College of Arts and Sciences News
*Story originally featured on http://gotriad.news-record.com
GREENSBORO — They’re pillars of the community.
But the four local ministers who entered N.C. A&T’s Paul Robeson Theatre haven’t always been strong. Or certain. Or even good.
That’s why they came — to let students see something about themselves their own parishioners might not realize.
They’re human, too.
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That’s the focus of a new play at A&T.
In “The Right Reverend Dupree in Exile,” which runs today through Sunday, a minister finds himself — and his belief in God — at odds after being diagnosed with a life-ending disease.
A minister with faith issues. That’s not exactly part of the job description.
Spiritual leaders are expected to exude confidence, not doubt. Strength, not weakness.
“They are on a pedestal,” says A&T junior Tyler Madden, 25, who plays the Rev. Dupree. “But they have issues. They are human.”
It’s a subject rarely dealt with onstage.
Even rarer: Real ministers willing to admit their problems.
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Preachers and the play’s performers gathered in a circle.
The room fell silent.
Each minister shared their story.
One questioned her faith after she lost her husband. Another after he lost his job.
And there was one who lost his way. His name was Tyrone Rigsby.
A towering man who laughs heartily and often, the spiritual leader of Mt. Olivet AME Zion Church in Greensboro, leaned forward in his chair.
“Sometimes, people see you in the pulpit and think you’ve got it going on,” explains Rigsby, 50. “Pastors have struggles, too.”
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Wilmington. Years ago.
Rigsby lived in the projects, one of five kids who shared a three-bedroom place.
Dad was long gone. Mom worked two jobs to hold things together.
And her word was law. You disobeyed, you got whipped.
That was one constant.
God was the other. Church on Sundays, Bible study on Wednesdays.
The Corner, where drugs were dealt and lives lost, was a temptation that lay literally just beyond the front door.
At 16, he discovered another one: The call from God. But he wouldn’t answer it.
“There’s no way at 16 I wanted to go to church and preach. I wasn’t ready to let that part of my life go.”
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He’s 21 now. A Marine stationed in Jacksonville .
It’s Friday night and Rigsby is looking for fun.
So he went to Court Street where the prostitutes walk.
“I want you to come with me and try something,” one said to him.
Rigsby has never seen this drug before, but he’s not scared.
“She got a bottle, put water in it ... and put this little white substance in. When I began to smoke it, it was a fast rush. I didn’t know what was getting ready to transpire. I just knew that I liked it.”
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It’s a feeling he’ll devote much of his life trying to recapture.
It was crack cocaine.
He stayed up all night getting high. Spent about $300 doing it.
Little did Rigsby know then that he’d already become an addict.
In the weeks after, it never occurred to him that he was blowing every paycheck.
Or that he was letting his life go.
Or that he’d be willing to do anything for more drugs.
“One night, there were four of us. We went to a hotel. The other three went to this room and robbed four Marines. We did it because we didn’t have any more money to get high.”
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Rigsby went to jail because of that.
A judge handed him 15 years, and it only was then that he started to realize what his life had become.
He flashed back to that night on Court Street — the first time he smoked crack.
He had no idea what it was then. Or its power. A power that couldn’t be blunted by time, distance or prison walls.
That’s why in 1987, when Rigsby got released after serving three years, he felt compelled to return to what he knew.
“When you’re smoking crack, you’re not thinking about no bills. You’re not thinking about God. You’re not thinking about nothing but getting some rock.
“You’re trying to get the first high you got before — that you can never get again.”
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Three years later. A low point.
Rigsby has been sitting on a bench all night getting high when someone passes by.
He recognizes her — an old crack buddy.
She tells Rigsby that she got clean.
That makes him think about himself.
So as the sun rose, he walks into his mom’s kitchen and makes the first step of many: He tells her that he is an addict.
“I broke down.”
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Rigsby left Wilmington for a treatment center in Greenville .
It took 22 days for him to feel like the person he used to be. Before Court Street.
