The Rev. Marshell Stenson, longtime St. Luke Baptist pastor, dies at 77

Staff reportDecember 19, 2013 


The Rev. Marshel Stenson (center) of St. Luke Baptist Church keeps the beat as his choir sings from the hymnal during a three-day revival in this May file photo.


The Rev. Marshell Stenson Jr., the pastor of St. Luke Baptist Church in Macon for 44 years, died Thursday. He was 77.

Stenson died at a Macon hospital, Bibb County Coroner Leon Jones said.

“He was a wonderful preacher and a wonderful person,” Jones said.

A native of LaGrange, Stenson attended Clark College in Atlanta and later earned his master’s degree in religious education at the Denominational Theological Seminary.

His first church was Mount Vernon Baptist Church in Newnan. He moved to First Baptist Church on New Street in Macon in 1965, then became pastor of St. Luke Baptist Church in 1969.

Among Stenson’s survivors is his wife, Mary. Hutchings Funeral Home has charge of arrangements.

In 1970, Stenson headed Operation Breadbasket, an effort to help poor blacks find better jobs.

“We already have enough maids, janitors and the like,” Stenson told The Telegraph at the time.

Stenson, the fifth of 13 children born to a Troup County sharecropper, served on the Georgia Council on Human Relations and had been a member of the executive committee of the Bibb County Republican Party. He ran for a county commission seat against incumbent Earl Zimmerman in 1968.

He was an outspoken religious leader over the years. In a 1979 interview in The Telegraph, he worried that many black men and women were not appreciative enough of the struggles of their forefathers.

“The church played the major role in moving the black man from slavery to where he is today,” Stenson said. “Blacks don’t know this, and as a result of his ignorance, he is turning his back on the church. This is my greatest dedication, the word of God.”

In the late 1960s, he helped organize the Alcoholics Rehabilitation Clinic in Macon. Alcohol, Stenson said, “is one of the most widely used and abused drugs. We look upon the problem as being a sickness, a moral character breakdown.”

Willie B. Hill Jr., chairman of the board of deacons at St. Luke, said Stenson’s favorite hymn was “Any Way You Bless Me,” which Stenson was known for singing from the pulpit.

“He loved that song,” Hill said Thursday. “You knew when he sang it he was gonna sing it a long time.”

Stenson’s daughter, Mary Scriven, recalled her father as a genuine man of faith.

“The way you saw him at church or at home or at the mall ... or out fishing was the way that he was,” said Scriven, who is a federal judge in Florida. “Honest to the core, a high level of integrity. He believed in having fun and laughing.”

When he got together with his brothers and sisters, they’d play cards into the wee hours of the morning.

Stenson was also an outdoorsman who liked to hunt and fish. When children gathered in a field near his house in western Bibb County to play softball, he was often the designated hitter. A solid 6-foot-2 with huge hands, he could sock the ball “at least a country mile,” Scriven recalled.

“Everywhere he went ... he was stopped by people he had helped or inspired,” she said.

A Christmas or two ago, Stenson’s wife bought him an iPad. But pretty much all he did with it was snap pictures. “My picture-taking thing,” he called it.

He had nine grandchildren. A lot of his photographs were of them.

“They followed him around like the Pied Piper,” Scriven said.

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