Tribute to Rev. Dr. John R. Manley
Rep. David E. Price
First Baptist Church, Chapel Hill, NC
December 16, 2016
I am pleased to be part of what John Manley might call his “cloud of witnesses,” standing in the pulpit where he preached the gospel for 65 years, expressing the affection Lisa and I felt for him and condolences to his family, congregants, and friends.
Many of us remember the celebration of Rev. Manley’s 60th anniversary in 2006. In the course of preparing for that, it occurred to me that I was six years old when he was called to First Baptist, which led me to thank him publicly for being one of the few people who could make me feel young nowadays!
I don’t know of any pastorate that matches his, which is all the more remarkable when you consider that for most of those years he also preached every Sunday afternoon at Hickory Grove. He was a man of tremendous energy, boundless optimism and good will, and great generosity toward people in all walks of life.
Fortunately, that included politicians, and I’ve been grateful for his hospitality, and the warm welcome always extended by this church, for many years. John invited me to bring the message one Sunday morning, and I chose to address the ties that bind us in the church, the local community, and all humankind – I titled it “The Call to Community.” I believe John approved of what I had to say, but perhaps he thought I had not said it with enough passion and fervor. So when my sermon was finished, he came to the pulpit and led the congregation in a three-fold cheer: Community! Community! Community!
I expect any of you who knew John Manley can easily imagine his doing that!
Rev. Manley’s influence in Chapel Hill and Orange County extended far beyond this congregation. He will go down in history as the first African-American member of the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Board of Education and as a prophetic figure during turbulent times.
Later in his ministry, he and church leaders made a major contribution to Chapel Hill’s perennial need for good, affordable housing for people of modest means. This required some retooling in terms of traditional approaches, but they did it, applying successfully for HUD funding for rental housing for the elderly. What resulted was Manley Estates, appropriately named for the man who was the main driving force behind the project.
So we remember today a man of many talents, good works too numerous to count, and boundless faith – in God but also his fellow-men and -women. He brought out the best in us. His impact on this community will long be felt, in the witness he made and the thousands of lives he touched. In the words of the apostle Paul, “we thank God upon every remembrance of him.”