OTTUMWA — If you want to help others, and if you want to preach love, then you have to get involved. That was part of the advice from a senior minister to the reverend he says is Iowa's first African-American woman to lead a Baptist church.
Rev. Diane Koger, pastors, deacons, friends and family from around the state came to the "pre-installation ceremony" at Second Baptist Church of Ottumwa. They say the mayor of Ottumwa, Tom Lazio, was headed to Des Moines Sunday for the official investiture.
On Saturday, however, a senior Baptist pastor said Koger had begun visiting Ottumwa because she was called to do so. Eventually, the occasional interim position became a weekly occurrence even though she and her husband Joe reside in the Des Moines area.
"People did ask me, 'You're driving an hour and a half to preach?' The Lord has called me and appointed me — I'm going to answer the call," she said Saturday.
Rev. Bobby Young, the pastor of Mt. Hebron Baptist Church and a leader in several pastoral organizations, laughed about whether a leader like Koger would answer the call: "When God told Moses to go back to Egypt, to tell Pharaoh to let his people go, he didn't say, 'But first, check with your family, see if they're all right with that.'"
In a official proclamation by the mayor, he wrote that Koger was ordained in Chicago in 1984. Lazio also wrote that he'd discovered Rev. Koger believes Second Baptist Church must be a "church in action, and serve the community." He proclaimed in the written statement that Sunday, Sept. 2, 2018, would be known as Reverend Diane K. Koger Day in Ottumwa to memorialize the first female pastor of a black Baptist church in Iowa.
Very little of Saturday's service and ceremony was performed by Koger. The event was for her, not by her. With about 45 people present, eight of them stepped up to the choir loft. It was Young's choir, which had traveled to Ottumwa from Des Moines.
Actually, said the choir director after the ceremony, it was only a fraction of the Mt. Hebron 30-voice choir. They had chosen an powerful fraction (see video at Ottumwa.com).
Young, Koger's own pastor, mixed advice into his Bible readings Saturday night. Though he has sons of his own, he's also had 15 foster children. It's no wonder he asked if he could set the Moses metaphors aside and went to a bicycle repair analogy.
He said the new head pastor would have to maintain awareness of her flock. If you begin to lose part of the congregation and don't pay attention, it only gets worse. Sort of like the spokes on a bicycle tire.
"One spoke goes bad. Ignore it and soon you have four or five bent spokes. Then the whole wheel goes bad and you're riding around like this," he said, bobbing around to show a wobbling bicycle ride.
Fixing problems can be hard, or it can be easy.
"Life is about choices. You don't have to choose to hate anybody," he told her. "And for us to solve all the problems in the world? Learn to forgive. We could all learn to forgive. If you want to learn to love? Then, you've got to get involved. Because saying you love is different from loving."
The MC for the event was Alyson Simmons, of Kingdom Women in Prayer, where she met Rev. Koger. She told the people of Ottumwa they'd found the right preacher.
"You are getting a mighty warrior for Christ," Simmons said. "It's a new day in Ottumwa. God is doing something here! Catch hold of that spirit."
Staff writer Mark Newman can be contacted at MNewman@ottumwacourier.com.
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