The crisp and sunny New Year’s weather matched the celebratory mood inside First Calvary Missionary Baptist Church, which served as the site of Thursday’s observance of the 152nd anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Annually, community members, local leaders, elected officials and churchgoers gather at noon at in a chosen sanctuary to celebrate the issuance of President Abraham Lincoln’s historical executive order that emancipated all slaves in states that did not end their rebellion against the Union by Jan. 1, 1863.
The event’s theme was, “Embracing the Past, Evaluating the Present, Envisioning the Future,” and First Calvary Missionary Baptist Pastor Sinclair Thorne served as the host pastor, while the Rev. Valiant Lyte acted as the worship leader. First Calvary’s youth choir provided the music.
“I do believe we can commemorate the stony path and the bitter rod of our past without being stuck there. So today, we have come here to embrace our past,” said Emancipation Proclamation Observance Committee President the Rev. Dr. Hermon Scott, who also is the moderator of the Zion Baptist Association and pastor of Baconton Missionary Baptist Church. “Today, as we celebrate the 152nd anniversary of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation and envision the future, we say along with Moses in Numbers, Chapter 10, ‘… Come thou with us, and we will do thee good: for the Lord hath spoken good concerning us.’”
The program’s keynote speaker, the Rev. Brenda Iglehart, is a third-generation minister. At the age of 19, she became the youngest licensed evangelist in the Texas Southwest Jurisdiction. She retired as an ordained elder in the South Georgia Conference of the United Methodist Church, having served 23 years under Episcopal appointment.
After 44 years as a minister of the gospel, she became the 46th pastor and first female to lead the historic Speedwell United Methodist Church of Savannah in 2005. Currently, Iglehart serves as the first female pastor of First African Baptist Church on St. Simons Island.
Iglehart focused on a passage from the book of Joshua, where Joshua tells his officers to go through their camps and encourage people to get their provisions ready in preparation to cross the Jordan in three days.
“Much like the children of Israel, the journey from proverbial Egypt to the Promised Land has been arduous. And, as we all know, despite obvious and celebratory gains, we aren’t quite there yet,” Iglehart said.
“A significant part of our gathering today is to praise God for His faithfulness to deliver us, and to challenge each of us as the ecclesia, the body of Christ (the church) to be equally faithful to the task which God has assigned to our hands.”
She called the church is a dynamic organism, which means it is vibrant, alive, active and growing.
“Typically, when things which are supposed to grow stop growing, they are dying. A church that is not full of life, active and growing is stagnating and is slowing but surely dying. … God is never pleased with a do-nothing congregation. Believers have been called out of the world for service in the kingdom,” she said.
Iglehart stressed the importance of contributing to the church’s growth by allowing it to move forward and evolve through proactive behavior and thoughts. She cautioned against resisting change through complaints, inactivity and excuses.
“You may not be able to recognize a particular church, but if you look closely, you might be able to see yourself in the picture somewhere. As a matter of fact, each one of us (at one time or another) might have found ourselves like the children of Israel — camped out at the river on the verge of a breakthrough.
“We sometimes find ourselves camped out in misery and pain, refusing to move. Camped at the river of suffering, camped out at the river of disappointment, camped out at the river of new beginning and afraid to cross over, camped out at the river of grief, camped out at the river of custom and tradition. We are afraid to get up, break camp, and rock the boat,” she said. “But while the church was camping out, God was raising up a new leader.”
Before the ceremony ended, three Liberty County citizens were recognized for their service to the community. Midway Congregational Church Deborah Robinson received the Emancipation’s special award. Liberty County High School senior Mikia Frazier, a member of the First Zion Baptist Church in Riceboro, received the youth award. Carol Simmons, a member of the Thebes African Methodist Episcopal Church in Midway, received the president’s award.
Nicholas Carter, a 2014 Liberty County Emancipation Proclamation scholarship recipient, read the Emancipation Proclamation.
Scott expressed his appreciation to local churches for their continued support of the Emancipation observance.
“It is because of your financial support that we are able to award scholarships to deserving high-school seniors. Last year we awarded eight $500 scholarships,” he said.