Larnzy Carpenter Jr. of First Baptist Church of Longview in Starkville stands in downtown Starkville on Wednesday. Photo by: Kelly Tippett/Dispatch Staff
May 21, 2012 10:19:25 AM
STARKVILLE -- It was a leisurely procession that made its way around the course during the Oktibbeha County Relay for Life at the Starkville Sportsplex on the evening of May 4.
But even at a slow pace, a noticeable bottleneck formed near the northwest corner of the course, where First Baptist Church of Longview had set up its tent.
It seemed as though everyone on the course simply had to stop for a moment to be greeted with a warm hug or a handshake from the church's charismatic pastor, Dr. Larnzy Carpenter, Jr.
Does Carpenter knows everybody in the city?
"Sometimes, it seems like it," said Carpenter. "I just love these people. I love Starkville."
They love him right back, too.
"I really don't know if there is anybody that doesn't love Pastor Carpenter," said Annie Hollingswell, who was one of just 27 members at FBC Longview when Carpenter arrived as the pastor in 2001. "He's just a wonderful man of God."
"I think the thing that sets him apart is that he doesn't just preach the word, he lives it," said Starkville Police Department Lieutenant Henry Stewart, a deacon at the church. "When he came to our church, it was a church that didn't really know which way to go. When Pastor Carpenter came in, he was the one that gave us the direction. He was the leader we needed at the time we needed it."
Under his leadership, the church did expand. Earlier this month, the church paid off its loans on the expansion.
But Carpenter's impact on the community goes far beyond the doors of his church and community.
In fact, is seems at times as if there must be five or six Larnzy Carpenters. He seems to be everywhere.
The list of his activities seems almost endless. He is a chaplain for both the Starkville Police Department and the Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Department. He is in charge of the bailiffs at Oktibbeha County Circuit Court. He teaches classes on healthy marriage, abstinence and fatherhood for state-run programs in Winston, Oktibbeha and Choctaw counties. He teaches a weekly Bible study at Montgomery Gardens, an assisted living community in Starkville. He runs a prison ministry at the Oktibbeha County jail. He teaches the Gang Resistance Education And Teaching Program (GREAT) for the Starkville School District.
"And there are probably a few other things I do that don't come to mind just now," Carpenter said. "Churches, civic groups, schools - whoever wants to me to come in, that's where I go."
That Carpenter would find himself in such a role was something he would never have predicted when he was a teen-ager. His goals then were much simpler. "I wanted to be a hard-charging, rompin-stompin, take chargin' Marine," he said.
In fact, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps at the age of 16, taking advantage of a delay-entry program. After graduating from Starkville High in 1980, Carpenter charged off to basic training.
"The Iran Crisis was going on then and I remember my father telling me, 'Well, looks like you'll be getting ready to go to war.' I said, 'You never know: They might having me guarding the president.' Funny thing is, I didn't even know there was such a thing as that when I said it."
After basic training, Carpenter headed to California for infantry training. While the other Marines were preparing for deployment to Iran, Carpenter and a fellow solider were interviewed to be candidates for the Presidential Honor Guard. Before he knew it, Carpenter was in Washington, D.C.
"The honor guard was such a blessing," Carpenter said. "Our job was mainly ceremonial. When a dignitary would come to visit, we would be at the Edwards Air Force Base. We might be at a ceremony at the Rose Garden. We were at hundreds of funerals at Arlington National Cemetery, sometimes three or four a day."
After three years, Carpenter left the Marines to work for the Washington, D.C. Department of Corrections.
It was during his seven years there, that Carpenter believes God was preparing him for the ministry.
"There were some things that I absolutely hated - murderers, rapists, child molesters," Carpenter said. "But in those seven years, I believe God began to show me that every human being is a person and that there is some good in each and every one of them."
Carpenter returned to Starkville with his new bride, Melita, in 1990, working first for the Oktibbeha County Sheriff's Department. Five months later, he moved over the Starkville Police Department, where he took over as the director of the SPD's DARE program.
"The DARE program changed my heart," Carpenter said. "I had always had a love for people, but I found my purpose when they put me in that program."
It is a passion that continues to burn with Carpenter today.
"We're losing a generation of our kids," Carpenter said. "If anger doesn't get them, AIDS will. Or jail. Or jealousy. Or self-hatred. It's a blessing to me to be in a position to help these young people. They face an awful lot of obstacles."
After being called into the ministry in 2001, Carpenter continued to work full-time with the SPD until 2006. By then, the church had grown and with it the demands on his time.
"They thought I was crazy when I left because I was only six years from retirement. But one day Lord told me, plain as I am talking to you, that it was time to go. I had to do more. I had to be reliant on Him."
Carpenter has been "doing more" ever since.
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