, bless him and keep him.” Then, I thank Him and I believe He is going to do it. Faith is the key. The Bible says, without faith it is impossible to please God and that He is rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.
V3: From yesterday’s sermon, you asked the congregation to live in the moment. What would you say to them to keep them encouraged about things to come? What would you say to them to keep them hopeful that one day things are going to be better regardless of what is going on right now?
Rev. CI: That is easier said than done because, let’s face it, this world is really all we know and understand. When anyone is in a relationship with God, your thoughts are also on heavenly things. When I can do something to help someone, I know that is in my favor, I can forgive someone without them asking. I know that’s in my favor. What I am trying to say is when I can emulate, when I can practice being Christ-like, I then can resolve and feel good that whenever I leave this world, God has a reward and all the best is yet to come for me. When I have thoughts, when I act on things in this world because of my belief of another world, then I can rest assured that God will give me time to do what I have to do.
At 61, I have lost many friends. I lost a member of this church and a dear friend I grew up with in the past week or so, and I want to believe that my life is just beginning. But if I live to be 90, life on this earth is still short; trees outlive us and there are creatures in the sea that out live us. It’s not how long we live; it’s what we do with the time that we have, and as long as we can make sure that we do what we do based on our Christian belief, then great; the Bible says will be our reward in heaven. That’s how I deal with that; I am living this life for the life to come.
V3: In talking about the future, what are some of the plans for you as a minister and also for the congregation that you lead?
Rev. CI: Every year, I ask God to give me a vision for the church and I share it with them. This year, I have asked them to join me in saying let us be a church of excellence. That is to say, let us be the best we can be for the times we live in. We have tremendous ministries here. We have a soup kitchen, a food and clothing pantry, and a youth department that we take to the National Baptist Congress of Christian education every year. We have a summer program from the first day that school is out to the first day school begins for children. I have asked our members to make sure we do the best we can. Let’s step it up a notch and do more to serve.
The members tell me not to talk about it a lot, but at 61 I do know that the time is approaching to pass the torch on to someone else. This has been a tremendous opportunity for me. I have been blessed to be the pastor of Lovejoy Baptist Church and I like to think that our pastoral ministry here has made a difference. However, you have to let someone younger, more energetic, with other ideas carry the church on. I want to pass the torch on in such a way that I am still welcome here.
I want to keep writing. I enjoy writing and that is my legacy. I want my grandchildren to be able look back and learn lessons from things I wrote still true in their future. When I am no longer a pastor, if it is in God’s will, I hope to see that day where I can still be an itinerate preacher. I am a common kind of guy. I could go to Walmart and be a greeter and still minister. There are so many ways you minister to people without being a pastor, and I do want to one day experience that.
V3: Being a local Roman and traveling and living in so many other places throughout your life and career, what is it that makes you proud that you planted roots here in the place where you grew up? Also, what would you say about this community that has made it such a wonderful place for you to live and raise your family?
Rev. CI: Good question. I think more than any-thing else, Rome is unique in that the people truly try to make it work. Some places, I don’t know if they care. I’m not saying they are selfish or self-centered but I learned so much from speaking with Commissioner Fielder. He used this term I shall never forget and I keep it in the forefront of my thinking. “Working together works,” he would say and I think that is Rome, Ga.
I have seen a lot of changes, a lot of diversity, and these changes were made without any real violence. Rome is laid back; it’s not super busy booming. It is an easy city. It’s not a ten-sion-filled city and I like that. My wife and I celebrated 43 years of marriage by going to New York City last week, and it was a great place to visit but I wouldn’t want to live there! (laughs). It is non-stop.
I also think that by Rome being my home, it influenced our decision when we left Denver. We came back to Rome with the intent that we wanted to make a difference. So many people in Rome, like my grandmother Marie Maddox, Deacon Evans Oliver, Rev. Owen Collins, Deacon Sam Burrell and Rev. Curtis Moreland – who was also my sixth-grade teacher and taught me so much – helped me make a choice about where we were going to live and minister.
We decided, “Let’s go back home,” and in the back of my mind, it was so I could give back. I was blessed to go to college to earn a master’s-level degree and it never cost me a dime. I have had so many people in Rome reach out to me and help me to be who I am, so it is important that I give back. And I hope that I am making a difference; I really do.
For more information about how to get your copy of his books “Rearing Children in a Post Modern World”, “Steps Towards Abundant Living”, and “Marriage is Supposed to be Forever” contact Rev. Carey Ingram at reving123@AOL.com.