Aug. 5—Pastor Eldress Mary Henderson, of Church of the Living God in Athens, died Thursday after a lifetime of service capped by more than 25 years as leader of her congregation.
Henderson often spoke of her love for her church and community, which in turned recognized her work and giving spirit. In February, she was honored as Athens Citizen of the Year.
She remembered she took on the role of pastor at the Church of the Living God, not knowing it would be a long-time calling.
"In 1995, when the pastor they had moved back to Dallas, I was an assistant. When the Bishop asked if I would be interim pastor, I did," she said in a previous interview.
Henderson grew up on Hamlett Street in Athens and said she and her sister had a bond with the neighbors and friends who lived nearby.
"We were part of their families," she said. "When we went to visit they were like our moms and dads and we had to listen to what they said."
As a child, she was a member of the Mt. Providence Baptist Church, not far from her house.
In 1965, she joined The Church of the Living God after marrying Tom Henderson, who was a member there.
He graduated from Prairie View A&M, but couldn't get a job in the teaching field. Instead he went to work reading meters for Lone Star Gas Company, which led to a managerial position. The job took the family away from Athens for a while, eventually to the Dallas area.
"When we came back, he was the manager of the Lone Star Gas Company in Athens," Henderson said. "Everywhere we went, we were blessed each place."
They were active in church each place they moved. Mary, who possessed a powerful voice, would sing and help in Sunday school.
She retired from her supervisory job at First National Bank in 1995, about the time she became pastor.
She said her favorite part of her work at the church is interacting with the people in the church and in the community.
Henderson said her goal was to serve the community, especially the youth, and she guided the church in that direction. The church kept in step with new technologies and ways of sharing the gospel.
"I see where we've come from as a people, but I know we have farther to go," Henderson said. "My desire is that leaders and pastors can come together. If we as leaders can do that, it filters down to the congregations of the different churches."
Henderson saw the value of education, even though hers stopped at Fisher High School.
"I don't have a college education," Henderson said, "But God put so many people around me who love Jesus and are willing to do the ministry. It gives me an opportunity to see a different array of people every week. It's my desire that each one be ministered to in the way that they need it."