The church, the pastor and Basketball Jesus

BILL MARTIN

I n the past couple of decades, I have not been the most ardent attendee of church.

I have been a faithful follower of the church of basketball however, playing three nights a week the past 20 years or so at Redeemer Lutheran Church in Austin with my good friend Waylon Allen, who is a faithful member there.

When the former cheerleader and I started hanging out, it was important to her that I attend church with her and if anyone needed a little spiritual cleansing, it was me.

Now I was raised at the altar of the legendary Walter M. Fox at Emmanuel Baptist Church in Lafayette, La. and then under Brother N.A. Mills at Meadowbrook here in Rockdale.

After growing up in a church where things were a little more solemn when I was a kid, it was a breath of fresh air with the relaxed mood of St. John’s, where people dress casual and come as they are, which is mostly friendly.


Departing St. John’s Pastor John Warren shows off one of his parting gifts, the infamous Basketball Jesus sculpture. Departing St. John’s Pastor John Warren shows off one of his parting gifts, the infamous Basketball Jesus sculpture. Church had changed while I was gone.

This is where I reacquainted myself with the town I had left so many years go.

What I found in pastor John Warren was someone who took a modern approach to preaching on Sunday. In fact, there was no preaching at all. And, at my advanced age, I didn’t want to hear any children’s Bible stories or someone thumping a Bible and quoting scriptures while prowling the pulpit.

John told thoughtful stories that taught us lessons about ourselves and gave us cause to pause and think and reexamine our lives.

He was kind and caring. He also did a mean Elvis impression and has a great sense of humor.

This modern day man-ofthe cloth also accompanied us to a Bruce Springsteen concert.

Hoop connection

During one of his visits to the office, John noticed one of the books in my sports library that dealt with the history of high school basketball here in the state of Texas.

He revealed that his father Prentice Warren had played for Athens.

I was impressed. Athens is one of the legendary teams in basketball lore as the Hornets dominated basketball in its early days, winning five titles from 1927 through 1934.

This was back when there was a jump ball after every basket.

John’s father played on the 1933-34 squads, which are considered the best of the era.

There was a team picture of the 1933 team in the publication that John had never seen before.

He made a copy of the picture which he added to his father’s memorabilia.

The Methodist Church’s ways of handling their clergy— which I don’t completely understand—is that after about a five-year period, they are re-assigned to another congregation.

John has been here for eight years, so it was well past time for him to be reassigned and he has been placed in Orange.

We are of course happy for him, but hate to lose him.

With our basketball connection, I thought as a parting gift it would be fitting to give him something that he could keep nearby that would remind him of his father and the people back here in Rockdale and perhaps bring a smile to his face.

I could never match the magnificent wood carvings that he was presented by master woodsman John Shoemake, so I had to look elsewhere for help.

I could only think of one thing.

The Basketball Jesus is a cultural phenomenon. After appearing on the Conan O’Brien Show several years ago as a joke, the church that manufactures them has sold millions upon millions of them, raising good money for the Catholic church.

I always wanted one to add to my hoops memorabilia.

The 6-inch statuette simply has Jesus, throwing up a jump ball between a boy and a girl and its is inscribed, “Jesus Is My Coach.”

John will always be special to the cheerleader and me simply because he presided over our surprise wedding and has been a dear friend, confidant and like a member of the family.

The family swelled when John finally married Sandra last December. Their wedding was possibly the happiest wedding I have ever been to, despite the efforts of the wedding Nazi that was running the show, which Sandra still laughs about to this day, but that’s a whole different story.

Shortly before they were married and were preparing to move into their house, he confided to me over lunch one day, “She just has so many shoes.”

My reply: Welcome to the NFL, my brother!

We wish them well and know they will always be with us.


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2011-06-16 digital edition



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