With more than 200 admirers and supporters looking on, four Rutherford County pastors were honored Tuesday for their community service work during the 17th annual Unity Luncheon at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro.
The honorees at this year’s luncheon were:
• Rev. Freddie B. Carpenter, the sixth pastor of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Walter Hill, where he has led the congregation since 1988.
• Elder Franklin Hollie, the pastor and founder New Hope Church of God in Christ in Murfreesboro, which was established in 1989.
• Rev. Tolbert Randolph, a Murfreesboro native, who has pastored Providence Missionary Baptist Church in Murfreesboro for 35 years.
• Rev. Richard Sibert, who has served as pastor of the Walnut Grove Missionary Baptist Church in Murfreesboro for 38 years.
Vincent Windrow, director of the Office of Intercultural and Diversity Affairs, said these “unsung heroes” were lauded not only for their commitment to their respective flocks but also for the impact they have had on the many MTSU students who attend their churches — whether they are local students with deep roots in the congregations or students away from home who need spiritual guidance and support as they pursue their degrees.
“There were some more people who we could have celebrated, but these were the four who were chosen,” Windrow said, “not just because they contributed, but because they contributed under the radar, and it goes unheralded for the most part.”
The honorees said they were moved by the recognition.
“It really makes you feel great and humble for the recognition you have received,” Sibert said. “Sometimes, you don’t think people really appreciate what you do, but this is a great testimony to the fact that they do appreciate what we do in the community as pastors and leaders. ... It’s a great honor.”
Forrest E. Harris, president of American Baptist College in Nashville, gave a rousing keynote address focusing on the purpose of education — at times drawing a variety of affirmations from event attendees as he harkened to Martin Luther King Jr.’s reference to people of all races being woven into a “single garment of destiny.”
“That single garment of destiny places us in a profound interrelatedness,” Harris said. “What directly affects one indirectly affects all.”
Harris challenged the audience to look beyond themselves to make sure those around them have an opportunity to develop their minds for the greater good.
“I am convinced, after nearly 40 years as a public educator, a theological educator, that the life of a mind to develop its intellect and capacity for good, is the most treasured gift with which each of us is endowed,” Harris said. “It is our human and moral obligation to make sure that no mind goes to waste. The one thing that is common to our humanity is being created with the capacity to think, to learn and grow as human beings.”
That growth doesn’t occur in a vacuum, he noted, but within a broader human community that thrives best when unity toward a worthy goal such as the civil rights movement prevails. He cautioned that a truly good education goes well beyond developing a strong intellect.
“Adolf Hitler was a genius, but he used his intellect to organize evil,” Harris said.
Whereas, other human rights crusaders such as King, Ghandi and Jesus Christ showed how “a good mind and a good heart” could be forged “to create a deep sense of justice.”
“I want education to teach brothers and sisters how to treat each other,” he said.
Gloria Bonner welcomed attendees to MTSU on behalf of President Sidney A. McPhee.
“We’re here to honor four extraordinary spiritual leaders of our very own,” said Bonner, who leads the Office for Community Engagement and Support as an assistant to the president. “Their commitment to the local community is commendable, and we salute each of them for their very deserving recognition. Thank you, pastors, for showing us what exceptional service really is.”
Before Harris spoke, the audience recited the "True Blue" pledge led by Caroline Bizot, assistant director of multicultural recruitment and retention.
The luncheon concluded with a special audio and visual presentation of “Lift Every Voice and Sing” featuring a slideshow of King throughout the civil rights movement.
The luncheon was part of the university’s Black History Month events.