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August 3, 2013

Pastor’s life a series of faithful connections

VALDOSTA — Everything seems connected in Leon Henderson’s life.

His high school sweetheart has been his wife for nearly 50 years. His lifelong love of music has been intertwined with the faith instilled within him by his parents. From a one-time custodian to pastor to now an associate pastor, Henderson has developed lasting relationships with black and white churches throughout Valdosta and Lowndes County.

Yet, even with these rich connections, Henderson was surprised by one recent development.

It happened while performing in a church in California. A performance that led to his recently released third CD, “Lord Do It: Live in California,” a recording which features his performance of the title song.

Longtime friend Pastor Roger Thomas asked Henderson to sing at the Friendly Temple Church of God in Christ, Victorville, Calif. Henderson was traveling in California. He’s known the Friendly Temple pastor since Thomas lived in Valdosta.

Henderson describes Thomas as being a brother in the Lord. Though Thomas is younger, Henderson considers him a spiritual guru. And always, always a friend.

While singing, Henderson had no idea that his performance was being recorded, that the recording would be his follow-up to past albums, “O Holy Night” and “Go Tell It On the Mountain.”

Yet, even more so, though both men had been friends for many years as adults, neither Henderson nor Thomas realized they had grown up one door apart from one another on Holliday Street. Neither one realized that, though different years, they shared the same birth date.

In telling it, Henderson is stunned by this recent revelation. Already close, discovering this new connection deepened their friendship.

And Leon Henderson is a man of deep relationships.

Born the fourth of T.J. and Ida Mae Henderson’s nine children, Leon came of age in a loving home in Hudson Dockett. “I was raised up with a good family,” he says.

As a teenager, Leon met Lavonia. They fell in love. By the age of 17, Leon married Lavonia. Their love defied the odds of the people who speculated two people marrying so young would not last long. They are approaching their 49th wedding anniversary.   

Even during an afternoon interview, having seen her before setting out on their day that morning, and later enjoying a noon lunch together, Leon Henderson says whenever he is not with Lavonia, he misses her. “I just left lunch with her,” he says with a smile, “and I miss her now.”

Together, they have built a family of children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Though no longer pastoring full time, Henderson is still an associate pastor with Evangel Temple.

He uses his history, his experiences, and the example of his life to testify to young men, to hopefully influence them to stay or return to the path.

“I try to get them to see how God has brought me forward,” Henderson says. He tries getting young men to look to God but to also look within, to find the talents they have been given.

“If you have only one, one talent,” Henderson says, “find it, use it. ... Little becomes much if you place it in God’s hands.”

He recalls as a youth being inspired by the music of gospel great James Cleveland. He would listen to Cleveland’s recordings for hours. “I could listen to ‘Peace Be Still’ for 24 hours,” Henderson says. He would listen and sing along.

As an adult, Henderson met Cleveland in Albany. They met before the show, but matters delayed the show, delayed Cleveland from taking the stage. With the crowd tiring of the wait, Henderson approached the promoters. They allowed Henderson to take the stage where he performed a James Cleveland song. Soon, Cleveland entered the stage. For a moment, Henderson sang with Cleveland then Henderson left the stage to take his seat.

Yet, the influence of Cleveland has stayed with Henderson. Listeners can hear that influence as well as Henderson’s individual musical spark as he sings Cleveland’s song “Lord Do It,” on the new CD.

Finding more opportunities to sing gospel, Henderson relates the story of Abraham.

“God promised Abraham he was going to have a son,” Henderson says, “but it looked to Abraham like the day would never come. Like Abraham, with my singing, I thought my day would never come, but you have to keep that faith.”

Leon Henderson’s ‘Lord Do It: Live from California’ is available for $5, and Henderson is available for performances by calling (229) 242-0033.

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