Rev. Emerson Ware, Jr.Published 5:34pm Friday, April 1, 2011
Great Bethel Baptist’s pastor traded management for the pulpit
As pastor of Great Bethel Baptist Church in Alexander City, the Rev. Emerson Ware, Jr. considers it an honor and a blessing to lead the congregation of the church he grew up in. Ware’s calling into the service of the Lord, which is difficult for him to describe, came during his nearly three decade career with Russell Corp.
“Members of Great Bethel got together and they voted that I would become their pastor. I consider it a compliment,” said Ware. “For me to grow up in this church – they knew me, they knew my life – to get the calling from them, it was a compliment for them just to consider me.
“Becoming a man of the cloth is not something a man or woman picks up – it’s a calling from God. You don’t pick it up, He picks you up. To explain the calling would be difficult to do; you don’t explain God.”
Ware’s path to Great Bethel was colorful and included stops in the military and several institutions of higher learning that culminated in Ware becoming a doctor of letters.
Emerson Ware, Jr. was born in Alexander City on July 1, 1948, the oldest child to Eula Mae Maxwell and Emerson Sr. Of the three girls and three boys born to the Wares, only Emerson and and his youngest brother, Darrell Ware of Alexander City, are still alive.
Upon graduating from Laurel High School, which was the black school in Alexander City during the segregation era, Ware entered the Army in 1966 and served for two years – the only time he spent much time away from home. Ware went through Basic Training at Ft. Benning in Georgia, and Advanced Individual Training at Ft. Lewis in western Washington, before being stationed in Alaksa’s Ft. Richardson during the Vietnam War. Although he volunteered to enter the Southeast Asian battle theater, Ware was never sent by his superiors. Ware’s duty assignment as a specialist in the Army was that of a machine-gunner and he earned numerous awards for discipline, neatness and his knowledge of the military.
“It was one of the best things that happened to me, except for my salvation,” said Ware. “The military allowed me to get out and see different parts of the world, develop my culture and get some discipline.”
After two years in the Army, Ware resumed his education. He started out studying textile manufacturing at Opelika (Ala.) Technical College. While he was there he began his career with the Russell Corp. in the knitting department on the newly developed four-hour-a-day student-shift. Ware went on to earn an associate degree from the main campus of Southern Union Community College in Wadley, Ala., and over the course of the next several years he studied and attained a bachelor’s degree from Selma (Ala.) University; two master’s degrees from the Gulf Coast Seminary in Panama City, Fla., and the Rushing Springs School of Theology in Sylacauga, Ala.; and a doctorate from the Southwest Bible College when it was located in Jennings, La.
During most of his scholarly work, Ware was an employee at Russell Corp. He moved up the ladder from being a knitter to a supervisory role – a position he held for about 18 years. Ware also spent time in the shipping department of customer service before putting in another 10 years with Human Resources as a supervisor of employment interviews.
“While I was in the knitting department, I got the calling,” he said. “I became ordained by the pastor I used to preach for, E.B. Burpo Jr., at the old Great Bethel Baptist Church.”
Ware was ordained on Sept. 11, 1983, and the first church that Ware led was Corinth Baptist in Kellyton, a few miles northeast of Alexander City and the Russell Corp. complex.
As Ware’s job description changed and he took on more responsibility with each promotion, his religious and secular jobs began to conflict. His ability to perform dual roles hit a wall when Ware’s work schedule required him to work on Sunday. After speaking with his parishioners about the dilemma, a solution was born from a compromise proposed by the congregation. At the same time, Russell Corp. began downsizing and Ware saw the writing on the wall, realizing that it might be time for a transition.
“I couldn’t work Sundays and pastor at the same time,” said Ware. “I had to make a decision: give up preaching or give up supervising and go to an hourly position.
“(My parishioners) told me, ‘Don’t give up your job. Let’s go to two Sundays a month.’ I went there to take them forward, not backward, so I made the sacrifice and gave up management to pastor,” he said.
Ware’s union with his wife of nearly 42 years, Nina, has produced three children – Sherry Lashon Paige of Birmingham, Eric Ware and Rhonda Banks, both of Alexander City. The Wares now have five grandchildren.
And, as if they weren’t already busy enough, the elder Wares are the owners of Lakeshore Deluxe Cleaners on East South Street in Dadeville.
During his career, Ware has been instrumental as an ambassador of sorts for race relations in the area. He has the distinction of being the first black to serve as chaplain of Russell Medical Center and, if not the first, one of the first to serve on the board of directors for one of Alexander City’s banks. He has also had the honor of being invited as a guest preacher at some of the majority-white churches in town, such as First United Methodist, First Presbyterian and St. James Episcopal.
Ware is now entering his 22nd year as the leader of Great Bethel Baptist and during that time he has overseen the construction of a new church that sits just down the knoll from the original structure. He has a vision for his future, and the church’s, that is all-inclusive.
“When we built this church, we built it for the overflow,” said Ware. “We had it designed so we could readily put a balcony in for the overflow. My dreams, my ambition, my desire, is to see the overflow with a diversification of membership.”
Most Lake Martin area residents are church-goers and most are Baptists. In the Alexander City and Dadeville area, there are 57 Baptist churches, 16 Methodist churches, 2 Presbyterian churches, 1 Episcopal church, 1 Roman Catholic church and 13 churches of other denominations listed in the telephone book yellow pages.