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Fauntroy Delivers Final Pastoral Sermon

Ed Laiscell | 1/21/2009, 9:31 p.m.

Rev. Walter Fauntroy preached his final pastoral sermon on Sunday Jan. 18 entitled €Safe Thus Far€ at New Bethel Baptist Church in Northwest, completing a journey that began at age 11. €This is the end of a journey and today I rejoice because He has brought me this far,€ said Fauntroy, the 75-year-old pastor.

For 64 years of his life, New Bethel was a €safe€ place for the well beloved pastor. On Jan. 19, 1959 a young Rev. Fauntroy was chosen to pastor the church of his childhood.
€I was privileged to be baptized as a believer in this church and began my journey as a child of the King,€ Fauntroy said.

Civil rights veterans and friends Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr. and Rev. Benjamin Hooks joined Fauntroy in his 50th anniversary farewell service. Both men said they could not stay away from such a day, as they expressed their gratitude for Rev. Fauntroy€s leadership in organizing the historic March on Washington in 1963.

€I came today to celebrate such a momentous occasion,€ Rev. Jackson said. €This is my first stop today because it would have been Dr. [Martin Luther] King€s first stop. We are here to say thank you Dr. Fauntroy. We thank you for your walk and we will rejoice in your legacy.€

Hooks retired from his church last week after 52 years of service.

€We have marched, prayed, and agonized together,€ said Dr. Hooks, €now, we rest together.€

Fauntroy€s ascension to the leadership of his childhood church began during his teenage years. As a young man he served the people of the Shaw neighborhood where he grew up.

His service to the members of New Bethel and the neighborhood prompted the members to provide him with a scholarship to attend Virginia Union University in Richmond.

Fauntroy met Dr. King while attending Virginia Union, which had a profound affect on his life, according to Fauntroy.

€I realized he and I had something in common and that started a lasting friendship,€ he said.

During his pastorate at New Bethel, Dr. Fauntroy worked with the members of the church to establish low-income housing in the neighborhood, a daily after-school tutorial program that also feeds children, a program to provide employment opportunities for ex-offenders and the first SHARE food program in the District.

President Lyndon Johnson appointed Fauntroy as Vice Chair of the White House Conference to Fulfill These Rights in 1966 and vice chair of the D.C. City Council in 1967.

In 1971, Fauntroy was elected as the first delegate to the United States Congress from the District. He served 20 years in that post. Fauntroy is also a founding member of the Congressional Black Caucus.

€I€m going to miss him,€ said 51-year-old Michael Goldring, who has been a member of New Bethel for 48 years. €He has been in my life since I was a child. He has done a lot for my family, the church and the community. He is like a father to me and it hurts that he is leaving.€

Seventy-year-old Philader Williams echoed Goldring€s sentiments.

€I love the man. He€s been an inspiration to everybody he meets. He has an air about him that attracts people and he gets things done.€

Sherion Patten, who serves as church secretary, said she hopes the new pastor will keep the family atmosphere she found at New Bethel.

€I hope the new pastor will keep up the family unity and not divide us,€ Patten said.

She said it was the history of the church and the leadership of Rev. Fauntroy that drew her to New Bethel.

Martin Luther King III was on hand at the Wed., Jan. 14 proclamation of Rev. Walter Fauntroy Day at New Bethel Baptist Church. Photo by Khalid Naji-Allah
€You can learn about Jesus Christ and politics in this one place,€ she added. €He is a caring man. He takes time to speak to you.€

Although he is retiring from the pastorate, Fauntroy plans to stay busy. He said he will be working on the United Nations€ Millennium goal of eliminating extreme poverty in the world by 2025.