PENNS’ MINISTRY CELEBRATED
By LORETTA FULTON
The 32 years of ministry by the Rev. Andrew Penns as pastor of Valley View Missionary Baptist Church will be celebrated at the church, 3564 Clinton St., at 3 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 19.Theme will be, “Counting the Cost of Leadership,” based on Isaiah 55:4. The Rev. J.W. Webbs, pastor of New Fellowship Baptist Church, will be guest preacher. For more information, call 672-3985.
In addition to serving as pastor of Valley View Missionary Baptist Church, Penns also is a member of the Taylor County Historical Commission and is founder and directior of Interested Citizens of Abilene North (ICAN). Penns also is director of the Curtis House Cultural Center at 630 Washington St. The center, located in the restored Curtis-Starks Funeral Home, is a repository of artifacts and photos telling the history of black Abilenians.
Andrew Penns’ father, Alex W. Penns Sr., was longtime pastor of Valley View Missionary Baptist Church before his son took over. His mother, Erma. M. Penns, was a Turnerhill, a name familiar to many Abilenians. Both parents are deceased.
Andrew was born Sept. 7, 1948, in the family home before blacks were readily accepted at Abilene hospitals. He was delivered by a midwife, a common experience for black mothers to be.
After graduating in 1967 from the city’s high school for blacks, Woodson, Penns joined the Army. He was stationed in numerous places and served in Vietnam, where he was wounded on Dec. 8, 1967. He continued to serve until his discharge at Fort Riley, Kansas, on June 19, 1970.
“I have two reasons to celebrate” that date, he said in an interview with Loretta Fulton for an article in the Reporter-News in 2017.
June 19 or “Juneteenth” is celebrated each year by African-American Texans. On June 19, 1865, blacks in Texas learned that President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, freeing all slaves, had taken effect on Jan. 1, 1863.
When Penns returned to Abilene in 1970, what he saw made him uncomfortable. He had seen a whole new world through his Army service. In his eyes, his hometown hadn’t changed much. Some places were still in effect off-limits, even though segregation had been banned by law.
He moved to Austin and worked for Texas Instruments for five years, first in security and then in computer data processing. He attended the old Draughon School of Business and earned an associate degree from Austin Community College.
Eventually, he returned home and began putting the leadership skills he had started to develop in the Army to work. It occurred to him that change wouldn’t come to his hometown if people who wanted changed moved away. He made a decision.
“If any difference is going to be made,” he decided, “I’m going to be a part of it.”
Abilene is better today for that decision. Penns moved back to Abilene and continued working for Texas Instruments. He and his brothers owned a store for a while, and Penns also worked at the old Bible Book Store, building a library of his own through his association with book sellers.
All the time that Penns was thinking about changes to his hometown, changes also were coming inside. Penns had grown up at New Light Baptist Church and then his father was named pastor of Valley View Missionary Baptist Church.
Penns said he strayed from the straight and narrow for a while but God kept calling, He surrendered to the ministry at age 32 and began the life of a bivocational minister. The true call to ministry came at age 12, Penns said, but it took 20 years to mature.
When Penns was 12, he underwent an emergency appendectomy, and came a little too close to death. The “foxhole” experience made the young boy promise that he would serve God if he lived.
“Throughout my life,” Penns said, “it stayed with me.”
Penns began his service as an assistant to his father at Valley View Missionary Baptist Church for four years. He commuted to Coleman for three years as pastor of a church there before succeeding his father as pastor of Valley View.
On the day that Penns surrendered to the ministry, he called his father to tell him. Neither parent was surprised, nor was anyone at Valley View, where the younger Penns already was called “the Reverend.”
Former classmates weren’t too taken off-guard either, even if they didn’t predict his future.
“I wasn’t surprised at all,” said Melva Crisp Frazier, chair of the upcoming 50th anniversary reunion of the Woodson Class of 1967.
Frazier recalled that Penns was well-liked in high school. The two were friends and kept up with each other for a while. Students at Woodson were like brothers and sisters, she said.
“We just took care of each other.”
When Penns became a minister, he already had learned the art of service from his father and from his former pastor at New Light Baptist Church, Alton Hurd. After his surrender to the ministry but before joining his father’s ministry, Penns learned under Hurd.
The New Light pastor was particular about his study, which was off limits to most people when Hurd was there. When he was gone, Hurd allowed Penns to open the the office.
“I was the only one who could go in his study,” Penns said.
Penns eventually earned a two-year degree from a Bible school, but said his education “mainly came from within,” plus all his years of learning under his father and Hurd.
Penns always has been a bivocational minister. Most recently, he was employed by Taylor County as a supervisor in juvenile alternative education. Somehow, while serving his flock and working full time, Penns had found a way to serve the community he vowed to help change.
In addition to helping found ICAN and still serving as its president, Penns is or has been involved with the local chapter of the NAACP (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People), Taylor County Historical Commission, the board of trustees at Hendrick Medical Center, Curtis House Cultural Center, and other community and church activities.
He is an active leader in the Original West Texas Baptist District Association, which met this week at the Abilene Convention Center in conjunction with the Congress of Christian Education. And, he is a participant in the Texas State Missionary Baptist Convention.
“I am very proud of my involvement in the community and my ministry in the community,” he said.”
In fact, Penns has so many plaques of appreciation that he is running out of wall space in his office. Maybe a bigger tribute came when Penns’ wife died. The funeral had to be moved from Valley View Missionary Baptist Church to King Solomon Baptist Church to accommodate the more than 400 people who attended.
A strength of Penns showed when he made a decision to return to Abilene to help bring about the change he wanted to see in the life of the community. He wanted to bring people of all races together.
And, according to the Freddie Brown, the chairman of the board of deacons at Penns’ church, that’s the message Penns preaches from the pulpit.
“That’s kind of what his thing is,” Brown said. “Being a good person–that’s what I call it.”
Loretta Fulton is founder and editor of Spirit of Abilene
Top photo: The Rev. Andrew Penns, right, talks with Dr. Jerry Taylor, a religion professor at Abilene Christian University, who was guest speaker for the 2019 ICAN Heroes luncheon.