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September 21, 2012

A commanding voice: Gilt Edge Baptist Rev. Motley’s retirement becomes official Sunday; Jeffersonville honors him today

JEFFERSONVILLE — For 40 years, the deep, melodious voice of Gilt Edge Missionary Baptist Church pastor D.L. Motley roused his congregation.

His message wasn’t simply one of faith, although Motley’s devotion to his God, his Savior and his church was never called into question. It was a message of action, of racial equality and of social justice.

Motley, 62, has been silenced by a stroke that robbed him of that musical voice, and his retirement will become official Sunday when Gilt Edge celebrates his career. Jeffersonville Mayor Mike Moore has designated today as D.L. Motley Day and bestowed upon the reverend the title of Commodore of the Port.

“It’s an emotional time,” said Joe Horton, head deacon at Gilt Edge.

But his legacy will live on.

Motley has lent his voice to the voiceless by serving on the board of directors of Community Action Southern Indiana and Haven House, started the Martin Luther King Food Pantry and is a former member of the Jeffersonville Housing Authority. He is a member of the NAACP’s ministerial coalition and a former treasurer of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Under his leadership, Gilt Edge Baptist Church founded The King’s Table, a ministry that serves free meals to the community five days a week.

“He just had a command in his voice,” Haven House Services Inc. Director Barbara Anderson said. “He had this really deep voice. It’s been really sad, because the stroke took that voice. He was always in total charge when he was at the pulpit.”

That voice found its way to the members of the congregation at Gilt Edge 40 years ago this month. The young man’s appropriately colorful arrival made an impression that’s still discussed today.

“Most of the members that were here when Rev. Motley got here, including my mother, were old enough to be his mother, and some old enough to be his grandmother,” Horton said. “I remember some of the members of the church talking and they still talk about it to this day. When they saw Rev. Motley, they couldn’t believe he was going to be their pastor, because he had on a dashiki and he had ... his hair in plaits, and he was just a kid. We watched a kid grow into a man.”

Horton met Motley at a seminar in Lexington, Ky. He met the then-21-year-old Motley at a hotel and talked, with Horton trying to get Motley to come and preach at Gilt Edge. Horton couldn’t have guessed that when Motley arrived, he would never leave Jeffersonville.

“I’ll tell you this — I put nobody above him in teaching and preaching,” said Carlean Stallworth, who estimates she’s been a member of the congregation at Gilt Edge for 49 years. “I think he’s a great teacher, I think he’s a great minister and a leader.”

Motley was the son of a preacher. His father was the pastor of Peace Baptist Church in Cincinnati, and it was his father who ordained Motley as a minister. Motley’s brother is also a pastor in Atlanta.

Motley’s leadership brought stability to the community around him, Anderson said. When Anderson was fighting to open Haven House, Motley gave her a 19th-century book on how to break slaves.

“He was telling me, ‘There will be attempts to break you, and you need to understand how to stand up to it,’” Anderson recalled. “I was amazed. ... He was fully aware that there would be attempts to break me.”

Motley was devoted to Haven House, and Gilt Edge has given the homeless shelter $100 every month since it’s been open. Motley also opened the doors of his church to the homeless on the coldest nights, when there was no more room at Haven House, Anderson said.

“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for anybody to work with Pastor Motley because he is definitely a people person,” Horton said. “He always sees the good in everybody. Anybody that he comes in contact with, he’s always seeing the good side of them. And his motto is, ‘Some people may have a bad side, but they are still sheep, and you have to lead sheep. They need direction.’”

In addition to the long-term leader of his church, Horton considers Motley a close friend.

“Rev. Motley builds a lot of confidence in people. I know he helped me to build a lot of confidence in myself,” Horton said. “He’s willing to sit down and talk to anybody. The thing that I miss most about him not being able to preach is not his preaching — which he can do — but I miss sitting down and talking to him about anything.”

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Amy Harpenau is the new director of theater arts at New Albany High School. Harpenau is a 2007 graduate of Floyd Central High School, has appeared on stage at both high schools and worked in theaters since she graduated college.

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