Sunday, November 14, 2010

Remembering Dr. Frederick G. Sampson II (1928-2001)

In a fit of nostalgia (happens more frequently as you get older, I'm finding out), I would, when I was a pastor, sit with some of my younger associate preachers and tell them about some of the ministers I would listen to when I was as young or younger than them.

The names for them were legend, but they, for the most part had never actually heard them:

Manuel Scott. Ceasar Clark. Bernie Lee Faison. Sandy F. Ray. Nelson Smith.

And, Frederick Sampson.

In Dallas, the Baptist Ministers' Union (an organization of African-American preachers and pastors more than 50 years old), has hosted a 'City-Wide Revival', every spring. Held every year but one at the Good Street Baptist Church, it has brought to Dallas some of the most gifted preachers from around the country. It's changed quite a bit now, but when I was much younger, the revival lasted for two weeks - the Saturday in between those weeks being the night for youth - and the same preacher preached the both weeks. There aren't many of us now, who could, or who would want to duplicate that feat, but the ministers of those years were masters at it.

Dr. Frederick G. Sampson was one of them.

With several church choirs singing, Rev. Sampson, most nights, didn't preach before 9:00 or after. Good Street seats more than 1500 people and had been full for more than two hours before (most older church members started arriving around 6:30 to get a good seat) and by the time Rev. Sampson stood to preach, people were standing around the walls and in the narthex to listen to him. He regularly preached for an hour to an hour and a half - and no one moved.

Sampson was eloquent, charismatic and scholarly. His illustrations of Biblical truth flowed effortlessly from history, to classical literature, from classical to contemporary music, from art, to church history, from his personal testimony, to science and back again. And, in the process he, believe it or not, made the Gospel easy to understand. He was a true inspiration!

And, of course, there were always the illustrations of God's Love and Grace that he presented to us through stories of his children Frederick and Freda. Especially Freda! I've never met Dr. Sampson (I might have shaken his hand once during those days), and never have met Freda, but everyone almost felt as if we knew her after listening to the stories about her. The video clip below of U.S. 6th Circuit Court of Appeals Justice Damon Keith, one of Dr. Sampson's members, is an interview conducted by Freda and he confirms that stories about Freda weren't just told in Dallas!

A member of my church, went to Detroit and had occasion to hear Dr. Sampson. She brought me back a tape of one of his messages (not knowing that he was one of my preaching heroes), and came back simply raving about how brilliant he was. Of course, I had to tell her my stories about having the chance to listen to him for those two weeks!

You should be able to hear and excerpt of one of his messages here.

It's difficult to get a grasp of the full orb of the type of men and women in the African-American church who have graced pulpits across this country. Through their giftedness they encouraged and inspired men and women to transcend the limitations of their circumstances through encounters with God that have given them new life. They bridged worlds between races and made possible the healing of century old hurts, not by denying truth but through the proclamation of Truth that sets men of all backgrounds free. These were towering figures upon whom shoulders we now stand and we should never forget them.

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