Opinion polls tell us that Baptist preachers rank near the bottom on the respectability list, right there with used-car salesmen and lawyers.

I admire his bold confession. We both know the low regard many people have for those with our calling.

Opinion polls tell us that Baptist preachers rank near the bottom on the respectability list, right there with used-car salesmen and lawyers.
Sometimes when asked I say I am a professor, or a chaplain, or even the most generic of all: “I am on the staff of a liberal arts college.”

So it was that when I chose my seat on the Southwest flight from Louisville I kept mum about my vocation. That is, until the woman on my right, in the course of conversation, said: “All the men in my family are Baptist preachers. I just love Baptist preachers.”

It seemed an unlikely confession, given the conspicuous green message button pinned prominently on her blouse: “Impeach and Imprison Bush.”

Pauline was from Chicago, the daughter, granddaughter, niece and cousin of Baptist preachers. Her father and grandfather were pastors, in succession, of the famed Pilgrim Baptist Church.

Her uncle started a church at the age of 72. He “sat down” when he was 83 — a euphemism for retirement I had never heard. It arises, she explained, from the practice of retired preachers sitting in a pulpit chair behind the current and younger pastor — sitting to listen, not standing to preach.

“My godmother was Aretha Franklin,” she said, “and my two godfathers were Gardner Taylor and Thomas Dorsey.”

All of us in the business know those names. Franklin is the internationally famous gospel and soul singer. Taylor is the long-tenured pastor emeritus of Concord Baptist Church in New York and Thomas Dorsey (now deceased) was the influential musician who made his mark in jazz before turning his talents to the Savior and becoming the father of gospel music.

We were on our way to Birmingham. It was her second trip, the first being 30 or more years ago when, as a young child in the company of Martin Luther King, Jr., she faced the water hose of Bull Conner. This trip promised happier times; a reunion of long-lost friends.

“Are you a minister?” I asked her.

She laughed, and shook her head. “I love the church, especially the music,” she said, “but I know enough about preacher life to run in the other direction.”

I knew what she meant. I have done a little running of my own.

“I am a Baptist preacher,” I finally confessed. She could hardly contain her joy.

“You have my utmost respect and admiration,” she said.

I received her enthusiasm as a gift from God; it stirred in me a fresh appreciation of the calling I have had for 40 years.

Her venue in Chicago was of interest to me, as my own daughter is headed there for graduate study this fall. Pauline handed me her card and said, “Have her call me.”

I just might do that, praying she might provide my Sarah Kate the same strong dose of inspiration that she offered to me in such splendid and serendipitous fashion.

Dwight Moody is dean of the chapel at Georgetown College in Georgetown, Ky.

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