The Rev. Doris “Hubbie” Edwards was installed Oct. 7 at Riverview Baptist in front of a full house of parishioners, family and supporters. She’s the church’s first-ever female pastor and ascends the pulpit with aspirations of growing and energizing her congregation and forging partnerships with other churches.
Edwards, who grew up in Ponckhockie, is a 1975 Kingston High School graduate who is so fond of her own homegrown roots that she even called out her Miller Middle School seventh-grade English teacher, Bonnie McCaig, during her installation. It’s no surprise that her English teacher would take a liking to this particular student, considering the poetic and energetic language with which Edwards speaks. (To this day, Edwards employs those English skills on the Scrabble board.)
The single mom of two shares a “holy bloodline” with her large preaching family — more than a half-dozen family members including her own son, who are congregational ministers as well. When questioned why that is, Edwards simply cites, “God.” She graduated from SUNY Ulster with a paralegal degree but immediately felt a calling to work with people rather than papers, and so spent the next 30 years as a manager of the Children’s Home in Kingston, which she credits as delivering her to ministerial work.
Edwards focused largely on emphasizing the positive nature of the kids and convincing them to recognize “the goodness in their hearts,” and added that the true work was connecting kids with their families.
Edwards has been involved with her church since she was 19, and has been a lifelong practicing Christian, beginning teaching Sunday school at 14. “I always prayed God would use me in His service; that’s been my prayer,” she said. “You can feel God leading you to a greater mission. It scared me a little, but I finally told the Lord that whatever He has for me in my life, I will yield to it. I am a yielded vessel. I am a willing vessel.”
This 100-member church has seen five pastors, all male. Currently, between 60 and 75 people attend the church weekly, which includes kids. In the 1990s, the burgeoning church was badly burned in an arson-related fire set at a neighboring candy store, destroying the worship hall. Once the church was rebuilt, the old worship hall was converted for fellowship and church dinners and added a new, spacious church.
Sing it out
Many of Edwards’ congregants have not only known her since she was a child, but have also been listening to her perform since childhood all over the region singing at churches, weddings, funerals and special occasions with her powerful soprano voice. Riverview Baptist Deacon Edward Bell said that the music ministry is extremely precious to him, especially considering that once upon a time the church’s choir was so popular, that in 1986 they recorded a gospel album: “Reverend Willie Hardin Presents the United Voices Choir of the Riverview Missionary Baptist Church.”
Bell said he hopes to see the music ministry re-grown and revitalized and feels that Edward’s major challenges are going to be building both the congregation and the congregation’s coffers and encouraging parishioners to come out of the pews to volunteer their gifts and talents. “[Edwards] knows everyone, and grew up with many of the members of the church and fellow ministers,” said Bell. “She really knows the people and the people really know her. We have other people in Kingston who became ministers, but this is the first time that someone from us became a shepherd of our own church. I see that as a strength — she had very strong support when she was called.” Bell didn’t think the shift from congregant to pulpit was too jarring for folks, pointing out that there was “emphatic support” in her favor when the church was voting on it.
Moreover, Bell viewed her being the church’s first female minister and a divorced mom as a huge positive for teenage girls in the church, citing Edwards’ success as a single mom as an excellent model for young girls.