Jefferson City community remembers the Rev. Doyle Sager

The Jefferson City community is mourning the loss of the Rev. Doyle Sager, lead pastor of First Baptist Church.

Sager died Friday after a battle with cancer.

But he left behind a legacy of openness and accessibility that his family, friends and colleagues will never forget.

Others often referred to Sager as a pastor to the pastors, said Melissa Hatfield, First Baptist Church's pastor of youth and missions.

"We just miss him. He was a good man," Hatfield said.

Sager is survived by his wife, Janet, to whom he was married for 48 years; three children; eight grandchildren; a brother; and a sister.

His children - Joel Sager, Tamara Sager Everly and Kristen Sager - on Monday shared their thoughts about their father.

Doyle learned humility and his presence in the moment from his own parents, growing up on the family farm, Joel said.

Although they had not gone to college, Doyle's parents made sure all of their children attended college, Joel said.

"Our grandparents raised very critical thinkers," he said. "(Doyle) applied critical thinking to theology. He applied it to his children. He applied it to us and made us critical thinkers."

Although he was a busy pastor and minister, working hard and making himself available to his congregation at all times, Doyle was a present parent for his children, Tamara said.

"He would play catch with us in the backyard. He was at our concerts, because we were all in choir in high school, and in sports growing up," she said. "I remember him sitting at my bedside talking to me and sitting down at meals with us."

A lover of history, Doyle would insist on visiting historical sites while on family vacations, eliciting eye rolls from his children, Tamara said.

"Ritual was important to him," she continued.

"His love and connections transcended his denomination," Kristen said. "He was raised in a home with a very practical father and mother - and open-minded for the times. I had multiple conversations with Dad when he would reflect on how his own faith and his own approach to ministry was always evolving."

He made an effort to expand his views on the world, she continued.

"He was always curious about other faiths. He was always curious about understanding issues that he was not well-versed in," Kristen said.

In addition to pastoring, Doyle served in leadership roles in Baptist life across the state, nation and world.

"All over the world, there were many pastors who looked up to Doyle," Hatfield said.

He advocated for communities to meet the needs of their people through Bread for the World and Missouri Faith Voices, according to a news release. He tried to address issues associated with predatory lending, immigration, racial justice, Medicaid expansion, city transit needs, voting rights, environmental justice and global food security.

The Rev. Cassandra Gould, executive director of Missouri Faith Voices, pointed out that as Faith Voices was getting its footing, he offered the organization free office space, which it used for almost 10 years.

"This is indicative of how open he was to the community," Gould said. "Particularly when it came to the work of justice."

First Baptist Church became Faith Voices' home for training or marches to the Missouri state Capitol because of his leadership and belief that leaders should be involved in making public witness, she said.

"We talked about hard things - like relationships between Black and white clergy and the community," Gould said. "He had a warm spirit. He will be missed by us in so many ways."

Central Missouri is sharing in a profound loss, said the Rev. Angela Madden, pastor at First Presbyterian Church. Madden, who having been here a little more than a year is a relative newcomer to town, said in the short time she knew him, Doyle Sager had a remarkable influence on her.

Six weeks before she landed in Jefferson City, he reached out to her.

"I received the most welcoming email," she said.

And he introduced her to Jefferson City. He sought her out, picked her up and drove her to her first ministry luncheon after she arrived in town.

He drove home the point that "we're all in this together - that ministry loves company," Madden said, "that it's not competitive."

He was only a few blocks away and a tremendous resource, Madden continued.

If he was a tremendous resource for a pastor a few blocks away, Sager was indispensable for a pastor right next door, said the Rev. Beau Underwood, of First Christian Church.

"I obviously didn't know Doyle before I moved to town. My members kept mentioning Doyle," Underwood said. He added that when they did meet, Sager told him, "'We're going to be friends.' He didn't give me much of a choice."

What made Sager different was that he could easily have done his own thing, Underwood said. However, he always made himself available for a young pastor - so they could walk through a problem or talk through a question together.

Underwood jokes that he wore a path to Sager's door.

"When I got somewhere and I didn't know what to do, he was the person I called," Underwood said. "He was authentic as they come. There's a heavy skepticism in our society toward all leaders. It was inspiring to see him being who he was. It was a joy to learn from him and, in some ways, try to live up to him."

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