Beloved pastor passes away

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By Ben Bomberger, Reporter

INDEPENDENCE — A minister known as having a “million friends” and who preached an estimated 6,000 local funerals has died.

The Rev. Fred E. Jennings, 80, of Baywood, died last Tuesday.

Jennings was born and raised in Grayson County where he spread the Word of God for more than 50-years.

During 50 years of ministry he served at several local churches. Beginning in 1957 at Mt. Sinai Missionary, Jennings — who preferred to be called Fred — moved from church to church as he spread the Word. He served for 30 years at Pleasant Grove Baptist Church in Independence.

While preaching at Pleasant Grove, Jennings saw his congregation grow from 150 people to 547 resident members and 639 total members.

He was well known for making faithful visits to the sick in area hospitals. Friends and family estimate Jennings to have officiated approximately 6,000 funerals and recall how he preached at countless revivals, including 22 years at the New River Wildlife Building.

Add in perhaps 4,000 baptismal services, and it's easy to understand why Jennings was loved by the community.

In a 2001 feature story about him in The Gazette, Jennings said that he considered all he had done as simply carrying out the life God planned for him.

“In my sermons, I encourage the Christians and preach repentance to the sinners,” he said then. “Jesus is the Christ, and I try to tell the world about it.”

At the time, he estimated officiating at roughly 150 funerals each year.

“I guess I have probably done more funerals than anyone else around here. In my funerals, I take parts of scripture and show how there is a better place to go [after death]. My funerals are not sad. I try to make them uplifting by putting some humor into them.”

Jennings also became popular for his radio broadcasts on Galax radio station WWWJ.

In the 2001 story, radio station manager Debby Sizer said, “All people can understand it and enjoy it. People call [in to Jennings' show] and he always cheers them up. Somehow he always finds the right words to say to make people feel good. He can always encourage people to do the right thing. This shows that he is very close the the Lord.”

The program quickly became one of the most popular segments ever aired on the station.

Jennings used the program to reach out to those who either couldn't get out to attend church or had rather worship in their homes.

Jennings is survived by his wife, Geneva; a daughter and spouse, Sandra and Bill Winters of Roanoke; two sons and spouses, Curtis and Barbara Jennings and David and Ellen Jennings all of Independence and other family members.

A funeral for Jennings was held Saturday at Reins-Sturdivant Funeral Home Chapel in Independence with burial in Pleasant Grove Cemetery. Officiating were the reverends J.C. McKnight, Tim Crockett and Robert McLean, along with Will Winters.

In 2001, Jennings told The Gazette, “The Lord has given me The Word, and I spread It. The Lord guides everyone and he has called me to preach his message.” Jennings never stopped preaching the Word of God — as is evident by the thousands he saw saved and who turned their lives over to the Lord.

Jennings was more than just a preacher in Grayson County — he was a friend to many.

• In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions be made to Baywood Rescue Squad, Galax Volunteer Fire Department, Independence Rescue Squad or Independence Volunteer Fire Department.