Originally created 08/28/99

Inspiring lifetime

Alvin Oakley knew after his third visit that Macedonia Baptist Church was home.

The young minister, pastor of Corinth Baptist Church in the McBean Community, joined the Wrightsboro Road congregation four years ago and became a "son of the house" -- a minister who is a member of another church.

Macedonia's pastor, the Rev. J.S. Wright, has been a mentor to him, he said.

The Rev. Wright, who at 83 is thought to be the oldest full-time minister in the Augusta area, has been a pastor's pastor to many area clergy. Sunday, he will end his 34-year career at the church he has seen grow from 350 to 900 members.

Good Hope Baptist Church will honor him with a musical at 6 tonight and Dr. George Weaver, an evangelist from Atlanta, will be the featured speaker at an appreciation program at Macedonia at 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

The Rev. Wright misses few Sundays preaching and retirement won't change that. "I won't stop preaching. Sometimes (it will be) at Macedonia and (sometimes at) other churches," said the Rev. Wright, who waited until "the Lord told" him to retire. Dr. Gregory Fuller, associate pastor, will succeed him.

The Rev. Wright's style is to stick to "the straight gospel, he doesn't tell stories," said Miller Ashley, a member of Macedonia for 65 years.

People value the Rev. Wright's advice, Mr. Ashley said. "Whether (his advice) is accepted or not, he tells them what he thinks the right thing to do is."

The Rev. Wright inspired Mr. Ashley to tithe shortly after coming to Augusta in 1965, a practice he has continued for 34 years. "He always said it's not a lack of ability -- just have faith," said Mr. Ashley.

The Rev. Wright was one of 21 children born to sharecropper James Wright and his wife, Carrie (Hutto) Wright, in Bamberg County, S.C. The family raised cotton, corn, cattle, hogs and chickens on about 30 acres.

Between the boll weevils and having to pay the landowners, there wasn't much to go around some years.

When he was a boy, the Rev. Wright would scrap cotton behind the pickers to get what he could for Christmas money. He left Bamberg in 1939 because of the financial strain on his family and worked his way through Scofield High School in Aiken, helping out in the kitchen.

He was ordained in 1942, studied at Howard University in Washington, D.C., and was a 1957 graduate of Benedict College in Columbia. He served several churches as a pastor before coming to Macedonia on Aug. 22, 1965.

The Rev. Wright is not afraid to preach the Bible literally, said Thelma Williams, a Macedonia member. She met the Rev. Wright and his wife, Sarah, when they visited Sunday school at Macedonia before he accepted the pastorate. "The thing that impressed me was he was concerned about a person's soul, the spiritual side," she said.

His preaching has gotten stronger over the years, said the Rev. Lessel Leonard, pastor of Green Grove Baptist Church and another "son of the house." The Rev. Wright brought the message to both morning services at the Wrightsboro Road church for years.

The Rev. Leonard met the man he calls "my friend, my counselor, my pastor" in 1971. "I knew I was going to be here for awhile and I needed a church I could call home. Macedonia was the ideal place," he said. The two ministers talk every week.

Once, the Rev. Leonard was stranded at night in Milledgeville, Ga. The Rev. Wright, along with his son, Sam, and son-in-law, Dr. J.R. Hatney, pastor of Good Hope Baptist Church, drove two hours to pick him up, said the Rev. Leonard. "I am one among many he has helped."

Dr. Hatney said his father-in-law, who ordained him in 1980, believes the basic tenets of the Bible and practices what he preaches. He also has "a listening ear," he said.

The Rev. Wright sat on several boards, including the Advisory Council of the Richmond County Board of Education, Richmond County Human Relations Committee and the board of directors of Gracewood State School and Hospital.

He has also served several organizations, including the Baptist Ministers Conference as president, the Avera, Ga.-based Walker Baptist Association as moderator and the State Congress of Christian Education, General Missionary Baptist Convention, as treasurer.

The Macedonia congregation moved from Gwinnett Street in 1988 to the Wrightsboro Road location. Macedonia has since purchased five lots adjacent to the church to expand parking and to serve seniors and youth ministries.

The Wrights will do some sightseeing and attend the National Baptist Convention USA in Tampa, Fla., after retirement. A major piece of business before the convention will be the election of a new leader. The Rev. Henry Lyons presided over the organization until he resigned this year after being convicted of swindling $4 million.

The Rev. Wright said he believes "things will work out harmoniously." Although the Rev. Lyons was mislead, the Rev. Wright credited him for giving "the convention a good program."

Retirement event

What: Musical honoring the Rev. J.S. Wright

Where: Good Hope Baptist Church, 710 E. Cedar St.

When: 6 tonight

Appreciation program

Where: Macedonia Baptist Church, 1828 Wrightsboro Road

When: 2:30 p.m. Sunday.

Virginia Norton covers religion for The Augusta Chronicle. She can be reached at (706) 823-3336 or vanorton@augustachronicle.com.


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