For 31 years, Clark has preached love

Published 1:55 am Wednesday, July 20, 2016

Liberty Congregational Church is not a big church. In fact, it is one of the many small, rural churches you find in the south. It is located down a road that winds past farmland and old family homes.

My father-in-law and my late mother-in-law called this church home. In fact, several of my husband’s family members lie in its cemetery where the graves date back to the 1800s.

It’s the church my husband, daughter and I attend when we go to church. We go with my father-in-law and sit on the left side of the sanctuary near the back.

The congregation is not large and we usually see the same faces sitting in their same favorite spots. These are folks who are long-time friends and relatives and have a history with this church.

For 31 years, the same preacher stepped to the pulpit on Sunday to share a message with this congregation. His wife, whom he married not long after becoming its pastor, is the church pianist and teaches a Sunday School class prior to morning worship.

To say this couple is dedicated to Liberty Church doesn’t begin to describe what they give. When a member has a need, suffers a loss, has a reason for celebration, they are there ready to offer themselves in service.

So, when the preacher decided it was time for him to retire, the members felt like they were losing family members as well as their church leader. That sense of sadness filled the small sanctuary Sunday as they sang hymns and prepared to hear his final message.

You could see that this was not an easy sermon for the preacher to deliver, and that a lot of thought went into what he wanted to say. And what did he say? What words did he choose to express his feelings about leaving while at the same time offering a positive message in the midst of what was a sad time for a congregation? What was the theme?

Love. He chose to talk about love. He said the first and most important thing, the greatest commandment, is that we love each other, even those who seem very different from us.

Then he talked about hospitality, which he said was an offshoot of love. For me another word for what he described is kindness. He spoke of the importance of having something that anchors us and about the value of learning restraint and about how we should serve each other. It was, as was every sermon I heard him speak, positive and uplifting.

In fact, over the years this preacher talked about love and kindness almost every time I heard him. I always left the service feeling more positive, feeling that the God he talked about loved us all.

Of course, I have a personal connection to the preacher and to his wife. This is the man who married my husband and me almost 30 years ago, and my friendship with his wife goes back to high school.

I’ve had the pleasure of knowing these good people and, like the members of their church, I feel blessed by that experience. The lives they touched are many and they will never know how much they mean to a lot of people.

Church members pooled their resources and presented the couple with a farewell gift. The song leader struggled announcing at the close of the last song, “Sorry, I’m a crier,” as she brushed away tears and took her seat.

The sermon ended on a positive note. There were many hugs and well wishes, and some tears.

When the doors open at Liberty Church next Sunday, it will seem strange that Brother Woody Clark is not standing behind the pulpit and his wife, Wanda, isn’t at the piano.

True, they won’t be there in person, but the love this minister and his wife gave the church for 31 years will always live inside its walls and in the hearts of a congregation that loves them.


Nancy Blackmon is a former newspaper editor and a yoga teacher.