The Rev. John C. Rogers, a steadfast pastor who led his flock during its darkest hour after their Sacramento church was destroyed by arson, died Monday.
He was 84 and had kidney failure and other health issues, said his wife, Billie.
The Rev. Rogers joined New Home Missionary Baptist Church in 1979 and was voted senior pastor in 1993. Under his leadership as the third pastor of the congregation, which started in 1965, members organized a youth ministry, a Sunday school class for young adults and a choir. He also oversaw construction of a new wing expected to double the size of the church on Woodbine Avenue near Executive Airport.
About a month before the expansion project was set for completion in 1996, a fire reduced the entire church to ashes. Investigators determined the cause was arson, but no arrests were ever made.
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The blaze raised concerns among members of the mostly African American congregation about a possible hate crime, because it coincided with a wave of arson fires that destroyed more than 100 churches in the United States, mostly in the South. Seeking to ease fears, church leaders set up a tent next to the charred remains and organized a worship service with a sermon by the Rev. Rogers about Job, an Old Testament figure whom God allowed to be tested by Satan.
In interviews with local and national news media, the pastor downplayed fears of racial prejudice and emphasized plans to rebuild New Home as donations poured in from churches, businesses and individuals. He met with local faith leaders, who donated supplies and space for worship services, and met with City Hall officials on planning issues related to building a new church.
Fifteen months after the fire, the Rev. Rogers welcomed New Home members to a newly constructed sanctuary, which he called an example of a door opened by God “that no man can shut.”
“We can attest to the fact that he is good all the time ... that God will make a way,” he said, according to a story in The Bee in 1997.
The Rev. Rogers “was a man who was specifically built to handle a crisis like that, because of his humility and wisdom,” said the Rev. Anthony Robertson, New Home’s current pastor. “His being there at that moment was one of the main purposes of his life. It was ordained by God.”
Born in 1930 in Hattiesburg, Miss., the Rev. Rogers moved to Northern California after high school and began preaching at Mount Shasta Baptist Church in Weed in 1956. After graduating from a Southern Baptist seminary, he joined Shiloh Baptist Church in Sacramento and was ordained in 1965.
He retired as senior pastor at New Home in 2010. During his ministry, he also served as a moderator for the Northern District Baptist Association and an officer of the California State Baptist Convention and the National Baptist Convention. In addition, he worked as a civilian supervisor at McClellan Air Force Base until 1992.
He and his wife were married for 36 years. He had five children from a previous marriage and was predeceased by two sons, Michael and Johnny, and a daughter, Wendy.
In addition to his wife, he is survived by a son, Donnie; a daughter, Mary; two stepdaughters, Donna Taylor and Deirdred Taylor; two stepsons, Gerald Taylor and Vincent Taylor; two sisters, Annie Lois and Annie Pearl; 27 grandchildren; and 16 great-grandchildren.
A visitation is set for 1p.m. to 5p.m. Monday, followed by a service from 5:30 to 7 p.m. Nov. 24, both at Morgan Jones Chapel of Chimes, 4200 Broadway, Sacramento. A celebration of life is set for 10 a.m. Nov. 25 at Antioch Progressive Baptist Church, 7650 Amherst St., Sacramento.
Call The Bee’s Robert D. Dávila, (916)321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Davila.