On Friday, September 11, 2020, hundreds of people said their farewells to the Rev. Dr. Henry P. Davis, Jr. who went to be with the Lord after a blessed life of 91 years here on Earth. In those 91 years of earthly life, Dr. Davis, who was born and raised in Taylor, Texas, became an internationally known figure in the global Baptist family.
Wherever you were, if you simply mentioned the name of Henry P. Davis Jr., someone in the room knew him. While the impact of Dr. Davis was both national and international, I want to focus on his impact on Atlantic Highlands through St. Paul Baptist Church, where he served as Senior Pastor from 1973 until 2013 when he retired. He was the beloved pastor of St. Paul for forty years. To my knowledge, he served the longest time of any pastor in the Atlantic Highlands area, followed by Pastor Harry Kraft who served 36 years at Central Baptist, and Father Monsignor Michael Lease, who served 33 years at St. Agnes. It was my honor and delight to know Dr. Davis and to fellowship with him for the 30 years that I served as the pastor of Central Baptist Church, the Baptist church up the street.
Here are some of the highlights from my perspective on this great friend and servant of the Lord Jesus Christ:
- He was not embarrassed to proclaim the Name of the Lord wherever he went. He was a presence at all the town’s public gatherings and the residents looked forward to hearing Dr. Davis pray at the beginning or end of the Memorial Day Service, always proclaiming that it was “the year of our Lord.” He was never ashamed of the Gospel of the Lord and proclaimed it at every opportunity that was presented to him.
- Dr. Davis had the joy of the Lord in his life. He had an enthusiastic, hilarious, and contagious laughter that made many people gravitate around him. This joy came from the deep relationship that he had with Jesus Christ, his Savior and Lord whom he promised to serve from the early days of his youth.
- Dr. Davis had an insatiable desire to learn. He had many college degrees and in his sixties, he received a Master of Divinity degree from New Brunswick Theological Seminary and a Doctorate of Ministry degree from Drew University, alongside his son, Henry P., III, known as Hank. Dr. Davis always carried a notebook and pen with him wherever he went and took notes which he later used in his sermons. He also used fantastic illustrations--the best one being the truth that it was not the alarm clock that woke him up in the morning, but the goodness of the Lord. He would always say, “take your alarm clock to the cemetery and see how many people wake up.”
- One of our town’s former mayors remarked that Dr. Davis was the teacher and the conscience of Atlantic Highlands. While he served as the President of the Greater Red Bank NAACP chapter, he taught white people to appreciate and interact with their black neighbors. When a group of youth came from Newark to create some problems in town, it was Dr. Davis who went and talked to them as a father talked to his sons and they left peacefully.
- Dr. Davis and his wife were blessed to have four children - Henry P. Davis III, Kevin O. Davis, Kent M. Davis, and Susan D. Wigenton. Each of them accomplished great things in their lives. Additionally, he was a father figure to the many sons and daughters of St. Paul Baptist Church, nurturing them until they became effective pastors or successful members of whatever field they chose. When I came to Central Baptist Church, Dr. Davis took me under his wing, and I avoided many mistakes by learning from him and running ideas and sermons past him before I made them known to the world. As a matter of fact, I owe my good relationships with so many African American brothers and sisters in churches and seminaries to Dr. Davis, who loved me as a brother and as a spiritual son.
- To be in public meetings with Dr. Davis was always a delight. We were in a worship service together for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. One of the participants read a litany which concluded with the words: “We come to beseech you in the Name of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King.” Dr. Davis leaned over to whisper to me but, because his voice was always booming, he was heard by the whole church. He said, “Whoever wrote that line was not a Baptist because the only way we come to the throne of God is in the name of Jesus” (and, of course, Jesus’s name was said an additional, emphatic octave higher).
- Dr. Davis’s prayer and hope was to create the Kingdom of God in our town. This was visible in many of the actions that he did in the wider community, and in the fellowship between Central Baptist Church and St. Paul Baptist Church. Our congregations would meet together for worship twice a year, in February and in October. Countless times, Dr. Davis would start the worship service by saying, “How pleasant it is for brothers and sisters to dwell together. This is what the Kingdom of God looks like.” The Kingdom of God created through this fellowship extended out of our sanctuaries. When members of our respective churches would meet out in the community, they would hug and kiss one another as good brothers and sisters do.
Thank you, Dr. Davis, for making us more Christlike. We as a community are so much better because you have proclaimed the Word of God to us. You have served the Lord with faithfulness and been an exemplary teacher. Now, in the presence of the Lord Jesus Christ, your joy and delight are still overflowing.