J.J. Ferguson worthy of his many honors

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, June 25, 2003

Last weekend was one for honoring graduates and showing appreciation for a job well done, and we did just that at my church on Sunday. The verse that the pastor focused on for the sermon that morning describes the life of a remarkable man whom I had the honor of being in the presence of Saturday evening. Ephesians: 2:10 reads: &uot;For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.&uot;

This is the life of Dr. Joseph J. &uot;J.J&uot; Ferguson. At 4 p.m. Saturday, June 2, family, pastors, friends, and members of many churches where Ferguson pastored assembled in Nansemond River High School for a program called &uot;A Celebration of Lifetime Achievements.&uot; Ferguson was also awarded an honorary Doctorate of Divinity degree.

Ferguson’s wife, Dianette, has a way of surprising him at events in his honor. She accomplished her goal about six years ago at an appreciation service with the awarding of this degree. But no matter how it was done, he is a man well-deserving because of the support and participation he has given to the Virginia University of Lynchburg; but most of all for the way that he pastored four churches in the same time.

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Ferguson is a native of Fredericksburg and a graduate of East Suffolk High School. He attended Norfolk State University where he earned a B.A. degree, and also a B.A. degree from the former Virginia Seminary and College in Lynchburg now Virginia University of Lynchburg. He was called into the ministry in 1962 and was licensed by Western Virginia Congregational Christian Conference at that time. His home church is Zion UCC in Suffolk.

At his celebration the theme verse from one of the speakers came from Psalm 37:23, which reads: &uot;A good man’s steps are ordered by the Lord.&uot;

Many who spoke made it known that this is a good man; and Ulysses Whitfield speaking for the family, emphasized that all of his life – even when he was a teenager – Ferguson always walked very slowly, had a tremendous sense of humor and sometimes looked for the opportunity to tell a joke to make people laugh.

However, those slow steps covered a lot of ground among the four churches that he juggled in four different cities.

His schedule and the years of service from each church that totaled 120 years included the following:

St. Luke UCC in Sedley, at 2 p.m. on first and third Sundays, 30 years with a membership of 145; Chapel Grove UCC in Windsor, at 11 a.m. on first and second Sundays, 27 years with a membership of 194; Laurel Hill UCC in Holland, at 11 a.m. on third and fourth Sundays, for 28 years with a membership of 188;

St. Paul UCC in Franklin, at 2 p.m. on second and fourth Sundays for 35 years with a membership of 88.

Ferguson never got confused on what church he was attending and when. This was a miracle in itself because I became confused typing them correctly, and I wonder how he kept up with the funerals, marriages, prayer meetings, and other important meetings.

Talking with him after the celebration, I found out that he knew where every one of his members lived in each church, could get in his car any day and go to every house to each one of them.

One member said that when she was in the hospital awaiting surgery once she was a little anxious, and directly before she went to surgery, Ferguson was right there standing in the door of the elevator as they began to wheel her down the hall into the operating room.

But that isn’t all to this man of God. Early in his career he also worked at the Newport News Shipyard while serving as pastor of two churches, St. Paul UCC and Calvary UCC in Newport News. He worked at the shipyard for four years and remained at Calvary for six years.

On Saturday, over 200 witnessed Dr. Melvin Boone presented the honorary degree to Ferguson in Dr. Ralph Reavis Jr.’s absence. Reavis, the present president of the college, had another obligation. Boone is pastor emeritus of Metropolitan Baptist Church on County St. and a past president of Virginia University of Lynchburg.

Ferguson retired in December 1998, and said that he will still be doing some supply preaching.

The spokesperson for the graduates at my church on Sunday told students that if they advanced from one level to another, they were achievers.

Ferguson has achieved many levels during his career and touched many lives in doing so. However, with the attendance of many ministers from Suffolk and beyond, who surrounded him in the way that they did after the event was over, I believe that his retirement may be short lived because it appears he still has a lot to offer in the world of religion.

Details and pictures of the program will be printed at a later date.

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