Retirement is the Rev. David Newman’s long-awaited, extended break.

Newman certainly didn’t take much time off in 47 years as the pastor of Macedonia Missionary Baptist Church and 42 years leading Greater St. Luke Baptist Church, both in Baton Rouge.

The only time he missed a Sunday service was following surgery about 12 years ago, said Newman’s son, Dexter.

“People were looking around, saying, ‘What are we going to do,’ because they were used to him being there,” Dexter Newman recalled. “It really was strange without him being there that particular Sunday. But once we got started, everything pretty much started to flow and we were able to handle it.”

The pastor took in the service from his hospital room.

“We had to take the phone off the hook in order for him to hear the service,” said longtime Macedonia member Jessie Hamilton.

Macedonia held a retirement celebration for Pastor Newman on Jan. 10 at the church on Wyandotte Street. Newman, 83 and suffering from dementia, had stepped away from the pulpit in early 2015.

Calling him “the neighborhood pastor,” Hamilton was among the speakers paying tribute to Newman.

“He was a blessing from God,” Hamilton said. “He was a leader. He’s pastor emeritus, but he’s still my pastor. I respect him, and I’d do anything for him.”

The program also included friends and family from around the country; a proclamation from the East Baton Rouge Mayor’s Office making Jan. 10 “the Rev. David Newman Day”; special music; and a video presentation.

There also was a surprise announcement near the end of the service from Dexter Newman, a workshop leader, Sunday school teacher and worker in the church video department.

“I wanted to say to the church that I felt like I was being called into the ministry,” said the 46-year-old. “There was no better time. … It brought joy in my heart to do that.”

The younger Newman said his ministry announcement was not without some planning. Two years ago, unbeknownst to members of the church, he enrolled at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary as his father’s health started to fail.

“I saw my dad ailing, and that’s what really got to me,” said Dexter Newman, who holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mass communications from Southern University. He has worked at Baton Rouge TV stations WAFB and WVLA and is a video production manager at Southern.

Dexter Newman said he learned from his father the “hard work and labor” involved in ministry.

He said his father also taught him about humility.

“I learned you have to humble yourself if you want to go into this, because you’re going to deal with so many walks of life, personalities and all, and you have to be prepared for that and in order to do that you have to humble yourself and to pray,” said Dexter Newman, who expressed an interest in leading one of his father’s churches.

His father’s humility was combined with a strong work ethic, he said.

“To save the church money, he started being the janitor,” Dexter Newman said. “He never thought himself as less of a pastor. He cleaned toilets right there at 2800 Wyandotte five or six years ago.”

The Rev. Edward Howard, pastor of Greater Mount Gideon Baptist Church, touched on the elder Newman’s characteristics as a pastor and friend during his brief tribute.

“I couldn’t outpreach him,” Howard said. “He was a better preacher than I was. I always had a respect for Rev. Newman. Whoever his church suggests to take his place, I want him to know he’s stepping in a big shoe.”

Howard encouraged the retiring Newman to keep holding onto his faith.

“You have come to his point of retirement and all of us must come to that point some day,” he said. “But thank God, you’re still holding onto God’s hand, and I want to say to you today to keep on, and whatever you need, God will take care of you.”

David Newman was ordained into the ministry in 1967. A year later, he was called to pastor Macedonia. In 1972, he also took over as pastor of Greater St. Luke.

He attended Southern and Leland College. He also attended United Theology Seminary in Monroe and received diplomas from International Bible Institute in Santa Fe, California; New World Bible Institute in Texarkana, Arkansas; and A.P. Clay Christian Theological College in Baton Rouge.

In addition to his role as pastor, the elder Newman was known in his younger days as a standout softball pitcher in the East Baton Rouge Negro league, his son said. Dexter Newman said his father was recruited by the Rev. T.J. Jemison to be part of the softball team at Mount Zion First Baptist Church.

Nights of Revival

God’s grace is unreasonable because he extends it to the undeserved, John Gray told a standing room-only crowd during revival services at Bethany Church in Baton Rouge.

Gray, a popular speaker, is an author, comedian, TV host and associate pastor under Joel Osteen at Lakewood Church in Houston.

“It would be an understandable grace if grace was extended while I was serving him,” Gray said. “But this grace was extended while I was accumulating sin. This is why we serve God. … We who were dead in our sins are alive because of the blood of Jesus. You looking for something supernatural? Look in the mirror. You’re not supposed to be here. You know good and well, the things you and I have done should have cut us off. We should be disqualified. But by the grace.”

Gray was the opening speaker for the Nights of Revival on Jan. 11-13 at the Bethany South campus. Other speakers were former Bethany Senior Pastor Larry Stockstill; John Bevere, of Messengers International in Orlando, Florida; and gospel music artist and worship leader William McDowell.

The three-night revival came on the heels of Bethany’s First Week of prayer and fasting to start the year.

Gray’s powerful message was titled “Unreasonable Grace,” taken from Isaiah 1:16-18.

The power of unreasonable grace is evident in how God brings his people together.

“When we think about all the things that separate us, there’s one thing that unifies us and it’s the blood of Jesus,” Gray said. “Those who would never be family, those who would never be connected are now supernaturally connected because one man hung on a cross when he did not have to, and that makes up family. I don’t have to be like you. I don’t have to come where you come from, but we are family and I will fight for you because we have a savior in common.”

Gray said we should have a reasonable response to the gift of unreasonable grace given to us. He pointed to three things people should do with the grace they have: extend grace, encourage grace, enlarge grace.

“Before we declare somebody is an absolute broken (person with) no chance, no hope, extend the grace to them that you hope you one day never need,” he said. “We’re great judges of other people’s sins and great lawyers for our own. God is saying I want you to extend grace to people … Extend grace because God’s about to literally open these doors to the most broken in society and this is when you’ll see the miracle when lives are totally turned around and radically changed by the love of Jesus Christ … There’s one heaven, one Jesus and we better slearn how to love everybody.”

Gray ended his talk with a reference to Isaiah 1:18 about “sins be as scarlet” and God making them “white as snow.”

“That’s an unreasonable grace. What God would just wipe the slate clean?” Gray asked. “That’s the kind of grace that has been extended. We want to talk about Nights of Revival. Nothing should make you shout more than remembering what you were before the blood found you.”

Faith Matters runs every other Saturday in The Advocate. Terry Robinson can be reached at (225) 388-0238 or email trobinson@theadvocate.com.