That started him on the road to recovery.
A three-month stay at a halfway house in High Point, he continued the journey.
But he wasn’t alone. Addiction still was with him.
“There was one morning in my room the cravings hit me so hard, I fell down to my knees. I said, 'God, I can’t promise you anything, but if you help me, I’d do my best to try and not get high.’
“That’s when I felt the pressure lift off of me.”
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At first, he still wanted crack.
Then day by day, the drug’s hold over him weakened.
His life began to come back together a piece at a time. Sobriety. Marriage. Education.
But one piece still was missing.
“I’m going to answer the call I should have a long time ago.”
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In “The Right Reverend Dupree in Exile,” the minister leaves the pulpit and goes into seclusion while he deals with his faith issues.
By the play’s end, it’s open to interpretation whether he plans to return to his congregation and share what was in his heart.
Rigsby, who has been a minister for 13 years and clean for 16, admits he initially was “cautious” about laying his life bare on Sundays.
But not anymore.
“My people know my story. It’s important for them to know,” he says. “I saw it as an opportunity to give people hope.”
With addiction, you can never escape it. Never truly beat it.
When you’ve been hooked once, that need can stay tethered to you through the years no matter where you go.
Even if it’s the pulpit.
“They want to put us on a pedestal — they shouldn’t,” Rigsby says. “I’m subject to fall at anytime. This thing is still on me.
“Every pastor has some sort of struggle going on. They just don’t want to admit it.”
Contact Mike Kernels at 373-7120 or mike.kernels @news-record.com
Read about the struggles of three other local ministers in their own words.
Rev. Hattie L. Howell
The words are as vivid in my mind as if it were yesterday and yet, it’s been over two years.
On Aug. 6, 2010, the doctor came into the emergency waiting room and said to me, “I have grave news” — the words keep ringing in my soul — “I have grave news. His heart just stopped!”
The moment for me was surreal.
At first, I thought I was going to pass out. But that didn’t happen.
And then I thought maybe this was a dream, and soon, I’m going to wake up.
This doctor cannot be telling me that my husband’s heart just stopped.
But he did, and this was real.
My husband, James, died in the emergency room of Moses Cone Hospital four days after having routine orthopedic surgery on his neck.
As I reflect on that moment and the months following his death, I can only say that my experience was one of feeling hollow. I had no feelings, and for a time, no faith.
This hollow feeling was in me for the first year after his death.
I kept asking myself: How does a minister walk around hollow?
I felt like a robot, smiling at the right time, walking and talking appropriately, but not really caring about anything, and for a short while, anybody.
What happened to this faith that I preach about?
What happened to the comforting words that I have given to other people on numerous occasions?
I questioned my faith. I questioned my calling.
I asked myself how could I continue to give hope to others when my hope had died?
All I felt like doing was moving back to New York to be close to my family and longtime friends.
You see, ours was a love story.
James and I met late in life and had retired from our respective professions.
I was 59 and he was 58 when we married five years earlier.
We felt that God had ordained our marriage to show the world that meeting and marrying one’s soul mate does not just happen for the young.
We had each other’s backs and had decided that this was going to last until we were at least 100.
But it would only last five years.
During the past two years, I’ve grown to understand the term “wounded healer.”
I am a Christian minister called to preach and teach the gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m called to minister the social, spiritual and physical development of all people.
That is my mandate and no matter what suffering I must encounter, whether it be the death of a loved one, illness or whatever else painful life offers, my faith tells me: “If I keep my mind on Christ, he’ll keep me in perfect peace (Isaiah 26:3).”
My faith also tells me: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me (Philippians 4:13).”
As wounded healers, we are people who experience life just the same as others.
We, too, experience moments of faithlessness.
We are hurting, yet because of God’s grace and mercy, are still able to help others.
I know without a doubt that death is a part of life, and I am now at peace with it.
I know without a doubt that I can console and counsel hurting people to give them hope.
