Beloved New Ken pastor, 95, steps down from pulpit
It wouldn't be surprising if the Sunday service at Mt. Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in New Kensington had a different feel for congregation members.
For the first time in 52 years, the Rev. Asa Roberts, 95, was not their official pastor.
He stepped down last week, announcing at the Nov. 3 service that it was finally time to accept the honorary title of pastor emeritus. He has been a minster for more than 60 years, also serving in Aliquippa and Detroit.
The Lower Burrell resident also is a community leader and former civil-rights activist who was a friend of Martin Luther King Jr. and was with him the day of his historic “I Have a Dream Speech.”
It was a move that Roberts' loyal followers, whom he guided through decades of challenges and triumphs in Alle-Kiski Valley and national history, anticipated might be made this year. His replacement is not known yet, but his assistants will carry on his work.
“I just took it one day at a time. That's all you do. I am not going anywhere until the Lord gets to me,” Roberts says. “I'll still be here preaching once in a while. I will still teach my Wednesday-night Christian class.”
Although the Lower Burrell resident says he feels “pretty good,” he has struggled of late with the infirmities of age, including being unable to walk unassisted and having to sit to preach.
Roberts, a World War II combat veteran, says removing himself as pastor helps him feel at ease. “I don't have to worry about a thing,” he says.
“He did it as long as he could. I am proud of his love for the people, his caring,” says his daughter Jackie Simmons of New Kensington. “He taught people how to outreach in the community, to dream big and put their trust in the Lord. Everyone respects him in the whole Alle-Kiski Valley. He helped everybody and anybody.”
Her husband, the Rev. Ronald Simmons, one of her father's assistants, adds, “He is someone everybody could look up to, someone everybody could go to in time of need. He was a friend to pretty much everyone.”
Those who grew up with Roberts feel like his children, Ronald Simmons says. “He is still pastor to us,” he says. “He has an undying commitment and passion for the community and an unselfish concern for his church. His will be tough shoes to fill.”
Arnold native Benjamin “Benjie” Pryor, a vice principal in a Maryland high school, retains his membership in the New Kensington church and still considers Roberts his religious adviser and mentor.
“He has been a leader throughout the valley for many, many years. At every major event in our lives, he has been there as an unwavering moral compass for all of us to see how tall he stood,” Pryor says.
Roberts is a rare person, says John Bailey, a former Arnold resident and a member of Roberts' congregation, now living in Maryland. Bailey produced the documentary “Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church (100 years and Counting),” released in 2011 (still available at Gene's Shoe Service, New Kensington, and by emailing jbproduces firstname.lastname@example.org).
“I admire his deep sense of conviction. No one I know knows anyone like him,” Bailey says. “We can learn from him that if you get up early and stay late, you can get things done for others and yourself.”
It has been rewarding to help people with their problems, Roberts says.
Roberts' hope for his church is that members stay together and “remember what they were taught down through the ages. I'd like them to keep believing, love one another and see what they can do to help the community, keep being helpful to people.”
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