By Riley Manning/NEMS Daily Journal
The role of a pastor is a remarkable one, central to the focus of society, especially in the South. Few occupations offer as much exposure to the human experience, and for pastors, their profession is as much a journey as it is a destination. Over time, their position has greatly enhanced their perspective on the way they relate to their congregations, communities and other denominations.
Learning about pastoring
For the Rev. Raymond Hampton and Bishop Clarence Parks, their service has deepened their understanding of what a pastor should be, and what it takes to lead a congregation.
“I thought everything was going to be glorious,” Parks said, laughing.
Parks started the Temple of Compassion and Deliverance in 1988 with six others, including his wife and two sisters. He said he remembers how hard it was to let others share in the responsibilities of his church.
“Learning to trust others was humbling, but vital for delegating authority,” he said.
He said being a human with human limits is important for a pastor, otherwise, the congregation will put him on a pedestal and he becomes untouchable.
“A pastor must be touchable,” Parks said, “Jesus was touchable.”
Being accessible worked both ways. Parks said he slowed his judgment of people who didn’t have his problems and came to appreciate the individuality of people and situations.
In the pulpit, Parks said he tries to teach his congregation to see all people as one and to take responsibilities for themselves as individuals. For him, the greatest victories come from seeing broken, hurting people pull their lives together and become good church members and citizens.
“I tell them to visualize the positive,” he said, “No matter what they go through, they must see themselves victorious.”
Be the change
Hampton began his pastorship 10 years ago, preaching at Jones Chapel CME in Iuka, then at Hurts Chapel CME in Olive Branch. He said he quickly learned that the best way to change others was to change himself.
“So often when we want change, we want our surroundings to conform to the way we already are,” he said. “But when you change yourself, other people can’t help but be affected by you.”
In developing his church, Hampton fielded everyone’s input on how to meet their goals. He said it is important for people to have a voice, and for him to listen with authentic sincerity.
“Conflict comes when different opinions try to occupy the same space,” he said, “I mediate those opinions and focus them towards spreading God’s kingdom.”
Like Parks, Hampton also said he learned he was not perfect.
“In some cases, I met my own expectations and in some I even exceeded, but I failed some of them,” he said, “I learned to not beat myself up or allow my failures to dictate my future.”
Hampton grew up in Shannon with a diverse religious background, attending Methodist, Baptist and Pentecostal churches. After seven years at Hurts Chapel, Hampton was transferred this year to Mt. Zion CME Temple in Minden, La. He will complete his Master’s of Divinity at Memphis Theological Seminary in May.
The church’s role
For the Rev. Gene Asbury and the Rev. Tom Lolar, the role the church in society has become the same role of Christ in the individual.
Asbury, who retired from All Saints’ Episcopal Church in 2007, entered the priesthood after a 27-year career with Chevron. It was in this first career the seeds of ministry were sown, as Asbury fostered a profound empathy for his co-workers and gained insight to the pressures and anxieties in their lives. Judgment and moralizing took a back seat to care and understanding.
“When the choices have already been made, the task is not to talk right and wrong, but to help people come to terms with their actions,” Asbury said, “There is always a way for Christ to handle sins and shortcomings. The Lord is there to lift you up.”
As a pastor, Asbury worked to strengthen his church’s outreach programs. He said his congregations became open to sharing the church’s abundance, and members began steadily coming to him with ideas to help.
“We can only serve others, turn barren lives into fruitful ones, when we have a genuine investment in them as a person,” Asbury said.
Lolar, priest at St. James Catholic Church, came to the United States from Ireland as a priest in 1966. One of seven siblings, it’s fitting that he sees the religious community in terms of family.
“I am a member of my natural family, a family of priests, and a family of my congregation,” he said, “The spirituality in their lives and struggles evangelizes me.”
To him, the different attributes of denominations are crucial to meet the various ills of the needy. Each church brings more perspective and talents to the common mission of “planting the Kingdom in society.”
“We are called to be ecumenical in working with our brothers and sisters to help the community,” he said, “We are not alone in the community of faith, and it takes all kinds of insights.”