Leaving politics at the Capitol door

The Rev. Dr. Rodney Wood was driving through Baton Rouge on a hunting trip with two of his sons in January 1993, when, he says, God quietly spoke to him about his next step in ministry.

He had just finished a seven-year pastorate at Trinity Church in Covington.

“As we passed by the Capitol, suddenly I sensed that God was speaking to my heart, calling me to Baton Rouge and to service in the Capitol,” writes the 63-year-old Wood in a newly published book on faith and politics.

Wood describes how he and his wife, Becky, entered a quiet Capitol rotunda on Saturday, Jan. 23, 1993, and after praying for Divine guidance, “these words of instruction came clearly to my mind; ‘Just pray. Don’t be intrusive. Don’t try to position yourself. Never look at a person’s station in life. And serve whomever I put before you.’ ”

That experience began two decades of nondenominational ministry that includes: praying for — and with — elected lawmakers and nonelected state employees working inside the Capitol, leading a weekly “Legislators’ Bible Study Prayer Breakfast,” during the session and just being available to anyone in spiritual need.

“As a body, our legislators are a group of men and women who are really seeking as best they understand it to do what is right,” Wood said in an interview. A prayer breakfast group is very diverse — racially, politically and denominationally, Wood said, with Catholics and Protestants gathering to “experience a beautiful unity in Christ.”

“They definitely leave politics at the door,” Wood said. “It is an extremely warm fellowship. They really care about one another.”

The new book, “Rulers: Gospel and Government,” is a collection of 10 essays by eight authors and edited by Charles M. Garriott, founder and director of Ministry to State, headquartered in Washington, D.C. It is scheduled for release Sept. 5.

The book’s theme is “a paradigm shift in which Christians must not try to better our nation by merely advocating certain policies, but instead by supporting, praying for, ministering to, and encouraging our nation’s leaders,” according to a news release. “Real change and improvement will happen when rulers carry a biblical mindset, godly perspective, and righteous pursuits into their offices.”

Even the idea of Ministry to State is incongruent to “politics as usual,” writes Joni Eareckson Tada in the book’s introduction. “It builds relationships not to receive something, gain favor, push an agenda, glad-hand or seek a vote; rather it is about giving. And caring about individuals who know what it feels like to be used.”

Rev. Wood is not a part of Ministry to State — his ministry is called The Mission Foundation — but the intent is similar, and he also strives to build relationships and care for individuals.

During a recent visit through the Capitol hallways, his “relational ministry” is obvious when he greets many of the security guards and office workers by name.

“He is a very personable man,” said state Senate Sergeant-At-Arms John Keller. “He does a lot of brotherhood with individuals as well as groups. And I cherish his friendship.”

State Sen. Sharon Weston Broome, D-Baton Rouge, called Wood’s ministry “a blessing” and adds that she also cherishes their friendship.

“What I appreciate about Brother Rodney is his Christ-like character,” Broome said. “And what I appreciate as well is, he doesn’t get involved in the politics of what is going on here and therein lies his effectiveness with legislators across party lines.”

“The Legislature is built on relationships and for those of us who share the same faith and spiritual goals, it firms up our relationships with one another,” Broome said. “Even though we may disagree on some issues, there is still that spiritual glue that brings us together.”

Garriott said he invited Wood’s contribution because of their longstanding friendship.

“I have been impressed with Rodney’s willingness to serve out of his love for those who are elected,” Garriott wrote in an email. “He is intent on honoring his Lord.”

Wood’s foundation, goes beyond the Capitol. He leads “The Gathering of Men,” a nondenominational men’s ministry and teaches in seminaries, Bible colleges and preaching seminars several times a year in foreign countries such as Albania, Ghana, Croatia, Tanzania and Peru.

Louisiana roots

A son of Louisiana with deep family roots — a great-great-great grandfather fought with Andrew Jackson at the Battle of New Orleans — Wood has been married to Rebecca “Becky” Hunter Wood for 42 years, and they have three grown sons, Jake, Jim and John, all physicians, and nine grandchildren.

He grew up in Washington Parish, hunting and fishing and playing football and trumpet brass instruments in the band at Franklinton High School, graduating in 1968. He accepted Christ as his savior at the age of 10 but later drifted from his faith.

“By the end of my junior year at LSU, I was far, far away from fellowship with God, and I knew that I was in great need of spiritual help,” he said.

Wood had played freshman football and was friends with wide receiver Andy Hamilton.

“Andy told me if I would give control of my life to Christ, he would change my desires,“ Wood said. “That was an amazing thought, to think that God would do things to me, that he would actually change me.”

That summer, he was working on a construction crew building power line towers in Virginia.

“One afternoon I was sitting on a piece of steel working. God suddenly spoke to my heart and said, ‘If you go another step in the direction in which you are going, you are headed for destruction.’ It wasn’t audible,” Wood said, “but I knew that I had to change my direction right then!”

Hamilton had meanwhile signed him up for a Campus Crusade Conference in Texas.

“On the first morning of that conference, on Aug. 9, 1971, I bowed my head and asked the Lord Jesus to take control of my life,” Wood said. “He heard my prayer, and He began to change my life. I’m almost 64 years old, and I’m still asking Him to please change me.”

While attending an LSU Campus Crusade meeting later that fall he met the beautiful blonde girl from Texas City, Texas, who would become his wife.Wood graduated from LSU in 1972 with a degree in business administration and got married on Aug. 19. They just celebrated their 42nd anniversary.

He sold insurance in Ruston for nine years while building a student ministry called “The Fellowship at LA Tech.”

In 1984, he and his growing family moved to England, where he spent a year studying at The London Institute for Contemporary Christianity with the late theology scholar John Stott.

Ordained at The Chapel on Campus in 1987, Wood received a doctor of ministry degree from Reformed Theological Seminary in 1995 and served as pastor of Trinity Church in Covington until his call to minister to legislators.

His favorite Bible verse is Matthew 9:2, where Jesus says to the paralytic man: “Take heart my son. Your sins are forgiven,” Wood quotes. “If I could have only one verse in all of Scripture it would be that one. That is the verse that is most dear to me.”

A central theme of his ministry can be summed up with two words — differences and distances.

“We can have differences in the way we see things, but our differences should not lead to distances,” Wood said. “We need to draw even more closely to one another. That is how the world will know that we belong to Jesus, that our differences don’t lead to distances.”