Leon Jennings had a promising hospitality career but, on the spur of the moment, gave it up to follow God. In the 33 years since, he has dedicated his life and ministry to empowering other men to see their full potential in Christ.
He helps to facilitate the Men’s Ministry at Vernon Temple AME Church in Southampton.
“My life now is about serving people with spiritual food rather than just physical food,” Rev Jennings, now 59, said.
“In my early 20s I had gone to hotel school and had been awarded the Pink Beach Trophy for best restaurant waiter.
“At the height of my career I had worked at the [Fairmont] Southampton in the old Newport Room when it was a five-star restaurant but it hit me suddenly one day, when I was around 25 or 26, that I wanted to do more with my life.
“I quit suddenly and then went away and did some training in child and youth ministry and started to connect the dots with what God wanted me to do with my life.”
His inspiration came from Acts 6:2 — It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God in order to wait on tables.
To him, the message seemed as clear as day.
In the years since, he has seen countless lives touched through his work at Vernon Temple. Men in their early 20s and older regularly discuss how God’s word can be used in their lives, careers and relationships.
“I’ve seen men change their perspective on life itself, fatherhood and manhood,” he said. “We have so many different testimonies.
“One member said that before he got saved he would get drunk and, instead of driving home, would park his car in our church parking lot to sleep it off. The funny thing about it is God has changed his life completely and now he parks in that same spot to attend church meetings and services.”
The Men’s Ministry meets for a monthly codfish and potato breakfast on the first Sunday and Bible study at Southampton Rangers Sports Club. The group also ministers to prisoners and has held games nights and football tournaments to reach out to the wider community.
“When you get together as men, iron sharpens iron,” Rev Jennings said. “Whatever your experience, you may think you are the only one going through [it] but because you’ve shared, someone else around the table realises they aren’t alone. It becomes easier for them to share. The best compliment we get about the Men’s Ministry is from the wives who notice the change in their husbands. We have wives who can’t wait for their husbands to go with us on conference trips overseas because they know their husband will come back changed.
“We are not perfect, but we have formed a close bond over the years. Elder churchgoers have poured into our lives. Those married 30, 40 or 50 years can share with those newlyweds advice like ‘don’t quit’, ‘hang in there’, ‘you have to work at it’ — and those words of encouragement make a big difference.”
One of Rev Jennings’s main goals is to encourage men to step up as fathers and be positive male role models in the community. His message at tomorrow’s 7am and 10am services: like father, like son.
“Sometimes if you don’t have that positive relationship with your biological father, it’s hard to look at God as a loving, caring father when your earthly father might just be the opposite of that,” he said.
“In those cases you have to re-educate people when it comes to looking at God as a father because some people outright reject Him because of the negative relationships they have to their natural father.”
As fathers are the first example for marriage and manhood for their children, Rev Jennings wants men to understand how important their role is. Lessons on love, worth, intimacy and discipline are key.
He said: “We have a lot of men who do these positive things but what happens when they don’t, and there is an absent father?
“There are deficiencies, and these are seen in a number of ways — economic, emotional, educational and in esteem.
“Through our Men’s Ministry, we are encouraging fathers to do their due diligence and raise their children right — be present, not just physically, but emotionally as well.”
•For more information visit www.vernontemplebda.org</i>