How often have you gone searching for something only to find it was within arms reach all along? That has been my plight for the past week. On December 30, a very important figure in my spiritual development transitioned from earth to eternity. The Rev. Dr. Cameron Madison Alexander was my first teaching pastor, and much more. Since learning of his passing, I’ve been searching for words sufficient enough to summarize his impact. I’ve read and heard others share their memories and found myself smiling as they recounted words and acts I’d also known. Yet, and still, I was speechless—not because I had nothing to say, but because I had so much.
Our paths crossed when I attended Antioch Baptist Church North on a Sunday in October of 1987. Fifteen years earlier, in my hometown of Washington DC, I had accepted the invitation to join the church and was baptized two weeks shy of my seventh birthday. By the time I had graduated from high school I had developed a love for the scriptures, yet my church experience thus far had left me hungry for more. After a less than stellar freshman year of college, in a manner of speaking, I had run away from home. I didn’t realize it at the time, but God had put me on a path to satisfy my hunger. What I thought was me running away was actually me running to—and the first stop along the way was located on the corner of Kennedy Street and Northside Drive. I had been in Atlanta since mid-July and shortly went in search of a church home. I landed at a ministry in Decatur, but soon realized it was not for me. I mentioned my need to a cousin, who told me about the church her brother had been attending and suggested we visit. We were up late the night before. Our conversation was all over the place—full of questions of which neither of us had the answers. I wasn’t the only one who was hungry for more. We were told to get to service early because at Antioch Baptist Church North the pews filled up quickly. We didn’t heed the advice, so when we arrived at 11 o’clock we were fortunate to get seats, but unable to sit together. Within ten minutes of our arrival, folks were standing along the walls and the tiny foyer had become a standing room only overflow room. When the time for the preached message arrived, I sat there in awe because the words coming out the pastor’s mouth were the answers to our many questions. It was as if he had been sitting in the corner listening as we shared our thoughts and sought understanding. This experience was my introduction to the workings of the Holy Spirit—we got what we needed when we needed it. That Sunday, I was not only fed, but I was nourished. When the invitation was extended, I hesitated because it was my first visit, yet I could not deny this was where I needed to be. After a brief deliberation, I accepted the invitation. To my surprise, when I walked up the aisle, my cousin had come to the same conclusion. In 1972, I joined the church (little “c”), but on this fall afternoon in 1987, I became a member of the Antioch Baptist Church North; more importantly, I graduated into a relationship with Christ and committed myself to His lordship. That day, I began a five year season of incubation at the feet of Cameron Madison Alexander as my pastor-teacher.
During those five years, I was given employment with The General Missionary Baptist Convention of Georgia’s bookstore. Additionally, Pastor Alexander appointed me to serve in several capacities within the ministry, to include president of the College Student’s Ministry, counselor for the Hope Line, and coordinator of fundraising efforts for the new church building. He supported many program ideas I had, including an all-night preaching event entitled “One More Time!” On a bus ride back from a youth retreat, he engaged us in a conversation about life. During that conversation, I recall sharing how unfortunate it was that some folks caught hell at home, then went to work and fought through hellish situations. It didn’t seem they could catch a break. I shared how it would be good to have a place where folks could come and rest from their burdened life. That conversation was the catalyst for the church’s Burden’s Rest lounge. Pastor Alexander allowed me to develop and express my gifts of leadership and administration. He engaged my ideas and encouraged me to excel in whatever I set my hands to. When my season of incubation was coming to an end, I sat in Pastor’s office and we reflected together on the journey. He asked if my mother was aware of how much I had grown spiritually. I hadn’t given thought to it myself. It was a sweet moment between a member and her pastor. I knew then, as I know more profoundly now, that I had been given a gift. It was the gift of mentorship, of godly counsel, and of an example. Oh, I know he wasn’t a perfect man, but he was perfectly suited to meet my spiritual needs and watch over my soul for a season.
In the time since moving on from Antioch North, I acknowledged a call to the preaching ministry. Now, it was no secret that Pastor Alexander did not believe it was biblical for women to preach. So, I came to understand that it was not within the will of God for me to come to this acknowledgement during my incubation season. Nevertheless, in preparation for delivering my initial sermon, I sent an invitation to Pastor Alexander because I knew my season at Antioch North was of great significance. My observations during that season amounted to the formation of my foundation. It was at the feet of Pastor Alexander that I went from loving bible stories to understanding their meaning, and applying the principles to my life. His teaching took my love of the scriptures to new heights. I never got a response to the invitation, but I did get a response to the call. Several years had passed, and God permitted me to return to Atlanta to be with my mother during her final two years in the earth. During that time, I visited Antioch North for Sunday morning worship. When the service had concluded, I made my way to the front to greet Pastor Alexander. As if no time had passed, he extended his arms and invited me to come forward. This embrace was that of a proud and loving father. Before releasing me, he whispered in my ear, “I heard about you. Tell me something, can you pull it?” I looked in his eyes and replied, “I’m doing my best, sir.” With that, he hugged me closer and said “I expected no less.” That was a gift from God, because every “daughter” needs to know her “father” supports her.
The Rev. Dr. Cameron Madison Alexander was short in stature, but tall in character. His sermons and anecdotes will comfort me each time he comes to my remembrance. I will smile every time I read “Selah!” in the Psalms. I will shake off fear or doubt by remembering that “God doesn’t have to do anything by Friday.” I will give every day a chance, because he drilled into me to “Never count a day as a bad day until all the days are in. Because what appeared to be a bad day, when all the days are in, just might turn out to be a good day.” I am forever grateful that my encounter with Pastor Alexander was necessary to ensure I got “to know the Christ before the crisis”. My life is better because of my five year incubation season. Many other relationships were fostered and cultivated there, but the greatest of them was the deepening of my relationship with Christ. Although my time was short, the value of the experience is both tall and mighty!
When I woke this morning, as I lifted the Alexander and Antioch family in prayer, a song dropped in my spirit that succinctly states my gratitude for God’s gift to me in the person of Cameron Madison Alexander. In the moment I heard it, I knew my search for words was over. The words I had been searching for were now swirling in my head. The song, My Tribute, was penned in 1972—the same year I joined the church. All along, I had these treasured words that spoke of Pastor Alexander’s life and legacy. The chorus was the message he preached every Sunday, “With His blood He has saved me. With His power He has raised me. To God be the glory for the things He has done.” His life can be characterized by the final verse, “Just let me live my life. Let it be pleasing, Lord to Thee. And if I gain any praise, let it go to Calvary.” And as for me, I can acknowledge with great joy “How can I say thanks for the things You’ve done for me? Things so undeserved, yet You gave [Christ and Pastor Alexander] to prove Your love for me. The voices of a million angels could not express my gratitude! All that I am and ever hope to be I owe it all to Thee!” God blessed me by allowing me to run straight to the person and place I needed. Selah!—my, my, my, what about that!
Despite my sorrow, it is not greater than my joy. It is with joy that I will pass on freely to others what I have freely received. I charge each reader of this tribute to take necessary time to examine the impact you’re making on the people around you. The day will come when someone will sit, reflecting on their encounter with you. May we each leave others speechless—not because they will have nothing to say, but because they will have so much. ~WordsInPrint by Suni