Originally created 05/31/97

Making faith public



Her teaching career started at age 9 with an impromptu class the morning her Sunday school teacher failed to show up.

"I just grabbed the book (the Bible). I didn't want the children to get out of order," said Kingsley Riley, District 9 at-large representative on the Richmond County Board of Education.

Today she's just as likely to step forward at board meetings with a prayer seeking guidance as she is to teach Bible study to seniors in her home. To her, politics is a mission she was called to by God.

Other local elected officials, including Aiken Mayor Fred Cavanaugh; Pat Carpenter, council member-at-large for the City of North Augusta; and Mary Oglesby, District 8 representative on the Richmond County school board, may or may not call politics a mission.

Nor do they necessarily share the same political positions, but the place faith holds in their lives and their devotion to Sunday school and Bible teaching match Ms. Riley's.

"I enjoy teaching the Bible study so much because it speaks to me," said Ms. Riley, a member of Williams Memorial C.M.E. Church. "It reminds me that this is still my Father's word. It always seems ironic to me that they say you can't teach the Bible, you can't pray in schools. I say, America will have to be America again."

Someone once told her that people can pray in schools, they just can't have serious prayer.

"They can't have serious prayer? Well, when the president of this country went on national TV and asked the American people to pray for the troops in Saudi Arabia, was he asking for serious prayer?"

When witnesses testify in court, she said, they put their hands on a Bible and swear to tell the truth. "We pledge allegiance to a flag, and acknowledge a God - one nation under God. Who are we talking about?"

When people are talking about Jesus, they are, first of all, talking about believing, then loving, trusting and obeying, she said.

A story about the two preachers who were talking came to mind. When one preacher left, the other said to his little boy, "He's a pastor; he's a good preacher. Oh, I just love him - he's full of Jesus!"

The little child looked up and said, "Daddy, you say he's full of Jesus?"

"Yeah!"

"Well, that man's not so big, Daddy. If Jesus is in him, he ought to be sticking out somewhere."

Pete Brodie, chairman of the Columbia County Board of Commissioners, teaches Sunday school every fifth week at Aldersgate United Methodist Church. A couple of Bible study courses got him hooked on biblical research about the same time he became chairman in 1993. "Teaching allows me to go back and do research," he said.

His faith has helped him serve as chairman with a greater sense of integrity, he said.

"Being committed as a Christian and to my church has made me more aware of my obligations to serve in an ethical way."

He is in a class of political figures, including Bill Kulke, Augusta-Richmond County councilman and class president; Don Grantham, a former Augusta councilman; and Edgar Clary III, a former mayor of Harlem.

Aiken Mayor Cavanaugh and his wife, Lee, teach the 4-year-old class at Aiken Grace Brethren Church. After teaching older classes for years, they needed something that would mesh more smoothly with the time demands of elected office, he said.

"It is hard to believe that anyone would try and do it (hold elected office) without the knowledge and guidance of God. I am so thankful that I have him in my life," said Mayor Cavanaugh.

He prays that the council members and staff will work together as a team and make the right decisions. "I really try to listen to all sides of the story and get other input to put with my thoughts before I make a decision," he said.

Ms. Carpenter always prays before council meetings, just as she prays about every decision she faces.

"I use my faith. Prayer is a very big thing in my life," said Ms. Carpenter, a scrub tech and certified medical assistant who teaches seventh-grade girls at First Baptist Church of North Augusta. She has taught Sunday school there for 29 years; it has been her church since she was 6 months old.

"I try to teach young people to be committed to what they do, to put forth their best efforts. It doesn't matter if their job is large or small. What is important is that they do their best. I think that is what the Bible teaches us."

She also emphasizes the biblical ideals of compassion and love for others, as well as putting others first.

Ms. Oglesby, now serving her second term on the school board, is a substitute teacher of young adults at Hillcrest Baptist Church. Classes range from eighth grade to young marrieds.

"When people think about politicians and religion, sometimes they get the wrong idea. Just because I am a Sunday school teacher, it does not mean I am perfect. We are human beings just like everybody else and we make mistakes," she said.

"What I hope people remember me for is fairness and compassion. Other things - they're not important."