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The Rev. John E. Roberts has been an active member of Indiana Avenue Missionary Baptist Church since it was founded in 1946, working as a janitor, usher, Sunday school teacher, choir member, and deacon.
The one job the church's charter member never thought he would hold was pastor.
"It wasn't really something that I sought out," he said, "but the Holy Spirit inspired me to become a preacher."
Tomorrow, members of Indiana Avenue Baptist and others in the community will honor Reverend Roberts and his wife, Bernice, on the 40th anniversary of his pastorate.
"It's been quite a ride," Pastor Roberts, 78, said in an interview this week. "But one of the things that has blessed me, I've have some good people over the years who want to do what's right. They want to reach out in the community and bring people to Christ."
A native of Bryant, Miss., Pastor Roberts said he grew up in the church.
"I've always been in the church and I accepted Jesus Christ as my personal savior when I was 11 years old," he said.
He came to Toledo in 1944 to be with his mother after his grandfather passed away.
"I sure didn't want to come," he added.
He became an active member of Central Baptist Church, and two years later, the church and its pastor, the Rev. M. J. Stevenson, founded Indiana Avenue Missionary Baptist Church.
The congregation first met on Ewing Street and moved to its current location on Indiana Avenue in 1948.
Pastor Roberts said he met his wife at Indiana Avenue Baptist in February, 1950, and the couple were married in April.
Was their romance a classic case of love at first sight?
"Right on it," Pastor Roberts said with a chuckle.
The couple have three sons, Derrick, Jeffrey, and Tracy, who are all involved in Christian ministry.
Pastor Roberts said he received a calling from God to become a minister in September, 1962.
"We was in a prayer meeting, and I got up to turn it over to the preacher. I was a deacon," he recalled. "I got up to turn it over to him, and instead of turning it over to him, I told him I was called to preach."
He studied at the former Toledo Bible College and was licensed to preach in 1963 and ordained the following year.
Pastor Roberts holds two bachelors' degrees from Toledo Bible College, one in arts and the other in religious education. He also earned a master's in theology degree in 1984 and a doctorate in theology in 1985 from International Bible College.
From the time of his pastoral appointment in 1965 until 1979, the minister worked a second job to support his family, including driving a tow truck and serving as a cashier.
When he started at Indiana Avenue Baptist, the church had about 75 members and met in the basement.
Today, the active membership is over 2,000, Pastor Roberts said.
The building has been expanded and renovated several times, with Pastor Roberts designing its unique three-level architectural layout which, he said, was inspired by the Holy Spirit.
The Rev. Willie L. Perryman, pastor of Jerusalem Baptist Church, said he is honored to have been chosen one of the four speakers at pastor appreciation services for Pastor Roberts. The other ministers are the Rev. Robert P. Wormley of Southern Baptist Church, the Rev. John Williams of Eastern Star Baptist Church, and the Rev. John Heckard of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church in Mansfield, Ohio.
"I've known Pastor Roberts my entire life," Pastor Perryman, 46, said. "I am a member of Indiana Avenue Baptist, I was baptized by him, he licensed me as a minister, and ordained me as a pastor. He is my mentor."
He described Pastor Roberts as "a master builder."
"He has a way of building relationships, building friendships, and building the character of his members," Pastor Perryman said. "And then, from a physical perspective, he's a master builder physically. He has erected two new sanctuaries plus a fellowship hall.
"In my assumption, he is a greater pastor and a leader with a very humble spirit. I'm afraid that during these times in which we live there are not many persons of his character left," said Pastor Perryman, who will speak at an April 17 appreciation service.
"I'm looking forward to that service, but I'm also very nervous about it, to be honest," he said. "It's going to be a highlight and one of those landmark opportunities for my ministry."
Pastor Roberts said he believes people need the power of God in their lives today more than when he entered in the ministry 40 years ago because the forces of evil are more deceptive now.
"It's harder today because of the spirit world. The spirit world has infiltrated the church so much so that it's hard to determine what spirit is helping operate the church," he said.
"That's what Paul dealt with in Ephesians [Chapter] 6: 'For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places,'●" Pastor Roberts said, quoting the Bible.
The spiritual warfare requires Christians to be serious and disciplined about their faith, he said.
"A lot of Christians today are having a good time and, seemingly, a lot of it is not of the Lord," he said. "You really have to have a good background in the Word of God to be able to discern what is right. And as pastors we have to be sincere enough ourselves to do what's necessary, because it upsets people to tell them the truth a lot. People today don't want to hear the truth."
The minister, who is active in many civic organizations, said he does not discuss retirement plans because he wants to leave his options open.
"Something could come up, and you could get involved in a project you want to do," Pastor Roberts said.
40th Anniversary Pastoral Appreciation Services for the Rev. John E. Roberts and his wife, Bernice, started March 20 and continue at 3:30 p.m. Sunday; 4 p.m. April 10, and 4 p.m. April 17 at Indiana Avenue Missionary Baptist Church, 640 Indiana Ave.
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