Described by current church members as a “trailblazer,” Stokely served the church from 1946-1982. During that time, he became known not just as the church pastor, but also the community pastor.
To commemorate his legacy, the church will hold a celebration in his honor Sunday, Feb. 24. The event is open to anyone who knew Stokely or who has been impacted — directly or indirectly — by his service.
“He was quite wise in my eyes, and he was compassionate,” said Deacon John Harrison, who worked with Stokely in his later years. “He really cared about his congregation and the community at large. He was quite respected here in Kingsport.”
A life well-lived
Stokely was born in a log cabin on a farm in Parrotsville, Tennessee. After completing high school in 1922, he taught school for two years before entering the Virginia Theological Seminary and College in Lynchburg. He also attended Knoxville College and Carson-Newman College in Jefferson City, Tennessee.
In 1946, Stokely arrived in Kingsport with his family in tow and became the pastor of Central Baptist Church. He served in that post for more than 36 years, making him the longest-serving pastor in the history of the church.
Over the years, Stokely sought to expand the church, both in size and in membership. Known for his humanitarian qualities, he provided food for the hungry, went to court with those in the community who had legal issues and provided clothing and shelter for those in need.
“Rev. Stokely would literally leave his home and run down the street to a member’s or neighbor’s home with one sock on and the other somewhere in his home to be of assistance,” said 88-year-old Dallas Watterson, a lifelong member of Central Baptist. “No emergency was ever too large or too small to get his attention, day or night.”
Stokely’s ministry also brought Central through turbulent times, including segregation. He played a dominant role in negotiating race relations in the city of Kingsport and received numerous awards and accolades for his tireless contributions to the Bethel District and other efforts in the Tri-Cities.
Stokely retired from the ministry in 1982 and passed away a year later. After his death, he was memorialized with a scholarship in his name.
“Everyone who came in contact with him had nothing but positive things to say about him and about his philanthropic spirit,” said Deacon Paul Montgomery, who arrived at the church about two years before Stokely’s death. “He was just the right person at the right time for Central.”
Next Sunday’s festivities will begin with a soul food dinner from 12:30-2 p.m. Praise and worship will begin at 3:15, followed by the main program at 3:30.
The event will include scripture, music and tributes from community members who knew Stokely. The guest speaker will be the Rev. C.C. Mills Jr. of Friendship Baptist Church in Greeneville, a church Stokely established more than 70 years ago.
All events are free and will take place at the church, located at 301 Carver St.
“I could not ever do justice to conveying what type of man he was and his significance, and it still lives on,” said Linda Kincaid, church historian. “We are reaping some of the benefits of Rev. Stokely’s ministry.”