Dr. Raymond Polson Jennings Memorial Library & Kissing Frogs Resource Directory
Ray's Story
Ray's Story
Kissing Frogs
Ray's Churches
The Preacher
The Author
The Poet
The Artist
The Reporter
Ray's Portraits
Ray's Journal
Ray's Celebration
Ray's Guestbook
Ray's Ancestors
Ray's Descendants
Ray's Friends
Mission Impossible
The Library's Objectives
Seafarer's Ministry

For over 61 years Ray and Irene Jennings traveled the world together and served many causes. This website is as a repository for his photos, notes, sermons, books and a variety of materials that meant something to him and those he touched during his lifetime.

Atlantic City, NJ. Waiting for the train. 1945

MY STORY: A Brief Account

“The Lord said, Jeremiah, I am your Creator, and before you were born I chose you to speak for me, to the nations.” - Jeremiah 1:4 (CEV)
I resonate with the Prophet Jeremiah's story. My old well-worn King James version renders God’s words to Jeremiah most colorfully: “Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; And before thou camest forth out of the womb, I sanctified thee, and I ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” I have had much the same experience though on a much simpler scale. Before I had graduated from high school I had a sense of call and a world view that set me on the road to a lifetime of ministry, mission, and theological endeavors.
Born in the Missouri Baptist Hospital, at age nine I was baptized and joined the large Third Baptist Church in St. Louis, Missouri. After high school I attended William Jewel College, a Baptist Liberal Arts School (A.B.), where I met and married my wife of 60 years. I earned advance degrees from two Baptist Seminaries (Th.M. from Berkeley Baptist Divinity School - Now American Baptist Seminary of the West - and Th.D. from Central Baptist Theological Seminary). I think I have earned the right to cite the little rhyme “Baptist born, Baptist bred, I’ll be a Baptist ‘till I’m dead.”
My mother died when I was age seven and my father, to whom I was close, died when I was seventeen and still in Maplewood-Richmond Heights high school. My Dad was “a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief.” He was a quiet, peaceful man. He had lost a wife and three children before I was born. When my mother died, my paternal grandmother became a central figure in my life. I often quote her witty wisdom.
I earned my school letter in forensics (speech) and enjoyed literature, especially poetry and drama. I initially anticipated a career in art.  All this was enhanced by the fact that there was a small branch library between school and our home which I seldom passed without stopping to browse.
By the time I was in college Third Baptist Church had licensed me to preach and, soon after, at the request of the Gentry Baptist Church in Gentry Missouri, which had “called” me to be its pastor, Third Baptist ordained me to the Gospel Ministry. I was a bonafide “preacher” at the age of 20. Dr. C. Oscar Johnson, my pastor, spoke of me as his ‘son in the ministry’ and on occasion referred to me as “my Timothy.” He was an early role model and youthful hero of mine.
Now, 60 years later, at age 80, having served as a missionary for more than a decade, been pastor of eight churches and served nine interim's (three in the Minister At Large program of the denomination), I keep busy with supply preaching, and service on numerous boards and committees (The Seafarers Ministry of the Golden Gate, The American Baptist Homes of the West, the Residents Council of Grand Lake Gardens where we live, the Pacific Coast Baptist Association, the Council for Pacific Asian Theology - and others). Last year (2003) I was in a pulpit preaching twelve times. When they were age four my youngest grandchildren (twins, now eight years old) found the word “preacher” a bit difficult and they have dubbed me “peacher.” I love it.
My initial theological study was at Yale Divinity School and I did additional study at Union Theological Seminary, New York, the International Christian University in Tokyo, and the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley California. This wider ecumenical exposure prevented me from ever becoming a narrow Baptist. These schools contributed to the person and the preacher I am today.
In naming some of the scholars under whom I studied, I run the risk of being accused of “name dropping.”  I have been both fortunate and blest by the teachers I have had. Our first son was named Leonard Kenneth.  Leonard in honor of Dr. Leonard Duce, our college professor of philosophy, and Kenneth in honor of Yale prof Dr. Kenneth Scott Latourette.  I must name Dr. Emil Brunner whom I met, and studied with, in Japan. His little book “The Misunderstanding of the Church” was a pivotal book in my formation. My principle homiletic professor was Halford Luccock (the Simeon Stylites of Christian Century fame). To these I must add the numerous MITs (Ministers in Training) who worked with me over the years. They were, indeed, valued mentors.
