Rev. Fred Luter Jr.*The Rev. Fred Luter Jr. well remembers the first time he ventured from his native New Orleans to preach in Crowley, a rice-growing town in the heart of Louisiana’s Cajun country, reports The Los Angeles Times.

The pastor there had invited Luter to speak, but worried how the congregation would react.

“I told him, ‘Just don’t put my picture up,’ ” Luter recalled. “Just tell them I’m a leading Southern Baptist.”

Now Luter is poised to become the first black president of the Southern Baptist Convention, the country’s largest Protestant denomination.

But back then, in the 1990s, he was still rising through church hierarchy and knew it would take time to win over a denomination born out of slaveholders’ obstinacy and perpetuated by segregationists.

The Crowley pastor took his advice.

“I’ll never forget when I walked through that church,” Luter said, chuckling.

Silence greeted him. But in his warm and conversational style, he preached his usual message: God loves us, all lives can be changed.