Alonzo Patterson marks 45 years preaching at Shiloh Missionary Baptist

It’s extremely unusual to read a headline like that these days.

Baptist church consultant Thom Rainer writes in “Breakout Churches” that the average tenure of pastors is 3.6 years. Church statistician George Barna offered a similar figure: “The average tenure of a pastor in Protestant churches has declined to just 4 years — even though studies consistently show that pastors experience their most productive and influential ministry in years 5 through 14 of their pastorate.”

Last Sunday afternoon, Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church celebrated the Rev. Dr. Alonzo Patterson’s 45th anniversary as the congregation’s pastor. (According to Shiloh, Patterson has been a pastor for 66 years). I counted over 10 additional visiting pastors present to offer their thanks and tributes to Pastor Patterson for his long-standing service to Christianity and our community, giving heartfelt tributes to his leadership. In a two and a half hour celebration I was treated to music, tributes, prayers, and hospitality I never receive, much less see, in Anchorage churches. If you’ve never visited Shiloh, I urge that you visit them to see how they exemplify the traits of churches and members I’ve sought in over seven years of blogging and column-writing for ADN. I lost track of the hospitable actions by Shiloh’s members during my time there.

Sunday’s celebration was interspersed with much music. Shiloh’s Voices of Praise was peopled by a colorfully dressed chorus primarily of women, assisted by a few male voices dressed in black. Led by Robert Heartwell, they were accompanied by a six-piece sanctuary praise band. I particularly liked the message of the stunning and heartfelt “Break Every Chain”: “There is power in the name of Jesus, to break every chain, break every chain, break every chain.” Also “God is My Everything”: “God is — God is my everything, He’s my joy — He’s my joy in sorrow, He’s my hope — He’s my hope for tomorrow, He’s my rock — He’s my rock in a weary land, a shelter — a shelter in the time of storm.”

During a beautiful Al Green song, “I Feel Like Going On,” a male voice started singing the lead and fairly quickly people noticed that Pastor Patterson, sitting on the front row with his wife, was singing the lead using a handheld microphone. “I feel like going on, yes, I do; I said, I, I feel like going on, ohh; Ohh, I, I feel like shouting for joy; I don’t know about you; Ohh, I, I feel like shouting for joy, yes I do.” The effect was electric, galvanizing those assembled. Clearly it was a theme song for Patterson’s continuing ministry. The children’s choir sang a riveting, “His Eye is on the Sparrow,” a staple of Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Ethel Waters, and Mahalia Jackson. It was beautiful. Finally, a beautiful rendition of the Donnie McClurkin, Yolanda Adams tune “The Prayer,” was sung by the Rev. Michael Bunton and his wife Nathalie.

Julie Fate Sullivan, and Constituent Relations staffer Sharon Jackson read a letter from Sen. Dan Sullivan to Pastor Patterson. In it, referring to the South Carolina shootings, the senator wrote, “On June 26th, I had the solemn honor of traveling to Charleston, South Carolina to attend the funeral service for the Honorable Reverend and state Senator Clementa Pinckney, which also honored the eight other victims of the heinous acts of violence at Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME). I want to thank you, along with Pastor Leon May and leaders of the Anchorage Interdenominational Ministerial Alliance, for setting your time aside to write such a beautiful note sharing your wisdom and prayers with the people of Charleston and the parishioners of Mother Emanuel Church. Prior to the service, I delivered your letter to my friend and U.S. Senate colleague, Tim Scott of South Carolina. He was very moved by all of the expressions of sympathy and wanted me to thank you for him.” (You can read the full text of letter at churchvisits.com)

The Rev. D. Edward Chaney, pastor of Second Baptist Church-Las Vegas, was the featured speaker. After he was introduced, he entered the pulpit to an updated version of the Doris Akers song, “Lead Me, Guide Me.” He sang the lead with a powerful voice. It was a great beginning to a exceptional sermon on Matthew 16:13: “Who do you say I am?” In it he examined who we think Jesus is, and how He affects our lives. I wish I could share a recording of his sermon, but it’s not available. Pastor Patterson clearly loves to preach, and seems to enjoy hearing great preaching too, as he was animated during Chaney’s sermon. Sitting up, he leaned forward to catch every word, raising his hands and pointing in agreement. Chaney’s preaching reminded me of the Revs. Clay Evans and James Cleveland, whose preaching was half talking, half singing. Chaney ended his sermon to the strains of “Send Me,” a Lecrae tune.

Before all adjourned to the fellowship hall for food and drink, Pastor Patterson took time to recognize, by name, the people of Shiloh, a beautiful gesture. He also recognized Dick Sanchez of the Arctic Roadrunner who early on offered Pastor Patterson assistance, monetary and otherwise, to address community problems. Asked to stand, Dick struggled for words to describe what Shiloh and Patterson meant to him. Patterson asked his wife of almost 60 years, Shirley, to say a few words, asking her to keep it brief. She said “thank you” to applause.

Many speakers expressed hopes Patterson would continue on for years. I applaud Patterson and Shiloh for doing so much in our community. This celebration was wonderful, and I was fortunate to participate. (Selected celebration pictures at churchvisits.com)

Shiloh, a member of the American Baptist Churches, and National Baptist Churches has created important outreaches in Shiloh Community Housing, and Shiloh Community Development. Shiloh telecasts Sunday morning services — a traditional one at 8 a.m. and a contemporary one at 11 a.m. — live.

Chris Thompson is a religion scholar who visits local churches and writes about his experiences and matters of faith on his blog, Church Visits.

The views expressed here are the writer’s own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, emailcommentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.

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