Whew! It is now 2021, and we are still here. In the words of well-known artists, The Winans, “Millions didn’t make it, but I was one of the ones who did.”
So much has happened. Life has happened and deaths have happened. Some joy has happened and some pain has happened. Some good things have happened and some not so good things have happened, but through it all, I made it. WE made it!
Now as we begin this new year, where do we go from here and how do we get there? I contend that there is only one way to go, and that is forward. And, if there’s any chance at moving forward, we have to be willing to leave some things behind.
In other words, there are some things and perhaps some people that will simply need to be forgotten. Forbes suggests that “2020 will go down in the history books as the year that we would all like to forget.” We would like to forget that there ever was a pandemic, but we can’t, because it’s still here, and its impact reaches far and wide. It has affected the mental health and well-being of some people, while it has literally snatched the lives of others.
So we cannot forget COVID-19 or any of the other viruses that plagued this nation in 2020 – social injustices, police brutality, gun violence, civil unrest and I’m certain there are others. So we remember as we move into the new year.
Two persons have left an indelible mark on my life and the lives of many people – women in particular – in the black Baptist churches of this Pee Dee. They are the late Rev. Evelyn B. Davis and the late Rev. E.B. Burroughs, who both passed away in 2020.
Pastor Davis was a beacon of hope to women who sensed a call from God to not only preach but to pastor. At a time when women were not fully embraced as preachers, let alone spiritual leaders/pastors, she stepped out on faith and organized the Hope Missionary Baptist Church, where she served faithfully for 20 years.
She was a pioneer in her own right. She was a virtuous woman. She was favored like Mary, had the commitment of Ruth, Rachel’s patience, Deborah’s courage, Hannah’s faithfulness, Sara’s strength and Priscilla’s power.
But Davis wasn’t just a preacher. She also was a public servant, what some people would call a missionary. She organized a feeding program, which provided meals to children after school and during the summer months. She opened her church building to me at no cost when I organized a community choir that grew to more than 100 Pee Dee area youth.
She was unstoppable, never allowing the challenges, criticisms or doubt of others to distort her God-given vision, and she pressed her way until God called her home. So, for this first Faith and Values column of 2021, I honor her legacy for the work she did not only in the faith community but in the state of South Carolina and for the contributions she made to my life.
Pastor Evelyn B. Davis is one whom we should never forget.
Then there is Rev. Burroughs. He, indeed, was a trailblazer in his own right. The average tenure of a pastor is four to five years, yet, Burroughs served as pastor of Palmetto Baptist Church for approximately 40 years and at Cherry Grove Missionary Baptist Church for more than half a century (55 years and ten months, if my memory serves me correctly). That’s more time than many of the people whom he pastored have lived.
Burroughs understood commitment, and unlike many pastors, rather than chasing the almighty dollar, he chased the Almighty God! Even after retirement, he still had not had enough. He accepted the invitation to serve as interim pastor of New Providence Baptist Church in Darlington, where he served until his death. He was a man of valor, a fearless leader who instilled hope in others.
At a time when the majority of traditional black Baptist churches were not in favor of women serving in various leadership roles, Burroughs publicly endorsed women. When the Pee Dee Baptist Association refused to ordain women, in addition to licensing women to preach, Burroughs organized his own Ordaining Council and ordained female deacons and preachers to serve in ministry.
His desire was that people not place limitations on God or the people of God. He had the reputation of being a teacher par excellence in both Christian education and the public school system. He strived to free the children of God from bondage, some of which we placed on ourselves because of tradition, preference and unconscious or, perhaps, conscious biases.
If I could speak for Burroughs right now, I believe he would probably say to each of us, “When you know better, you should do better,” and right now, as a community of believers, there are definitely some things we need to change.
I am indeed grateful to God for men like Rev. E.B. Burroughs and others who have come behind him, for they have paved the way for me. I am grateful for the opportunity I was afforded to be a top candidate as Cherry Grove Baptist Church sought the pastor who would follow in his stead. Although I was not selected, I was a strong contender, and this was in due in part, to the teachings of Burroughs.
Burroughs will be missed. He was a beacon of light, a force to be reckoned with, yet a gentle soul, and his legacy will continue to live on in the lives of those he touched. I am better because the Rev. E.B. Burroughs passed my way.
The world is a better place because of the giant footprints left by Pastor Evelyn B. Davis and Rev. E.B. Burroughs, and today, while there are many things about 2020 I’d like to forget, I will forever remember them! Their lights will continue to shine in dark places all over this world, and their legacy will forever live on.
As I remember, I will continue to press forward in faith. Full speed ahead!
Happy New Year!
Michelle M. Law-Gordon is the pastor of Open Door Baptist Church and a lifelong member of New Ebenezer Baptist Church in Florence. She is a member of the Morning News’ Faith & Values Advisory Board. Contact her and other board members at fvboard@florencenews.