While I have given away thousands of books in recent years (To Eastern Baptist Seminary, American Baptist Seminary students and the American Baptist Historical Society.)  Among several bookcases of books I have kept, I have one tall book case of volumes written by my professors and friends. These will be the last of my books with which I part. They are the raw material of which my mind and heart is shaped.
I remember my first sermon. I was just out of high school and a freshman in college. An older student who spoke regularly at the local Odd Fellows Home asked me to take his place for one Sunday afternoon. I did, eagerly. Now, in retirement, and myself a resident in a retirement community, I have recalled that sermon more than once. I chose a text from Genesis (Chapter 1, verse 18). It is still marked in my well worn King James Bible which I have treasured all these years.  It read “And the Lord God said, it is not good for man to be alone.”  My creative exegesis of that verse was, I’m sure, the worst exegesis I have ever voiced - but still meaningful.
I made the simple declaration that God was with each member of that aging congregation. The text, of course, is an explanation of the creation of Eve. The sturdy structure of the brick building which housed the Odd Fellows’ Home is also still present in my mind, as are the physical plants of each of the many churches I have served across the years. I love Church buildings, cathedrals large and small. More than once I have pondered the fact that my first sermon was preached outside a proper church building. This was probably the beginning of my continuing lifelong lover’s quarrel with the organized church. The ecclesia of early Christianity produced the organized churches but, I believe, the Church is fundamentally, an organism, not a organization. My Th.M. thesis was written on “The View of the Church of Kanzo Uchimura,” founder of the MuKyokai (Non Church) movement in Japan. It was published by the Japan Christian Literature Society (KyoBunKan) under title “Jesus, Japan and Kanzo Uchimura.” My Th.D. dissertation was “The Development of the Christian Witness through Christian Higher Education in Japan with Particular Attention to the Post-War Years (1945-1957) and to the Work of American Baptists.”
The first church I pastored had a profound impact on my understanding of the Church. It was a non-denominational (multi-denominational?) congregation in a farming community outside Cameron, Missouri, fifty miles from our college town. Calling itself the “Prairie Town Community Church,” it was a “half-time” congregation, meaning that it held “preaching services” only twice a month. Church membership was unique - you simply had to provide the information that you were a member of another church and wanted to worship and witness with your neighbors. The church met in a small white abandoned school house visible for miles on the lush prairies of northwest Missouri. I was given the offering each week but guaranteed a minimum of $15 a Sunday. I learned early that Christians of diverse traditions and very different opinions can bear a united witness in their community.
Then came Gentry. The Gentry Baptist Church was a small Southern Baptist congregation fifty some miles northeast of Cameron and, when these hardy farmers gave me a call, they were only a “quarter time” congregation but, shortly after I arrived, it became half-time. This meant I was preaching every Sunday at one or the other of the two congregations. Three years later when I left Missouri, to go to seminary in New Haven, Connecticut, Gentry’s attendance and stewardship had reached the point where the church called a full-time pastor. This was probably my most “successful” pastorate. While the people were warm and friendly they held to some rather narrow Baptist positions - and yet the sense of being part of the family of God was evident.
The congregation had not observed the Lord’s Supper in more than 25 years. The reason was simple: One faithful member, an immersed-by-choice Methodist lady, who taught the young people’s Sunday School Class, had not been re-immersed when she was received into church fellowship. Her baptism was considered “Alien Immersion” and the congregation could not bring themselves to bar this beloved member from Communion and so they quietly discontinued serving Communion. They held their fellowship to be of more value than participating in the rite of Communion.
I determined to observe Communion and, in a burst of irritation and creative exegesis, I told the congregation that Christians had been commanded by Christ to observe Communion “in remembrance” of Himself, and that by not observing Communion, we were refusing to “remember” Him. Our last Sunday morning at Gentry we celebrated the Eucharist.  Irene and I purchased a communion set as a parting gift. The ‘unimmersed’ Methodist turned Baptist partook, and no one raised an objection.
