HOUSTON (ABP) — Gene Pemberton joined the Houston Astros staff in 1994 to help his old friend, Astros owner and Baptist layman Drayton McLane Jr., in community development.
In that rile, he's made thousands of speeches to a wide variety of organizations over the last 10 years. But since 1997 he's been best known for the role he likes best. That year he became the major leagues' first full-time chaplain.
“When Drayton asked me to come here,” Pemberton said, “he needed someone with heart knowledge, not head knowledge. I told him I would stay two or three years and then go back to Temple [Texas] and do missions.”
Instead, he says, he's found a new mission field among the Astros' players and the thousands of others he meets in connection with his chaplaincy and community development work. He brings a simple philosophy to the job: “Lord, you know I'm nothing, but if you can use nothing, I'm available.”
Pemberton was a deacon for many years in the Assembly of God church, and ministry is his passion. But he brought a lifetime of professional expertise to his job when he joined the Astros. For 31 years, he worked with American Desk Manufacturing Co. in various capacities, including vice president of marketing and director of special projects. He sold seating for more than 60 sports facilities, including the Georgia Dome.
He also was widely known as a basketball and football official, calling four state basketball tournaments. For many years, he has been the color commentator for Temple High School football games. He and his partner, Mark McLain, have been honored by the Associated Press for their work.
As chaplain, he leads or enlists others to lead a Bible study for the players before most home games and works with Baseball Chapel and the other major league teams in conducting Sunday morning worship services.
“I'm often asked what I'm trying to do with a bunch of spoiled millionaires,” he said. “But I just see them as somebody's kids who need the Lord just like anyone else.”
He admits it is tough at times to get some of the players to participate. But on a recent Sunday morning before the team was to leave on a road trip, 18 of the 25 players attended chapel services.
“Most of the time I'm just behind the scenes, helping organize Bible studies, trying to be an encourager, just there to lift up their hands when they need it,” Pemberton said.
He travels with the team about a third of the time when they are on road trips. Most of the time on the road, outfielder Lance Berkman, a committed Christian, heads up the effort, but other players join in too. The players' wives have their own Bible study times, usually at night during the week, he added.
Pemberton said he is grateful to God for the opportunity to work with the players, several of whom have made professions of faith in Christ. He credits owner McLane with providing the atmosphere to let it happen.
“I'm here at 6 in the morning for my prayer time,” Pemberton said. “Drayton comes in, and we pray together. It's great to have an owner like that.”