Friends, today we celebrate the life and grieve the death of Dr. Randall Lolley — friend, leader, and pastor to our church and so many of you, serving First Baptist Greensboro 1990-1996.
Randall died yesterday morning in Raleigh. Lou had recently moved to join Randall in the memory care facility of their comfortable retirement home, wanting to “hold the hand of her sweetheart” in their final days together. Randall and Lou’s daughter, Pam Frye, asked our friend, Dr. Mike Queen, to help spread the word last night. Tributes have already begun, including this memorial from Baptist News Global. And, of course, many of us will be turning to the wonderful biography of Dr. Lolley, Randall Lolley: Thanks for the Memories, written by Dr. Steve Pressley and published this year. All of these names reflect the span of Randall’s life and ministry, and how much of it has impacted us as a congregation.
Dr. Lolley came to First Baptist at a critical time. After a successful career that included the presidency of Southeastern Seminary, Dr. Lolley closed his career in full-time ministry with a six-year tenure at First Baptist. The church needed his wisdom, his leadership, and the pastoral warmth so core to his ministry — I felt it the first time I met him at his home in Raleigh as he grasped my arm. Such presence grabbed hold of you from the moment you met him. It was all the more powerful that such critical leadership came from one who had started his career decades earlier as a recent seminary grad serving as a two-year Assistant Pastor at First Baptist, while living in church housing — a program that serves as a foundation for our Pastoral Residency today.
Appreciation for Dr. Lolley is widespread in our church, but also extends far beyond us. He was a leader among Baptists, most notably in his resistance to fundamentalist shifts among Baptists in the southern United States. He advocated the freedom of every individual to interpret the Bible for themselves, and every person to serve God and lead the Church regardless of gender. This was an irritant and threat to those who wanted to secure power and delineate the boundaries. After thirteen years as President of Southeastern Seminary, a growing number of theological fundamentalists in the Southern Baptist Convention, including some of his own trustees, were applying increasing pressure on the seminary to interpret the Bible in the way they saw fit, threatened by the openness that said all individuals are free. In his last address before resigning in protest as seminary president, Dr. Lolley noted that historically Baptists have made Jesus the norm for interpreting scripture. Then he added this, “We do all our work… under the Lordship of Christ. This is why we can afford to let our consciences be free. Our interpretations are not subject finally to the opinions of any other person living or dead. Jesus alone is the norm around which our interpretations must coalesce. He is the Lord of the message and Lord of the messenger.”
On the third floor of our church, outside the “Pastor’s Study,” hang the portraits of the five Senior Pastors who preceded me and have served First Baptist Church over the last century. I often pause at Dr. Lolley’s, and will do so now with even further gratitude for how in so many ways — our care for one another, our openness to the Spirit, our acknowledgment of freedom, our love and advocacy for all people — his legacy of leadership and influence remain as part of us.
In spring of 2016, Randall and Lou visited us at First Baptist for the last time. Some of you remember it. Steve Pressley describes it in the “Epilogue” of his biography of Dr. Lolley. During the closing hymn, I walked over to ask Dr. Lolley if he would be willing to offer the benediction. He graciously obliged, stepped into the pulpit and offered words of charge and blessing. Then he paused before his last words, “I’ll see you in the morning!”
God’s mercies are new every morning. They are new this morning. We believe Randall Lolley knows them fully in the bright light of day. And we know them more because of the light of his life.
A Pastor’s Love,