By Brian Blackwell, Message Staff Writer
MONROE – The front lawn of New Hope Baptist Church in Monroe was the scene for a special baptism service last August that served as a visible witness for friends and family, and also for motorists who passed by.
One by one, each of the nine new believers stepped into a horse trough filled with cold water on a hot summer Sunday afternoon, to publicly restate his or her individual faith in Christ by being baptized.
“Everyone was gathered together, singing praises to the Lord for all the things He did that day,” said Gray, winner of the 2017 Exemplary Bi-vocational Pastor of the Year for the North region. “It was really cool for people to pass by and see what was going on — to see entire generations baptized together, from age 10 to 65, was something I never will forget.”
The baptism service signifies a personal revival New Hope Baptist has experienced since Gray’s arrival in April 2017.
When Gray became pastor of New Hope Baptist, the Sunday morning worship service attendance averaged 30 and baptisms were a rarity, according to church records. Eleven months later, attendance for worship services has more than tripled, and 16 new converts have participated in baptism.
“The people here were so hungry for the Word,” said Gray, who previously served as pastor of Harmony Baptist Church in Delhi from August 2013 to March 2017. “They got on fire when I came. My family and the church family came together and started appreciating what God was doing so much. It was and still is a move of God.”
MOVEMENT OF PRAYER
Gray credits prayer as a factor for the Holy Spirit moving in the hearts of the congregation.
Not long after he arrived at New Hope Baptist, Gray designated an area in the church building as a prayer room. He then established men’s and women’s prayer teams.
Gray said before God could revive the church, the congregation had to participate in a season of prayer.
“There is a huge untapped power in prayer,” he said. “Prayer is a communication with God. Communication is essential for any relationship, and it’s not different with God. When you don’t communicate, you drift away from that relationship. We have to communicate with Him on a daily basis.”
Much like prayer moved the church to a deeper love for Christ and their community, it also was instrumental in Gray embracing his call to ministry in 2002.
During a visit in the office of the late Joe Senn – who died in 2016 while serving as pastor of Crockett Point Baptist Church in Crowville – the two men participated in a prayer session.
Among Gray’s prayer requests was regaining a passion for God he had as a young adult.
Senn responded by anointing Gray’s forehead with oil and praying God would change his heart.
“From that moment on, I was on fire for God,” Gray said. “Everywhere I went I wanted to tell them about the experience I had.
“God called me into the ministry when I was younger, but I let several years pass before I was obedient to accept the call,” he continued. “I didn’t feel like I was the right fit and didn’t feel like I knew enough about the Bible. Looking back I knew it was a true calling but I put off being obedient.”
Though he didn’t pastor a church until nine years after his prayer meeting with Senn, Gray began teaching Sunday school at Crockett Point Baptist. The leadership position provided Gray with valuable experience in the areas of discipleship and teaching the Bible.
Gray believed that when the time was right, God would call Him to serve as pastor of a church.
MOMENT OF MINISTRY
Gray preached his first sermon in 2011, after he received an invitation to supply the pulpit at West New Home Baptist Church in Holly Ridge. He soon assumed the role of interim pastor until Harmony Baptist Church in Delhi called him as pastor two years later.
“After the congregation asked me back that Sunday night, God provided a place for me to preach every Sunday from that day forward,” Gray said. “I preached and really started to love what God called me to.”
When he is not performing his duties at pastor of New Hope Baptist, Gray can be found patrolling the highways and bi-ways of Franklin Parish as a deputy sheriff.
While the job requires long hours and managing difficult, sometimes dangerous, situations, Gray is thankful how the job allows him to use the secular job as an avenue to show Christ’s love.
“I have the opportunity to minister everywhere I go,” he said. “God has been so good that he’s given me a job where I take my pastoral gifts with me, right here in my own Jerusalem.”