Long before I started attending First Presbyterian Church in Albany in 2000, I knew Bob Lamar. My previous church, Trinity United Methodist, only two blocks away, was part of something called the FOCUS churches. FOCUS was where faith communities of different backgrounds (initially Baptist, Presbyterian and Methodist) worked together to create a food pantry and other needed functions. Bob Lamar was instrumental in bring that about.
Periodically, there would be joint FOCUS services, so I got to sing at First Presbyterian, my current church, and see the then-current pastor, Reverend Lamar. I wouldn’t know for another decade and a half why he was so interested in the folks in the other choirs. It was that he himself had a beautiful singing voice – I saw him perform with his old quartet when he was in his eighties, and he sounded quite good – and had other musical talents as well.
His oldest son Paul is quoted in a news article that his father “knew from when he was a teenager he wanted to go into the ministry.” Robert Clayton Lamar graduated from Yale University (1943) and Yale Divinity School (1946).
After a stint in a Connecticut church, Bob had become the senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Albany in 1958, and served in that capacity until 1992. He was instrumental in developing an interfaith community in the Capital District with then-Bishop Howard Hubbard of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Albany and the late Rabbi Martin Silverman. After leaving the first Pres pulpit, Bob became executive director of the Capital Area Council of Churches. He was a lion in the ecumenical movement, not just locally but nationwide.
A bit of his history I only discovered recently is that Bob Lamar rose to become moderator of the United Presbyterian Church in 1974. He was co-chair of of the Joint Committee on Presbyterian Reunion from 1969-83 that resulted in the unification of the southern and northern branches of the church. Being a Methodist, I knew that denomination had its own racial and geographic skeletons before the United Methodist Church was created in 1968.
He was always very active in social justice concerns, both locally and nationally. He served as an officer and/or board member for a slew of organizations way too numerous to mention here. So he had a lot of amount of gravitas by the time I was attending First Pres.
But I never found pompous or self-absorbed. He was genuinely interested in what others had to say, even this former Methodist. As his obituary read, he had “lived a life of faith, gratitude and grace.” I’m pleased to be part of the choir honoring him on January 25 at 11 a.m. at FPC.