General News

Why We Remember Ken Jones

As the 10th annual Kenneth O. Jones Awards approach, those who are new to Fifth Avenue may wonder: Who was Ken Jones? Let me fill me you in.

By Scott Black Johnston

Whenever I show visitors around Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church (other pastors, in particular), I love to take them to Jones Auditorium. I like showing them the photos and sketches of all the senior pastors who have served this congregation since 1808.

Invariably, they will point to the man whose portrait, so beautifully rendered by John Howard Sanden, rises above all the others.

“Who’s he?” they ask.

“That’s the Rev. Kenneth Owen Jones,” I tell them. “He was an associate minister here, not the senior pastor. But he served longer than any other pastor at this church. And no other pastor had a deeper or more lasting impact.”

I never knew Ken Jones. He died more than a decade before I arrived. But what stories I have heard.

Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church hired Ken Jones in 1963, just a year after Bryant Kirkland was installed as senior pastor. Dr. Jones served for 33 years under three different pastorates. He died at his desk here on Jan. 7, 1996.

It’s been 20 years since his passing, but you talk to just about any member who knew Dr. Jones and they will remember him as if they’d seen him yesterday. They remember his prayers. They remember his preaching. They remember his presence.

The word “pastor” comes from the Latin for “shepherd.” And that is the image that always springs to mind when I hear people talk about Ken Jones. He cared for this flock, and they cared for him. He reached out in countless ways.

For hundreds, perhaps thousands of our members, Ken’s was the first voice they heard here. He was the pastor who got visitors on the line and invited them back to church. He was the guide for everyone considering membership in the church.

His was also the voice on the Dial-a-Prayer line, Fifth Avenue’s social media ministry in the days before social media was a thing. At its peak, Dial-a-Prayer handled 500 callers a day. Many of them called the church afterward to speak directly to the pastor who recorded those daily words of inspiration.

Ken Jones was one of our saints. I know, Presbyterians are not given to canonizing our ancestors, no matter how influential or beloved they were. But if you consider a saint to be a person worth remembering, a Christian worth emulating, a presence worth sustaining, then Ken Jones fits the bill.

Ken Jones is part of the soul of this church. That’s why we keep his spirit alive.

This article was first published in the Winter 2016 issue of the Fifth Avenue magazine, The Voice.