There was one dissenter who declined to participate. Our custodian, who lived next door to the church and fired the stoves each Sunday, would not partake. The father of one of our deacons he was a member of New Friendship Baptist, six miles east of Gentry. He held that Communion was a local church ordinance and only members of a specific local church should be served. While “Closed Communion,” as Missouri Baptists identified it, is not widely practiced today, the issue of inclusiveness is still a Baptist bone of contention.
Our Missouri adventures were followed by ministry as Assistant Pastor and Youth Minister at the First Baptist Church of New London, Connecticut. In addition to learning a new hymnody we learned that Christians could hold bazaars and serve Clam Chowder suppers to raise money for the church.
This was followed by two years of “deputation” in which I traveled constantly, promoting American Baptist overseas mission. Then came our tenure of mission service in Japan (1950-1960). We taught at Kanto Gakuin University in Yokohama, I was the Chaplain of the University, helped found and taught at a fledging Baptist Seminary - and oversaw an Audio Visual Program for Japanese Baptists.
Returning to the U.S. in 1960 we served as pastor of First Baptist Church of Ottawa, Kansas and Bible Professor and Chaplain of Ottawa University. At the church we managed to pay off a new Educational Building built under Roger Frederikson, my predecessor. Then came a two year spell as Director of the American Baptist World Mission Campaign, first for Minnesota and Chicago then for out-state Illinois. I was instrumental in raising a million and half dollars. The principal lesson of these “wilderness years” was that I did not want to spend the rest of my life as a fund raiser.
In the pastorate we wondered if the phone would ever stop ringing; as a fund raiser no one called! (Except my supervisor asking, “How much money have you raised.”) From fund raising we returned to the pastorate: First Baptist Church of Berkeley, California, for seven years during unrest and riots. The church operated a Coffee Cellar and a free food program. We ministered to young people from all over the U.S.A. Crowded Telegraph Avenue next to the University of California became ‘my beat’ and I don’t believe I ever felt as much like a pastor as I did in Berkeley - with a clerical collar and constant community involvement.
Then to First Baptist Church of Syracuse, New York, a church with a 70 room hotel and a huge Gothic building. I had always wanted a church with an endowment. Syracuse had one but didn’t want to spend it. I managed to get the hotel into the black after decades of losing money.  We spent endless hours trying to plot a future for the church without any final conclusion.
Next I was called to the National Baptist Memorial Church of Washington D.C. - another large building with a small congregation facing an uncertain future. It was related to the American, Southern and Progressive National Baptist denominations. The “memorial” in its name referred to the Baptist heritage of religious liberty which the church honored more by its name that by actual practice.  It had done some very creative things in its neighborhood the previous decade but in the years just before my pastorate membership had declined and it was looking for a new ministry. We managed to initiate an annual lecture series on religious liberty but my ministry was largely sustaining the aging membership.
In several of my pastorates this was, somehow, a common thread. They were old churches with declining memberships, looking for their future, but not willing to venture forth on a new path. These were churches afraid of the future and seeking to return to their past. I touched and strengthened individuals but, in retrospect, I must confess I believe I failed to attain the goals I set for myself. Each post has been different. Each has opened a door to the next. I await at least one more transition.
Valley Forge, our national ABC headquarters (“The Holy Doughnut”), was my last stop in my active ministry. For more than a decade I was the Director of Communications for International Ministries for the Division of Communication (DIVCOM) ABC-USA. (Later titled Reporter/Analyst.) I wrote news releases and articles for the news service and for The American Baptist Magazine (TAB). Half way through my 12 years at DIVCOM I was named editor of Input, an occasional newsletter for professional church leaders. I had a happy time writing, playing the role of the Devil’s Advocate, traveling the world. I had no administrative responsibilities - for which I was most thankful.
