In 1990, November 5th fell on a Monday. I was supposed to go to school that day (I was a senior at LA High School). But a longtime member of Mt. Sinai Church had death in the family. And they asked me to bring the message that morning. I don’t remember any of the details of the service. But I can’t forget the many conversations that I heard and overheard after the service was over. They were about the meeting scheduled for that evening, in which the congregation was to select a new pastor. The church had been “vacant” for about 18-months, since my father’s death in June, 1989. Finally, after hearing many different men from across the country, the pulpit committee was to present three “candidates” for the church to vote on. I was not one of those three candidates. And until that day, I had no intentions of even going to the meeting. I expected to be in my bed with the ringers off that night. But the various conversations I heard that morning made me curious about who would be selected that night. So I decided to go.
The church was packed that night for the meeting. I sat in the back, near the ushers’ row, as the meeting began. The late Dr. E.V. Hill, a friend of my father’s and the pastor of the historic Mt. Zion Baptist Church, led the meeting. When he introduced the pulpit committee, they presented the three candidates to the church (even showing videos of the men’s messages at Mt. Sinai). Then, when their presentation was finished, Dr. Hill announced the church’s intention that candidates be recommended from the floor. When this process began, an old preacher stood up and yelled to the front of the church, “H.B. Charles Jr.” Everybody laughed. This old man, whose name I can’t recall, was a good preacher, according to my father. He had a stroke and was unable to preach anymore. But he would be at Mt. Sinai every Sunday, listening to my father preach. I remember that he used to weep during the messages every week. Anyway, Dr. Hill called the meeting back to order. But the old preacher thought Dr. Hill was ignoring him. So he stood up again and yelled to the pulpit, “Dr. Hill, H.B. Charles Jr. is supposed to be my pastor! And you know it!”Again, everybody laughed. Finally, his recommendation was accepted. Two other names were added. It was time for the church to vote.
There were tables set up in the entrance for members to check-in. And if your name was not on the membership list, you were not entitled to vote. When the voting began, that list moved from the back to the front. Alphabetically, they would call the names of eligible voters. The voter would come up front and fill out a ballot. Well, it didn’t take too long to get to the letter “C.” And when they called my name, I came forward to cast my vote (I won’t say who I was voting for. But I will say that I was not voting for myself). While I was casting my ballot, a deacon stood up and raised an objection. I was not eligible to vote! In a prior meeting, the church had apparently decided that you had to to be 18-years-old to vote. I was three months away from my eighteenth birthday. Dr. Hill was dumbfounded. He really didn’t know how to handle this. So he asked me to sit up front, while he and some of the church leaders went to the back to discuss how to handle this situation. As they met, the deacon came up to me to tell me that his objection wasn’t personal; rules are rules. “I understand,” I said. “Baloney!” I thought. It seemed like an eternity before they came out from the back. And when he did, he publicly announced that I was not able vote, because I was only 17. Then he lectured the congregation about that rule and insisted that it should be immediately changed. So I got up to go back to my seat. I was a little embarrassed (My wife says that I get embarrassed too easily. And I am starting to think she’s right.). But as I turned to go down the aisle back to my seat, Gayle (a godly lady and member of the pulpit committee that I had – have – much respect for) grabbed me by the arm and whispered into my ear, “Don’t worry about it, Junior. The Bible says, ‘The last shall be first, and the first shall be last.'” She was quoting Matthew 20:16. I had never thought about that verse before then. But I haven’t forgot that verse since then.
As I walked down to the aisle, I decided to leave out. I beckoned by buddies Reggie, Barry, Tracey, and Clint (all fellow younger preachers at the church), and we herded out. On the lobby, someone stopped me and begged me not to leave the meeting. I assured them that I was not leaving. I was just going to walk to the store to get some snacks. When we returned, I sat quietly and watched the church vote. Of course, I couldn’t tell what people were voting. But I was sure of one thing. People were writing, rather than just checking a box next to one of the original three candidates’ names. Soon, it was time for the votes to be counted. It took a long time. But barely anyone left. When the counters returned, a pastor who had accompanied Dr. Hill pointed back to me as he entered into the room. I didn’t know what that meant at first, but I would in just of few minutes. When Dr. Hill announced the results, to everybody’s surprise (and that includes me), I had handedly won the election. There was a shocked silence, until a deacon jumped up and raised an objection (Yep. It was the same deacon who had earlier noted that I was too young to vote.). According to the bylaws, the winner had to win by 3/4 percent of the vote for the vote to be official.
Dr. Hill recommended that there be another vote, which would only include the two names that received the most votes. He also recommended that, for the sake of time, it would be a standing vote. Both recommendation were accepted. And I won again, receiving all but about twenty-five votes. Dr. Hill announced and affirmed that H.B. Charles Jr. had been selected as the new pastor of Mt. Sinai Missionary Baptist Church. Then he launched into an impromptu sermon. And when the folks had finished shouting, he called me forward for prayer. I knelt near the platform. And the rest of the congregation came forward and did the same. As he prayed, I remember a hand being on my shoulder. When he finished praying, I opened my eyes to see that it was that deacon who had raised the two objections earlier in the meeting.
After the meeting, the guys and I went to eat some eggs and talk about the incredible act of divine intervention we had just witnessed. When I got home, I called the young lady I had been seeing. We had plans to see each other that weekend, and she asked me about them. But I kept telling her that I didn’t know what would happen, because Mt. Sinai had “called” me. She didn’t get what I meant. So I kept saying it, as often as I could. Finally she asked me, “What do you mean, Sinai called you? Called you to do what?” My answer was followed by the same kind of shocked silence that I had witnessed earlier in the meeting. After fifteen years, I believe “shocked silence” was and is the most appropriate response to what happened that night. The events of that night, and all that has transpired in my life and ministry since then, simply cannot be explained in human terms. God alone deserves all the glory! I do, indeed, praise him for his goodness, faithfulness, and mercy. And I am more confident than ever in the sovereign providence of God, who works all things according to the counsel of his own will.
“This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed, because His compassions fail not. They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘Therefore I hope in him.’ The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul who seeks Him.” (Lamentations 3:21-25, NKJV)