Andrea’s retirement an end to a truly inspirational era
During the Rev. Fred Andrea’s tenure as senior pastor of Aiken’s First Baptist Church, his ministry has been a source of inspiration and comfort for local residents both within and outside of his congregation.
“A number of people see him as a pastor to the broader community, not just First Baptist,” said Tom Hallman, a former USC Aiken chancellor and chairman of First Baptist’s deacons. “Over the years, many in Aiken have received a birthday card, an expression of sympathy or an ‘attaboy’ from Fred.”
Andrea, who will retire Sunday after more than 20 years as First Baptist’s spiritual leader, has been a driving force in the historic downtown churches’ combined efforts to spread God’s word that include the annual Lenten Luncheon series and an annual pulpit swap.
He also has served as chairman of the Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce and president of the Rotary Club of Aiken in addition to holding positions of prominence in various other civic organizations.
“Fred may retire from First Baptist, but Fred will never retire from making a difference in the community and in the Kingdom of God,” said the Rev. Doug Slaughter, senior pastor of Second Baptist Church in Aiken.
He and Andrea are good friends who have worked hard to build strong bonds between their two congregations through fellowship and worship.
Second Baptist’s members are predominantly African American, and First Baptist’s are predominantly caucasian.
“We have intentionally tried to bring our congregations together to break the color barrier and to really help visibly demonstrate that we have more in common than we don’t,” Slaughter said. “I think that has been very much a part of how Fred and I have viewed our relationship and how we’ve viewed our responsibility to the Aiken community. Fred and I have been talking to make sure that after he retires, the relationship between First and Second Baptist churches will continue because it has been so wonderful.”
Reflecting on his time at First Baptist during an interview recently, Andrea said community involvement isn’t just a personal priority. It also is something that has become a church tradition.
“In my view, First Baptist has been the go-to church whenever there has been a need arise for care and support or when there has been an issue that has called for addressing,” Andrea said.
In the past, hosting community-wide unity or prayer services has been one way in which First Baptist has responded to crisis.
But “sometimes it happens privately or very quietly,” Andrea said.
Ties that bind
Andrea, 66, celebrated his 25th anniversary as First Baptist’s senior pastor in June. But his association with the church dates back to the 1970s.
When Andrea was attending Clemson University, his parents moved to Aiken, and First Baptist became their new church home.
“I was here for the summers during both college and seminary, and we were members of this church,” Andrea said.
First Baptist was where he delivered his first sermon. At the request of then-pastor Bob Cate, Andrea spoke at a Wednesday night service during a break from his studies at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky.
“I suspect I was somewhat nervous, but I don’t really remember,” Andrea said. “I talked about breaking down barriers and building bridges to others. Afterward, Mamie Foreman and Louise Cassels came up and carried on about how wonderful it was and how proud they were of me.”
Early during his pastoral career, Andrea worked at churches in Kentucky and Indiana. He An was a pastor in Greenville, and then he moved to Savannah, Georgia.
“Little did I dream that I would wind up back here in Aiken,” Andrea said.
But in 1993, an opportunity arose at First Baptist.
Andrea didn’t necessarily see it as a long-term commitment, but he was searching for a place to settle down.
“One of my life goals was to live in a particular community for a long time and have a real sense of rootedness,” Andrea said. “I already had some historical connectedness to First Baptist and to Aiken.”
As months turned into years, and the years became decades, Andrea’s ties with First Baptist strengthened.
“I think it was a good fit for him and a good fit for us,” Hallman said. “He is a very personable pastor. He knows the members of the church well, and he remembers details. As a result, he is able to stay in touch with what is going on in people’s lives and ask important questions, not just general questions about how they are doing and how their family is doing.”
But it hasn’t been a one-way street.
“I also have been on the receiving end of love and care and support from people in this church,” Andrea said.
He expressed his gratitude to congregation members for serving as “ministers of grace and love” after the deaths of a daughter, Rebecca, in 1997 and his first wife, Dawn, in 2001.
They also rejoiced, Andrea said, “after God, in his providential way, blessed me with Barbara Morgan (who became his second wife).”
When Andrea delivers his final sermon as First Baptist’s senior pastor Sunday, he will be standing in the same spot on the platform in the church’s sanctuary where he preached for the very first time in the 1970s.
“There is kind of a loop there that will be closed, and I think it is noteworthy,” Andrea said. “Something like that just doesn’t happen very often.”