When attending a retirement party, you expect to hear celebratory remarks, accolades, tributes and acknowledgements of a job well done. Sunday (Dec. 16) was no different as a sold-out crowd attended the "Black Tie Retirement Celebration" for the Rev. Dr. Frank Anthony Thomas.
Church folk from Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, family members, colleagues from near and far, pastors, friends, and sons and daughters in ministry were all on hand at the Hilton Hotel, located at 939 Ridge Lake Boulevard.
After fifteen years of service as senior pastor of the church that's come to be known as "The Boulevard," Pastor Thomas, along with his wife, the Rev. Dr. Joyce Thomas, are leaving Memphis to "do what he loves – teach."
In 2013, the Thomases will both be teaching at Christian Theological Seminary in Indianapolis, Ind. He will be teaching homiletics (teaching preachers to preach) and she will be teaching Energy Leadership.
"Pastoring and teaching is my love. I'm going to teach preaching on college, but I've been teaching all along – just moonlighting," said Thomas. "I thank Mississippi Boulevard for giving me an opportunity to pastor, but what I really like to do is teach."
After announcing his retirement last summer, Thomas stayed to help the church coordinate his transition. That included the acquiring of an interim pastor and the recruitment of a candidate for the senior pastor position. The Rev. Denise Bell, who was named interim pastor, is helping the church complete its pastoral search process. That process has yielded the recommendation of the Rev. Jason Lawrence Turner, a Yale alum who pastors a church in Connecticut.
When asked what he wants parishioners to remember as his 15-year legacy, Thomas said, "That I taught them to do the right things in all relationships, and that I have a passion and desire to please God."
Kia Granberry, the church's Director of Communications, was nearby and provided confirmation with this question: "Did you tell her that you taught us to do the right thing in all relationships?"
"They will remember that I deepened the spiritual maturity of the church."
"Integrity and honesty."
"Do what you say."
"A legacy of service to community and church."
"Crossing racial and denominational barriers."
"All people are the family of God, so we make relationships with all people."
As Thomas provided this exclusive look into his pastoring style, nearly 20 other program participants validated the authenticity of his character, integrity, and love for God and the people. Among them was the Thomases' daughter, the Rev. Rachel Sojourner Thomas, who introducing the keynote speaker, the Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright Jr., whom her dad calls his pastor.
"Calling someone pastor is a big deal," she said. "I just started calling my dad my pastor. My dad is my pastor, not only because he teaches the word, but he lives the word....
"My dad said Jeremiah Wright is 'the James Brown of preaching.' Now, I introduce my dad's pastor. Preacher, pastor, prophet and teacher to my parents – Rev. Dr. Jeremiah Wright."
Dr. Wright continued the conciliatory remarks by taking the audience on a dissertative journey he themed as "Memories." He provided anecdotal glimpses of memories from Thomas's life, as well correlating them with the life of Apostle Paul.
"The memories of these ministers were overwhelming, precious, painful, and powerful," Wright said, as he cascaded through Thomas's earlier days in seminary, to his ordination, to his lost of a child, to the days as his congregant, to pastoring and the highs and lows of it.
"Memories. Give thanks to God for every memory, the precious prayers, for lives changed, for retreats, revivals, trips – every precious memory," said Dr. Wright.
"When God gave the victory for forgiveness. When you forgave a Negro you never thought you'd forgive. Thank God for every precious, powerful and painful memory. For every mountain, for every valley, and for the storms. Memories."
Photo: The Rev. Dr. Frank Anthony Thomas, and his wife, the Rev. Dr. Joyce Thomas, say thanks to church folk from Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church, family members, colleagues from near and far, pastors, friends, and sons and daughters in ministry. (Photo by Tyrone P. Easley)