April 8, 2006
By MELISSA PIONZIO, Courant Staff Writer
It's been a long road, but after 19 years as the spiritual leader of Mount Olive Ministries, Bishop James L. Fenner Sr. is proud of his accomplishments and the people he serves.
"It's been work ever since I was called to come here," said Fenner. "I have cooperative people. They follow directions, they follow my leadership, and we work together to create and make changes."
On Sunday, members of Mount Olive will honor Fenner and his wife, Rosa, for their dedication to Mount Olive with a special worship service led by the Rev. David Massey from Hopewell Baptist Church in Windsor.
A dramatic performance of "The Glory Train" will be followed by a homemade dinner. The celebration will begin at 10 a.m. and continue throughout the day.
"We are honoring them with this celebration because they really deserve it," said Sara Lispcome, who, with fellow member Carole Hogan, chaired the celebration committee. "What I like is that he is good to talk with. You can call him anytime and he's never missing. He's always available for the members and that's what we love."
An ordained minister of 60 years, Fenner came to Hartford in 1987 when the members of Mount Olive called him to serve as their pastor. At the time, Fenner had been the minister of a church in Edenton, N.C., for 10 years, where he was president of the NAACP chapter.
But when he got here, Fenner said, he was handed a mess he hadn't anticipated. Mount Olive's congregants were without a church building and were holding services in rented space at a local school.
"The building was condemned and the city had knocked it down. ...There was nothing but a big hole in the ground," Fenner said. "But my philosophy was they didn't lose a church, just a building."
Construction on the new building began the same year Fenner was hired, on the same site of the original building on Battles Street. "We could have built it somewhere in the suburbs, but we decided to put the church right here, right in the middle of everything you could think of," he said.
The parishioners now worship in a mansion of a church that contains 18 classrooms for meetings, Bible study and youth programs, a fellowship hall and a chapel. In the main sanctuary, light filtering through stained glass windows casts a soft glow over rows and rows of wooden pews covered with soft blue cushions.
A state-certified child-care center was added to the property in 2001, and offers preschool and kindergarten programs to more than 300 local children. The church also runs two satellite day-care facilities in the city.
Fenner is always on call, working almost six days and six nights plus Sundays, he says. His wife of 23 years, he says, is his secretary, who helps him with his ministry "every step of the way."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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