Dr. Willie B. Jemison Concludes 30-Year Ministry

Post a Comment » Written on February 14th, 2000     
Filed under: News
CHICAGO (February 14, 2000) – Drawing upon the story of Joshua’s succession as Moses concluded his leadership of the children of Israel, Dr. Willie B. Jemison on Sunday challenged a standing-room-only audience at Oakdale Covenant Church to focus on the future, not the past. He admonished them to be proud of their ethnic heritage and the impact they have had in helping foster ethnic diversity within the Evangelical Covenant Church.

Jemison delivered his farewell sermon to an attentive audience estimated at 1,200 people, reflecting throughout the hour-long delivery the evangelical fervor that has marked his pulpit ministry for more than three decades. The Oakdale church will celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2002, making Jemison the longest presiding pastor in the church’s history.

Jemison stressed the importance of knowing something about one’s roots. “If you don’t know where you came from, you won’t know where you’re going,” he observed. “And, when you get there, you won’t know how you got there.” He cautioned, however, that while history is important, “we can’t live in the past.”

The message was centered on the first chapter of Joshua, where God promised Joshua that “as I was with Moses, so will I be with you.” Jemison drew an analogy to the present circumstance facing Oakdale, that of transition from a long-tenure pastorate to a newer, younger leadership. But, he also drew attention to the importance of maintaining an authentic ethnicity in a culture that continues to diversify.

The pastor spent a fair amount of time exploring the relationship of Oakdale to the parent Covenant organization, expressing his desire to help write the history of how a black church got into the Covenant, and not lose its identity. “Unity in diversity – how in the world do you pull that off?” Jemison asked. “They pulled it off in the First Century – Jew and gentile sitting in the same room, eating together.”

Jemison noted how down through history Jews have been reminded from whence they came. “Jews will never let us forget the holocaust – they say never again,” the pastor observed. “God brought them out.” In like manner, Jemison cautioned his listeners not to pretend to be someone else – “be who you are. I did not try to rob anyone else of their ethnicity,” Jemison continued. “I am comfortable with who God made me to be. I am black and proud. You can be black and proud of who you are.”

With a note of humor, Jemison drew a parallel between Swedish immigrants who founded the Covenant church and African immigrants -–neither group was welcomed in the new land, he observed. “They were ostracized,” he said of both groups. “When they (Swedes) opened their mouths and said ‘ya, sure,’ they were identified and put inside a box,” he mused. “We were identified by the color of our skin. We both were outsiders.”

Another recurrent theme throughout the message was the importance of a good education in preparing for life, reflecting one of Jemison’s deeply held passions. At times, he spoke directly to young people in the congregation, reminding them how God used the Egyptian educational system to prepare Moses for leadership, and stressing the importance of preparing themselves for adult leadership later on.

At one point, Jemison turned from the pulpit to personally address his successor, Rev. D. Darrell Griffin, senior pastor, encouraging him to take strength from God’s promise to Joshua as the Oakdale congregation moves on under his new leadership. Paraphrasing God’s words to Joshua, Jemison said to Griffin, “I’ll do for you what I promised Jemison. Be strong. Be courageous.”

In his closing remarks, Jemison rhetorically asked himself the question: Will you miss preaching? Adding his own brand of humor, the pastor replied, “you’re only as good as your last sermon,” noting he will enjoy a respite from the rigor of weekly sermon preparation.

“I’ve had a great time,” the pastor concluded.

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