The Greater St. Tammany Ministerial Alliance has presented its most prestigious award, The T.J. Smith Sr. Trailblazer Award, to the Rev. Shovie Ducre.

Ducre is the longtime pastor of Starlight Missionary Baptist, a church that was founded in 1878 in what was then called Indian Village near Slidell.

A special service at the church brought together pastors in the Ministerial Alliance, family members and friends to mark the occasion. The popular pastor had not announced the award to his congregation, nor would he tarry long after the ceremony.

“I’ll be going to bless a 50-year marriage in Lacombe,” he said. Then he planned to return that evening for a concert by the New Voices of Light to benefit the church building fund.

Starlight Deacon Freddie Douglas said the Trailblazer honor is well-deserved. Ducre is one of the longest serving pastors in the parishwide association of Missionary Baptist Churches.

According to a church biography, Ducre was born in 1938 in Bonfouca, the original village name for the Slidell area. He was baptized at Providence Missionary Baptist, graduated from St. Tammany High and enrolled at Southern University before enlisting in the Army. He served in Vietnam with the 145th Aviation Battalion and upon his return, he became a deacon at Providence and later pastor until 1985, when he went to Starlight.

“He is one of the longest sitting pastors, the ‘elder statesman’ of the Alliance,” Douglas said.

Ducre’s wife, Jerelyn, said her husband was raised in a good family. “He tries to live the life he speaks about every day.”

Other members of the Ministerial Alliance spoke about Ducre and what it means to be a trailblazer. Pastor Gary Wood, of Pentecost in Slidell, said Ducre is “a trailblazer of the next generation.” He said as a trailblazer, he “kept the path clear. If you don’t keep treading on it, it closes back.”

Pastor Donald Burris, moderator of the Mount Zion Association and pastor of Goodwill Missionary Baptist Church in Mandeville, said, of Ducre, “Your character is second to none. You bring joy to the people. You got on the trail, a path that was set by Jesus, and have endured as a good soldier.”

While Ducre these days is often seen with a cane, when he gets up to the pulpit he forgets the need for it and moves all over the space. It was clear from his acceptance speech that preaching is what drives him as a pastor.

Ducre recalled the Martin Luther King Day celebration held in the Slidell Municipal Auditorium before Hurricane Katrina. He went next door to Starlight to get his pastor’s robe and thought of the Scripture he wanted to share with the crowd: “I was blind, but now I see,” Ducre told those assembled for the Trailblazer Award.

“I was a student at Southern University and passing through Denham Springs and drank from the wrong fountain,” he said, recalling the days of Jim Crow laws and forced segregation.

“I don’t understand why I had to go through that,” he said. “But, ‘Though I was blind, now I see,’ ” he said, a sentiment that drew acknowledgements from the audience.

Ducre said he had refused the Trailblazer Award before.

“I didn’t want it, because I never believed the work for me was over.”

He accepted the Alliance’s decision this year.

Sharon Edwards is the New Orleans Advocate community news editor. To reach her, call (985) 640-1251.