The hollowness is gone, and I again feel complete.
I now know I’m in Greensboro for the long haul because James and I seeded our lives here and roots are formed.
To God be the glory!
Pastor Sam Houston: Ministry Over Tribulations
After growing up in a family filled with pastors and preachers, God called me into the ministry in spring 2005.
I had to make some adjustments, for I was not just called to be a minister — I was called to be the assistant to the senior pastor, Vince Hairston at Calvary Christian Center.
As the assistant to the pastor, I received a housing allowance while maintaining a full-time job.
In January 2009, my wife was displaced from her job.
Six weeks later, I was displaced from my full-time job.
In the blink of an eye, we went from making a strong six-figure salary to making less than half the income.
Both of us being displaced was bad, but it got worse.
Like so many other Americans who were hit hard in the recession, I was not able to land another full-time job.
I went on several interviews and was a finalist only to be rejected in the end.
During this time of distress and feeling like I was worthless, I preached several times for our senior pastor and God showed up in a mighty way.
On multiple occasions, the altar call was so full that we had two rows of people stretched from one side to the other.
Numerous people told me that God had touched them through my sermons and that they had gleaned new and positive perspectives in their struggles.
While the people who heard my sermons were being encouraged on Sunday, on Monday, I was questioning God.
I spent many days asking how God could use me to help set others free from their hurt and pain but not set me free from unemployment and the stress of not being able to provide for my family.
I hit a new low and could not see the value in my life.
This is when I gained a new appreciation for God’s sense of humor. I finally realized that even though I had not found full-time employment,
God had still been taking care of my family and me.
One day God reminded me that even though my wife and I were making far less than we had been making in recent times, he was still taking care of us.
We never missed any bills or mortgage payments, our cars were paid off, and we had significantly less debt and more money in the bank.
In the end, God taught us that as long as we stay faithful to him, he will take care of us, even if it is by a method that is not familiar to us.
God also taught me, that we are most effective in ministry when we are going through or have gone through pain ourselves.
Flowers love sunshine, but they can’t grow without rain.
Diane Givens Moffett: “My Story”
God has a sense of humor.
I would have never dreamed I would end up being a pastor.
I didn’t necessarily like female pastors. They were on the weird side for me, so holy that they didn’t seem to do much earthly good.
They were not as balanced and down to earth as I thought people of faith should be.
And certainly they were kicking against the goads since most people believed that being a pastor was a man’s calling.
Me, I was artsy. I liked to sing, dance and act, not only in the sanctuary, but in the ordinary of life.
I liked fashion, high-heeled shoes and dresses that didn’t have to go down to your ankles.
I was certainly not the typical picture of a pastor.
And yet, I could not deny God’s call on my life.
I was born in Oakland, Calif., on May 22, 1959, the third of four children.
I have two older sisters and one older brother.
We always attended the local Presbyterian church, even though we were one of few African American families that belonged to the congregation.
That didn’t matter to my parents who simply wanted to be a part of the congregation in their community.
I learned to appreciate the Reformed Faith of which the Presbyterian Church is a part.
I loved the intellectual curiosity brought to scripture and the emphasis on studying the Word to properly interpret it.
But there was something missing in the worship style for me — it was too quiet and void of emotional expression.
That “something missing” was made up in the summer time for me when I would spend time with my maternal grandparents in Berkeley.
Granddaddy was an Associate Pastor at the All Nations Church of Christ Holiness. Grandmother was my spiritual mentor.
I loved the worship services. The people were alive and expressive.
It is from this experience that I became steeped in the more traditional African American church, where there is a call and response between preacher and parishioner, and where expressions of emotions are welcomed.
I was able to blend head and heart and by the time I was 16, I had a vibrant relationship with Jesus Christ.
I would spend time fasting, praying and studying the Word. I loved the things of God.
God’s presence and power captivated me.
I witnessed the difference God made in the lives of people who trusted the Lord.
