Congressman goes from prison to pulpit

Posted: Friday, January 07, 2005

EZEL, Ky. — Microphones hang unused next to the pulpit. The Rev. Chris Perkins has no need for them.

His voice booms across the Ezel United Presbyterian Church, filling the spiritual center of this sparsely populated Appalachian community with a message of hope and redemp-tion.

''My friends, the Gospel is not about power and status,'' he tells the 60 congregants.

''The Gospel shows us that God picks up the earthly notions of what is powerful and glorious and honorable and turns them upside down.''

Perkins, a former congressman and son of the late U.S. Rep. Carl D. Perkins, knows all too well what he's preaching about — he served 21 months in prison for his part in the House banking scandal of the early 1990s.

It was in the midst of the emotional and legal turmoil of his political demise that Perkins turned to religion. And it was in prison that he says he began to realize God was calling him to the ministry.

''I thought, nah, come on,'' Perkins said. ''But it just never went away.''

That's not to say Perkins didn't second-guess his calling. He had to make certain in his own mind that he was doing the right thing.

''At times, you think maybe it's a way that you're trying to cope with things, maybe even by escaping to something else,'' he said. ''But over time, I came to the realization it was more than that.''

Perkins took his first step toward the pulpit in 1999 by enrolling at Louisville Seminary, a Presbyterian school where he earned a master's of divinity degree while serving at Ezel. He was ordained last year.

Now, 50, his hair graying, Perkins is the full-time pastor at Ezel, easily the largest building in this rural Morgan County community an hour's drive east of Lexington.

He and his wife of four years, Bunny, a Lexington physician, met in church.

Robert Motley, a church member for 50 years and owner of a local Frosty Freeze restaurant, said the congregation feels especially fortunate to have Perkins — because of his past rather than in spite of it.

''He's a wonderful preacher,'' Motley said.

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