“Echoes of mercy and whispers of love” flowed as family, friends, colleagues, congregants, students and inspired younger ministers gathered May 14 to celebrate the impactful life of W. Randall Lolley.

The gathering at the First Baptist Church of Greensboro, North Carolina, several weeks after Lolley’s death in Raleigh on March 21, was filled with recollections from those whose lives were shaped by his affirmation, goodness and love.

Representing those who knew him as their bright and beloved seminary president, Glenn Phillips told how Lolley would greet students on the sidewalk or elsewhere on campus with a big smile and “Hello, scholar.”

“He had to tell me that a lot to get me to believe it,” said Phillips, who deemed Lolley “a constant, courageous person in Baptist life.”

Lolley was pushed out of that role — in which he led with great care and competence — by fundamentalist forces that overtook the Southern Baptist Convention. Yet, he refused to become embittered.

Tom Halbrooks, who was recruited to teach church history at the seminary, recalled his young son saying soon after their arrival, “The president here cares about us.”

Halbrooks added: “Randall Lolley was a man of faith who expressed that faith through love.”

Retired pastor Mike Queen, who also served the Greensboro church, recalled once telling Lolley of his struggles to prepare an upcoming Easter sermon — seeking to find a fresh way to present the familiar story on a Sunday filled with expectations.

“Boy, that story doesn’t need your help,” Lolley quickly responded.

“Easter has never been the same for me since,” said Queen. “He changed my world more than once.”

Alan Sherouse, the current pastor of the Greensboro church where Lolley once served, told of passing the portrait of his earlier predecessor each day. But rather than being intimidated, he felt affirmed because of how Lolley had related to him.

“His brilliance called out the talents in you,” said Sherouse. “We are more fully who we are because of who Randall was.”

Nephew Tim Lolley said: “He left you with the assurance you are loved.”

That was echoed clearly by Lolley’s daughters, Charlotte Murphy and Pam Frey. They told of how they could never leave his presence — or even hang up from a phone call to get to an appointment — without his same unrushed and sincere affirmation that is embedded in their minds and hearts.

“If you are loved but by one person in the world, you have lived well,” their father would tell them, and then with perfect timing add, “and you have been loved.”

Their mother, Lou, who shared and greatly enhanced his life through seven decades of marriage, expressed appreciation with these simple closing words: “Love and joy to all of you.”

Author’s note: Lolley’s book, ‘Journey with Me: Redemptive Threads Woven Through the Bible’ (2015, Nurturing Faith) is available here. Royalties from the book benefit the Randall and Lou Lolley Fund for Theological Education, administered by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of North Carolina.

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