Yesterday's News

Worthy patriarch: Despite his protests, Rev. Allen was both an institution, inspiration

By FRANK BOYETT, The Gleaner
August 21, 2005

The Rev. Lyman Smith Allen Sr. has been dead 16 years but I feel his presence still.

I'm sure many of you know what I mean. Allen was pastor at Immanuel Baptist Temple for more than 33 years -- from February 1946 through August 1980 -- and during that time he baptized 1,362 sinners, joined 1,150 couples in holy wedlock, and preached 1,397 funerals.

The Rev. Allen's life has probably touched yours in some way, if you've been in Henderson for any length of time. I never knew the man, but when I attended IBT in the late 1980s I noticed there this mythic quality attached to his name. And that was more than eight years after he had left the pulpit there.

It would be easy to write this column simply listing his accomplishments, but that doesn't do the man justice. Yes, it's an indication of the love and respect the community had for him to say that he was the Chamber of Commerce's distinguished citizen of the year in 1977. "He is a man whose words, acts and life have served as an inspiration to thousands," Ron Sheffer said in presenting that award.

And it speaks highly of his leadership to note that during his pastorate IBT birthed three offspring churches: Lawndale Baptist, Watson Lane Baptist and Earl Street Baptist.

But those are the outer aspects of the man. "By their fruits ye shall know them," Matthew's Gospel says, and the fruits of the Rev. Allen's life were wholesome and nourishing. But I would like to give you a more intimate look at the man, using the writings of his granddaughter, Jada Crafton Duffy, and my colleague, Judy Jenkins.

Jada was only 15 years old when she wrote the following story, four years after her grandfather's death from cancer. She told how every Christmas the family would gather to hear the patriarch read the Christmas story "from that massive, battered, black Bible, worn from his undying faithfulness to its message. The room smelled of leather and coffee. No child was ever so attentive, no adult so proud, no memory so touching as the reading of that story.

"It was in the presentation; it was in the way he read it by heart; it was in the way he could make us feel and believe for that moment that we were watching the birth of the Baby, that we could hold Him, and smell Him. Each year in the living room, quaint, dimly lit and crowded with family, I lived Christmas and felt my soul expand."

I wish I could write as well as that 15-year-old. God must have been guiding her hand.

I think God also was with the Rev. Allen when he got up every morning at 6 a.m. to go to Methodist Hospital and visit the sick. It was something he did even after he officially retired 25 years ago.

Judy Jenkins interviewed him as he was packing up his office at IBT in 1980, at which time he denied being either an institution or an inspiration.

"I'm not a candidate for sainthood," the third-generation Baptist minister told her. "I'm just a Christian who believes that my faith is not a passport around troubles or pains, and that I have no monopoly on the grace and love of God."

In another tidbit of wisdom, he related, "The Christian religion is not a matter of 'going somewhere.' It's a matter of BEING something." Amen.

I'd like to close this piece about the Rev. Allen with part of a prayer that he gave in the presence of Lady Bird Johnson, and which she later requested a copy of. It bears repeating. Often.

"Bless us with higher standing ground. Bless us with clear eyes. Bless us with a far view.

"Grant us to know the difference between being smart and being wise -- a wisdom to discuss the needs of our day.

"Grant us perception -- the power to see beyond the apparent.

"Grant us understanding -- the desire to understand those who may not dress as we do, think as we do, live on the other side of the world, and those who live across the street or around the corner.

"Grant to us the courage to stand up to life and to come to grips with it.

"Grant us forgiveness -- forgiveness where we have destroyed confidence and self respect among others. Forgiveness, where by cruel words or condescending airs we have hurt others. Forgiveness, for having only facades of goodness."

Like I said earlier, I never knew the man. But I know his works -- and they belie a mere facade of goodness.

140 years ago

A circus that visited Henderson in 1865 was "a great humbug," the Henderson Reporter said, because it failed to live up to its advertisements.

"The great 'Mastodon Combination Circus and Menagerie' didn't exactly come up to the representations on the bills. The elephant Hannibal, whose name appeared in big letters on the posters, was not here, perhaps because he died some time ago. Neither was there any other elephants to be seen."

75 years ago

Henderson native Sam M. Levy was appointed advertising director for newspapers in Greensboro, S.C., The Gleaner noted in 1930. He previously had been employed by H.K. McCann Co. in New York City, and prior to that had worked at the Louisville Courier-Journal.

Levy, by the way, is the fellow who in 1997 donated that fine free-standing clock at the corner of First and Elm streets, and at one time was a writer for Ripley's Believe It or Not.

50 years ago

A committee set up by the city school board to study the issue of integration recommended in 1955 that the city school system begin desegregating in the fall of 1956, according to The Gleaner.

"A committee for the county schools has not yet reported any recommendation."


Contributed by Netta Mullin, HCH&GS
Copyright 2005 HCH&GS