Pastor Fred Luter Jr., the first African-American president of the Southern Baptist Convention, will be a special guest of Westerly Hills Baptist Church at 7 p.m. Monday, Nov. 18.
The public is invited to attend.
Luter was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention in 2012. It is the largest protestant organization in the United States with more than 16 million members and 45,000 churches. While Luter’s new position as president of SBC is historic, he has a long history with Southern Baptists. It all came together in what Luter calls his “Road to Damascus” moment, referring to the apostle Paul’s conversion experience in the Bible.
An avid motorcyclist, Luter was involved in an accident in 1977 that left him hospitalized with compound fractures and serious head injuries. He said that after surviving the accident, he realized he wanted to go into the ministry. Luter, who was born and raised in New Orleans’ lower Ninth Ward, had been active in the church as a child. With no church to preach in, Luter set up shop every Saturday at noon on the corner of Galvez and Caffin avenues, where he would preach to anyone who would listen. He preached his first church sermon in 1983 at the Law Street Baptist Church in New Orleans’ Seventh Ward. By 1986 he was preaching regularly at Greater Liberty Baptist Church when he heard about the opening for a pastor at Franklin Avenue Baptist Church.
Franklin Avenue Baptist Church was originally an all-white church, but as whites moved out of the neighborhood, a result of urban renewal, the congregation at FABC changed to mostly African-American members. In 1986, Luter took the helm at the small struggling church. Luter quickly went to work, creating an outreach strategy he referred to as “FRANgelism.” (Friends – Relatives – Associates – Neighbors).
“It’s about making the main thing the main thing, and that’s bringing people to Christ,” Luter said.
He also focused his attention on bringing men into the fold. He felt that if you could get men to church, the women would come.
“The man is the head of the family. If he comes to church, he’s going to bring his family with him,” Luter said.
By 1989, Luter had grown his church to more than 300 members. In 1994 Luter and his congregation began plans to build a new church. Over the next three years, through regular tithes and offerings the FABC faithful had raised enough money to begin construction of their new facility—one that would seat 1,500 people.
On Aug. 29, 2005, the church and the rest of New Orleans would be forced to a screeching halt by Hurricane Katrina. The church was destroyed and members were scattered all over the country.
Luter began trying to locate his members and get them home. He traveled all over the country and new FABC’s sprang up in cities like Baton Rouge, La., and Houston.
He wanted a church in New Orleans to serve those members who had managed to make it back home. Luter’s call would be answered by Pastor David Crosby of the First Baptist Church in the Lakeview section of New Orleans. Crosby’s large church was spared the devastation that FABC experienced and was able to reopen within a few months. The two pastors struck a deal and in the process struck up a friendship. For the next three years, Luter held 7 a.m. services at Crosby’s church, all the while rebuilding his own. It
Luter says it’s a new day in the Southern Baptist Convention.
“Our doors are open to each and everybody, no matter the color, no matter the creed, no matter the background, this convention’s doors are open and our churches are open to whosoever will, let them come,” he said.
Westerly Hills is located at 232 S. Sutton Road, Fort Mill.