Make us your home page
Instagram

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Pastor wrestles with difficult task in Lacy eulogy

ST. PETERSBURG — When his father committed suicide, the Rev. Manuel Sykes pulled himself together and gave the eulogy, Baptist preacher-style, pairing traditional tributes with the fundamental doctrines of divine judgment and grace.

Grief stricken again four years later, he did the same for his mother after her long illness.

But burying two parents and preaching for more than two decades failed to prepare the 53-year-old Sykes for what he admits will be one of his most difficult and controversial duties as a pastor.

Saturday he will give the eulogy for Hydra Lacy Jr., the fugitive who shot and killed two St. Petersburg police officers on Jan. 24 and died in the violent confrontation.

Sykes, who will take the pulpit at Bethel Community Baptist Church with a smattering of notes and little else, is counting on God to be his voice.

"I'm looking for a word from the Lord. I think that only the wisdom of the Lord can help me to steer the proper course of remarks," he said in a Sunday school room at his church.

Thomas Long, a professor of preaching at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University and author of the book Accompany Them With Singing — The Christian Funeral, understands Sykes' challenge.

"When a person who is presiding at a funeral of a person who was a foster parent or someone who gave generously to the community, you want to mention that," Long said.

"When someone makes a pact with death, with evil, everybody is there knowing that. You can't whitewash that. You have to name the elephant in the room."

Lacy, who was 39, served two stints in prison. He had his final run-in with the law more than a week ago, when he killed Officer Jeffrey Yaslowitz and Sgt. Thomas Baitinger and injured a deputy U.S. marshal.

Some religious experts say a funeral like Lacy's should incorporate teachings of God's forgiveness, comfort the bereaved and steer clear of moral judgments about the person who has died.

"There is something good in everybody, so you try to find the best that you can," said Mozella Mitchell, chairwoman of religious studies at the University of South Florida and pastor of Love of Christ AME Zion Tabernacle in Brandon.

Sykes said his eulogy will touch on the personal side of Lacy. "I probably won't go on for very long in terms of trying to describe him as a person," he said.

"I'm not going to discuss his record and the things in his life that were negative, not specifically. I think that would not be helpful to talk about the things that he did wrong, but I'm sure that I will mention the circumstances under which he died, on some level."

Such rehashing will be painful for the family, he acknowledged, "but I think all of them have come to terms with that, that this is a tragic end to a life for all of them.

"While no one knows his motivation that morning, there are people who knew him well enough to see the good. I think the way he died is going to forever cast a cloud over who he was," Sykes said.

Bill Leonard, a Baptist preacher and professor of church history and religion at Wake Forest University Divinity School, said the clergy must be prepared to comfort families on either side of such tragedies.

"It's very difficult and the issues are very complex, but this kind of violence is a reminder that that's part of the ministerial calling, to offer care where it is needed," he said.

"That doesn't blunt the evil that has been perpetrated. Particularly in this case, you try to address the living. … Families are both grieving and humiliated and sometimes, rightly or wrongly, they feel responsible for what they didn't do."

Sykes said he will encourage the Lacy family to love one another, "to hold their heads up, to lean on God and to know that this too shall pass." He'll urge their friends to be supportive.

He won't skirt theological issues. Heaven and hell, very real places in Baptist belief, will be mentioned, Sykes said.

"I just believe that it's something that has to be said. What you cannot say is where people are going, because we don't have that intimate knowledge or power to determine that," he said.

About Lacy, he added, "It is my hope that in his waning moments he took the opportunity to make peace with God."

For those left behind, Sykes will emphasize God's grace. "He wants to redeem us before it is too late," he said.

He will acknowledge the loss of the two St. Petersburg officers. Cognizant of the racial undercurrent of the tragedy — Lacy was black and the officers were white — the pastor said he will attempt to be a peacemaker.

"I don't think that negative comments by any person of influence is going to help to heal those families of the officers," said the African-American pastor, who recently was elected president of the St. Petersburg branch of the NAACP.

He expects the pews of his 500-seat church to be packed Saturday. Given the circumstances, he won't ask for police assistance. He'll rely on Bethel Community's deacons and ushers.

He thinks he's ready to preach. "I find that God works best with me when I try to be a channel of his voice," he said.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

Pastor wrestles with difficult task in Lacy eulogy 02/02/11 [Last modified: Thursday, February 3, 2011 1:51pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times

    

Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

Loading...
  1. No touchdown, but fun lesson for Bucs' Adam Humphries

    Bucs

    It didn't end up being a touchdown, but one of the Bucs' biggest hustle plays in Thursday's win over Jacksonville saw receiver Adam Humphries scoop up a loose ball just before halftime, after what looked like an incompletion but was correctly ruled a Jameis Winston fumble.

    Bucs WR Adam Humphries runs to the end zone with QB Jameis Winston trailing -- his alert play wasn't a touchdown because teammates cannot advance a fumble in the final two minutes of a half.
  2. Bucs' Demar Dotson should be back from injury next week

    Bucs

    The Bucs got good news on starting right tackle Demar Dotson, whose MRI showed only a mild right groin sprain and should be back at practice next week.

    Bucs tackle Demar Dotson, shown last year when he signed a three-year contract extension, should only miss a week of practice with his groin injury and can return healthy for the Bucs' season opener at Miami in three weeks. [Octavio Jones | Times]
  3. Comedy legend Jerry Lewis dead at 91

    Obituaries

    LOS ANGELES — Jerry Lewis, the manic, rubber-faced showman who jumped and hollered to fame in a lucrative partnership with Dean Martin, settled down to become a self-conscious screen auteur and found an even greater following as the tireless, teary host of the annual muscular dystrophy telethons, has died. He was …

    In this Sept. 2, 1990, file photo, entertainer Jerry Lewis makes his opening remarks at the 25th Anniversary of the Jerry Lewis MDA Labor Day Telethon fundraiser in Los Angeles. Lewis, the comedian whose fundraising telethons became as famous as his hit movies, has died according to his publicist. [Associated Press]
  4. Mastermind of lottery rigging scam that netted millions faces 25 years

    Nation

    DES MOINES, Iowa — For a decade, computer programmer Eddie Tipton reliably showed up for work at the central Iowa office of the Multi-State Lottery Association and earned the confidence of his co-workers, a team of technicians entrusted to build computers used to randomly pick numbers for some of the most popular …

    FILE - In this June 29, 2017, file photo, Eddie Tipton, the former Multi-State Lottery Association information security director who admitted to masterminding a scheme to rig lottery games that paid him and others $2 million from seven fixed jackpots in five states, is seen in court in Des Moines, Iowa. Tipton is scheduled to be sentenced Tuesday, Aug. 22. (Rodney White/The Des Moines Register via AP, File) IADES501
  5. Pasco County man killed in wrong-way crash on New Jersey Turnpike

    Accidents

    MOUNT LAUREL, N.J. — Authorities say a Florida man driving the wrong way on the New Jersey Turnpike was killed when his SUV crashed head-on into another vehicle.