In retirement since 1988, I have served as interim pastor to eight congregations: Roundy Memorial and Immanuel in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, Poquonnock Bridge in Groton, Connecticut and, in California, the First Baptist churches of Chico, Oakland, and Berkeley, and at Lakeshore Avenue Baptist Church in Oakland. I was a long term (five years) interim at the Moraga Hills Community Church just over the hills from Oakland. I did a year of ministry as chaplain at Pilgrim Haven, an American Baptist Homes of the West retirement community in Los Altos, California. Experience as an institutional Chaplain was a good example of my shifting between church and para-church service.
In 2001 I was surprised by a heart attack and that seems to have brought my interim career to a halt. Churches don’t seem to want to take a risk. I feel that I still have something to offer. In many ways I believe I would be a better pastor now than I was before.
As I write this I am keenly aware of my faults and failures. I have made mistakes and missteps. But I am more aware of God’s grace and delightful sense of humor. What else would have prompted God to be present in me and work through me? Each paragraph of this story could be expanded to a chapter.
One final and necessary thought. In this document I have mentioned Irene several times. The truth is that, without her, very little of what I have written could have been written. She went to William Jewell College to train to be a missionary. When we began to talk of marriage I told her she would need to become “a missionary to Ray Jennings.” She became just that. In Japan she did as much missionary work as I did but for these sixty years she has been my main stay. While I am retired she has been the secretary of Oakland First Baptist - for sixteen years. She raised our children and now shares the care of grand and great grand children. It is “our” family but she was the head of the house. I was “on the road” much of the time and she made that possible. We have two sons, two daughters, eleven grandchildren, three great grandchildren. More on the way. (As of 2006 it is 5 great-grandchildren.)

While my energy flags, Irene’s seems to grow. Irene is a musician. She sings and plays several instruments, especially the piano. At odd hours. She glides her fingers across the keyboard from one song into another in her own unique style. As I write parts of this she is playing. I think I should call her “my accompanist.” She has been the facilitator of my ministry - and full of surprises.
One of my colleagues and her husband honored me with an alcove on Memory Lane is Green Lake, Wisconsin, a favorite place of our family. She enshrined one of my sermons (“Kissing Frogs”) and then added “Effective pastor, teacher, missionary, interpreters of ABC missions, creative writer, articulate spokesperson from Baptist distinctive, advocate for and mentor to women in ministry, and warm friend to his American Baptist colleagues.”
Those are all things I have striven to be and for which I still strive. In 1989, shortly after I took initial steps toward retirement, I penned my own “Epitaph.”
If there is any celebration of my death, I hope it will be read.
        Dig me no grave;
        Build me no ornate crypt;
        Mingle my ashes with earth;
        Fling them to the winds I have flown
                To far flung places on this globe;
                All “home” to me.
        Sing me no dirge;
        Craft no glib obituary;
        Remind those who have loved me
        Of the themes that moved my life;
                Love of Church, a world at peace,
                The oneness of humanity;
                A few choice friends, family ties;
       Shed me no tears;
        Squander no time in mourning;
        Rejoice in my translation;
        Celebrate my now-found freedom;
                Free from all past limitation;
                Free to travel without luggage ;
                Free from hellos or goodbyes;
                Free to write sans editors;
                Free to sing, off key or not;
                At home with God.
        When mortal life has left this flesh,
        I’ll revel in eternal life;
        I’ll know as I’ve been known;
        See what long I have but visioned
                I’ll work and not grow weary,
                No day, no night, no deadlines;
                I’ll travel unencumbered;
                Write and sing without reserve,
                My Lord alone to satisfy;
                My Lord, my judge.

“So Job died, being old and full of days.”  - Job 45:17 KJV
“Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died in a good old age, an old man and full of years....”  - Genesis 25:8
Appended:  Irene’s poetic life story titled: “Images from My Life” will appear soon on her page in the "Ray's Descendants" section of this website.
Note: This document was written for Dr. James Chuck’s Book Group at the American Baptist Seminary of the West, April 2004, as part of  a project funded by the Lily Foundation. The writer once considered expanding this into a book length document for his family. Although he was able to do some work on the project his life ended before he could complete it. Other family members will attempt finishing the work he started, therefore, the family reserves ownership and the right to review/approve any editing. Irene Jennings can be reached by Email: writerray@aol.com