By Joe Banish
For 22 years, the Rev. Carl Sweat graced Laurel Hill United Church’s community of worshipers with his wit, work ethic and warm heart.
On Saturday, July 9, the community gathered for a “drive by” ceremony to honor his service, and personally thank him for his impact on their lives. Although Sweat is retiring suddenly due to a cancer diagnosis, his legacy will be remembered in the faith community for some time to come.
Born and raised in Suffolk, Sweat’s path to the seminary began unconventionally. He served in the U.S. Army after graduating with a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Virginia Union University in 1986.
Following his military service, he had a brief career in real estate. Afterwards, the Rev. Sweat said he said he had a calling to enter the seminary, and began the process of attaining the necessary educational credentials. This included a master’s degree in administrative science, a master’s degree in Division, and culminated in a doctorate of ministry from Providence Theological Seminary in 2002.
The Rev. Sweat returned to Suffolk and Laurel Hill in August 2000, upon the retirement of former pastor, the Rev. J.J. Ferguson. He was extremely active with community outreach, particularly towards school children. Indeed, when asked what the most rewarding aspect of his work as pastor has been, Sweat responded “relationship building among the congregation, community, and educational system.” Under his stewardship, he also improved the church building, adding important additions, such as a fellowship hall.
In addition to his work as pastor, Sweat is an educator and author. He taught psychology and critical thinking at Chowan University in Murfreesboro, North Carolina, and is the author of several books on the intersection of faith, love, morality and race. The “About the Author” page from his most recent book “Sweating the Ability to Love and be Loved” attests to his scholarly aptitude. “Dr. Carl L. Sweat Jr. is marked by unusual intellect, talent, a great capacity for doctrine, seriousness of purpose, and appreciation for lifelong learning,” it states.
Impact on the faith community
When asked to describe the qualities that endear the Rev. Sweat so deeply to the community, Deacon Robert Williams pointed to his genuineness, affable nature, and adherence to the golden rule — do unto others as you would have them do to you.
“He’s just a very loving guy,” Williams said. “He will talk to anybody, and help in their time of need. He truly believes in the word of Christ, and its healing effect on the community.”
The impact of the relationships Sweat has built in the community is extremely evident. Throughout the afternoon, he greeted everyone warmly, and guests were effusive in their gratitude.
Although the circumstances surrounding the Rev. Sweat’s retirement are unfortunate, the event had a decidedly upbeat air. Rather than wallowing in melancholy, attendees treated the occasion as a celebration, mirroring the positivity Sweat espouses in his approach to life and faith.