I saw people’s lives transformed and physical healing happen that could only be attributed to the Holy.
I loved Jesus Christ.
I loved people.
I loved church.
I loved life.
I met my husband, Mondre, a professional musician, when I was 16 and playing the role of Charity in the musical “Sweet Charity” at the Oakland Ensemble Theatre.
We married when I was 19.
I went through the University of California, Berkeley in the four years allotted most students and had two baby girls, literally before and after finals — Eustacia Natalie, now a Presbyterian pastor, and Jessica Diane, an elementary school teacher.
Eleven years later, Kayla Vivian, who is now a student at N.C. A&T, would grace our lives.
Our family was active in the local Presbyterian Church where we lived.
I was using all of my artsy stuff in ministry as a lay person and enjoying serving the church.
When the longstanding pastor left, a woman by the name of Ophelia Manney became the interim pastor.
Rev. Manney, along with others, helped me to discern God’s call on my life. I could not deny it.
My husband, Mondre, also encouraged me to accept what God was doing in my life.
I entered San Francisco Seminary in San Anselmo, Calif., in 1983, and before I could graduate, was offered a position as the student pastor at the Elmhurst Presbyterian Church in Oakland.
When I completed seminary, I was ordained and called as the first woman pastor of this small congregation on Nov. 8, 1987.
I have been in ministry for 25 years.
In addition to serving as pastor for the Elmhurst Presbyterian Church, I have served as associate pastor for the Elmwood United Presbyterian Church in East Orange, N.J., for almost 10 years.
In 2005, I became the pastor of Saint James Presbyterian Church in Greensboro.
I wouldn’t take anything for my journey now!
I have been the first woman to serve as pastor at each church I served.
God has done marvelous things in the places where I have labored, and I am grateful to be an instrument.
But this journey has not been without pain.
When I first accepted my call to ministry, I thought people would be excited, but what I learned was this: You must be ready to experience rejection.
In the Presbyterian Church (USA) the congregation calls its pastor, so most of my parishioners were open to me.
People who knew my gifts and were familiar with me, celebrated what God was doing in my life.
As I moved throughout the community and nation, depending on the situation, I could be treated strangely. I faced comments such as, “I never seen a pastor that looked like that.”
I didn’t fit the traditional stereotype — conservative dress, no makeup, low heels.
There were times, for example, when I took the lead in organizing Korean and African American pastors of Oakland to unite our communities during the Rodney King riots.
This eventually led to a trip to South Korea of about 12 pastors — two of us were women.
During the trip, there were times we were not invited to share the pulpit like others from our delegation — simply because we were women.
Especially during the beginning of my ministry, some of my male colleagues would affirm my ministry in private, but in community meetings when we were organizing an important event, and the subject of whether or not a woman should preach from the pulpit or on the floor would come up, they would remain silent.
Although most women were affirming of my ministry, some of the strongest agitators were women. These women seemingly wanted to compete with me for power and status in the church.
They had a hard time understanding that my role was unique — I was the pastor.
Although rejection is painful, it has made me better in terms of ministry.
I learned the importance of being delivered from public opinion.
I am accountable to God first.
Rejection has also helped me to strive for excellence in what I do.
I find that your gifts will make room for you and when you produce — make disciples and build up the church — it has a way of quieting the opposition.
Rejection has made me more sensitive as well.
I am careful to receive “whosoever” will come to Christ in our midst because I know what it feels like to be a misfit.
Rejection also serves to rejuvenate me in that it keeps me close to Christ and on bended knee.
I remember that Jesus was also rejected. He didn’t fit the expectations of the Messiah.
But his works still speak for him.
Through these years, I have learned that with God nothing is impossible.
I am excited about the future. I celebrate God’s call to more and more women in pastoral ministry, and I look forward to serving in the pastorate for years to come.
-- As told to Mike Kernels, firstname.lastname@example.org
-- Photos by Jerry Wolford, email@example.com