You can’t keep a good man down

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 14, 2002

An article in the &uot;Times Past&uot; column on Aug. 1 triggered a strange coincidence in the life of East End Baptist’s pastor emeritus, Dr. Clarence J. Word, also producing a part of East End’s history.

The article read as follows: &uot;At 11 a.m., the pastor, Rev. C.J. Word, will greet his congregation with a very warm and cordial &uot;good morning&uot; at which time he will use as the theme &uot;A Vision of God in the year of a tragedy.&uot; That sermon was preached on Aug. 2, 1942.

Since Word’s retirement, he seldom preaches. However, Dr. Mark Croston, the present pastor of East End Baptist, had scheduled him to preach on Aug. 4, 2002, the first Sunday in August 60 years later with no idea that the &uot;Times Past&uot; piece was going to appear in the paper. That coincidence led to other memories of his life by some members, myself included, who were under his leadership when he served as pastor.

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Maddie D. Vann, my aunt, informed me that Word pastored one church all of his life until he retired in 1982. She also remembered that first sermon and said that he chose the theme because they were in the midst of World War II. She elaborated on what he talked about that Sunday.

When I think of Word, two sayings come to mind: &uot;He takes a lickin’ and keeps on tickin’&uot; and &uot;You can’t keep a good man down.&uot;

A native of Danville, Word’s mother died when he was four years of age and he was passed from family to family. At age 12 he had a vision to become a trained minister, but didn’t know how he was going to receive a college education with only $400. He entered Lincoln University with that amount; the college president saw his plight and recognized his determination. After he graduated, the president gave him a job teaching New Testament Greek. He remained there for seven years until he accepted the call in Suffolk and became the pastor of East End Baptist on the first Sunday in March 1939. He was installed by his pastor, Dr. G.W. Goode of Danville, in June 1939.

Vann said that the congregation worshipped in the basement, and in August 1940 the membership moved upstairs to the sanctuary and the basement became the fellowship hall. In 1942 the church name changed from Pine Street Baptist to East End Baptist.

John Riddick remembers coming to the church in 1949 after his stint in the military. He said that Word use to stand in front of the church inviting all young people and anyone else to come in. During Word’s tenure as pastor, he often played ping-pong with the teen-agers during the recreation program that the church sponsored. He encouraged them then to stay in school because he was a true believer that a good education was a person’s most prized possession, and that once you had it no one could take it away from you. Under his leadership as pastor he helped to produce doctors, lawyers, preachers, teachers, social workers and, of course, a good news reporter.

Sometimes when I think of the song &uot;Give Me that Old Time Religion&uot; I think of the way most ministers in the good old days kept a watchful eye over their flock. Word was very concerned for members if he did not see them in the sanctuary, and checked on them by phone, foot and car if he could.

He is small in stature but had a voice that didn’t need a microphone when he was delivering a sermon.

I remember the times when my siblings and I had to sit with my mother on the fourth row from the front. I use to tell her that when he spoke loudly he would hurt my ears. I was glad when I got old enough (14 years old) to sit where I wanted to and sat in the gallery. My daddy would tell me then that he knew that I didn’t hear a thing because I was sitting on the roof.

Anyway, Riddick said that Word was also so determined to be a good pastor that at one time before moving to Suffolk, he caught the train from Danville every Sunday to arrive at the church to meet, greet and feed his congregation with the holy word.

After retirement, Word use to make a daily routine of walking from his house on Custis Road, past my house, and most of the time when he saw me he would stop to talk or throw up his hand to speak. When Word reached 90, I told him that I would walk with him while I did an interview on him. However, he was concerned whether I would be able to keep up, and suggested that I meet him after half of the walk was completed since I knew his route. I laughed because I knew it wouldn’t be a problem and that if he could do it I could, and I did. The only trouble was that he was use to walking and I wasn’t. When he reaches 100, I will take his advice. Anyway, the article was entitled &uot;Walking With The Word.&uot; Even today, he still takes that same route every now and then, which I think he said is at least a mile.

He had a bout with sickness and was absent from church for a few months about four or five years ago. He recovered, and now at 93-1/2 years old his mind still seems to be very sharp.

He proved it a couple of Sundays ago when he spoke on the subject &uot;Three Results from Christ Living in Us.&uot; This sermon was taken from John 15:1-11.

At the beginning of his sermon he stated that we weren’t going to hear much because he is much older now. However, he did a good job in his delivery pointing out the three results of Christ living in us are (1) effective prayer; (2) a truthful life; and (3) inner joy. He was excellent in his delivery. His voice was just as strong as it was 60 years ago but not as loud. Matter of fact, I even sat in the fourth row from the front.

By taking care of himself physically, along with his reading for mental alertness and good memory, this again is sure proof that age is just a number. When you have determination and a strong will like Word, you really can’t keep a good man down.

Evelyn Wall is a staff writer and regular columnist for the News-Herald.