Lester Holt reflects on faith and journalism.
— For the longest time, Lester Holt would finish the Sunday edition of NBC’s "Today" show at 9 a.m., just when services began at the Manhattan Church of Christ.
When the elders moved the start time to 9:30, no one was happier than Holt.
“I don’t know if it was a personal favor to me, but it really has helped,” a chuckling Holt told The Christian Chronicle
in an interview at the "Today" studios. “For a long time, I’d get off at 9, and then I’d have to bugaloo over there and get there about the third or fourth song before communion.
“I was the guy kind of sneaking in. Now, I have a little more time.”
For Holt, 50, who also is weekend anchor of “NBC Nightly News,” Sunday worship has been a part of his life as long as he can recall.
“Lester is a humble and loving Christian — a faithful member of our congregation who doesn’t seek attention to himself,” said Dave Swearingen, an elder at the 400-member Manhattan church. “He often helps to lead our worship, and his remarks are always an inspiration to us.”
The youngest of four children, Holt grew up in Alaska and California as the son of a career Air Force noncommissioned officer.
His mother, June Holt, a member of the Cordova church in Rancho Cordova, Calif., near Sacramento, said the family always attended services together.
“We discussed the sermons and Bible class topics following services, so Lester is well-grounded in the Word,” June Holt said.
“I have heard him mention on more than one occasion on Sunday ‘Today’ that he would be attending church when he gets off the air,” she added. “That shows me he is not ashamed of the gospel of Christ.”
The newsman’s father, Lester Holt Sr., has served as an elder at the Cordova church and the Carmichael, Calif., church.
“It might also be noted that Lester’s grandfather and great-grandfather were also elders of congregations in the Detroit area,” Les Sr. told the Chronicle.
The younger Holt was baptized at age 9 in Anchorage. But at age 14, he asked to be baptized again at the Carmichael church.
“I remember coming to my dad and saying, ‘I think I was baptized for the wrong reasons. I think I was just swept up in everyone doing it,’” the anchor said. “Maybe I didn’t need to be baptized again. But I just felt like I did.”
Later, as an adult, the inquisitive journalist stepped back and re-examined his faith.
“I did a lot of reading and a lot of my own study,” he said. “I wanted to make sure my faith was my own and not something I simply inherited. It’s not a matter of really questioning your faith, but questioning what you believe and why you believe.”
Les Sr. said: “Lester’s faith is his faith — not a faith inherited by osmosis. This is proven by the fact that although he left home at an early age, he has continued to be a faithful Christian.”
Asked how he tries to make his faith a priority in his life, the younger Holt replied: “Little things. It’s hard for me to articulate them. You know, read the Bible and pray and all the things we like to do. I think all of us in life always come up short. I’m certainly no different. I just try to keep my compass pointed in the direction I feel it needs to be pointed at.”
Often, Holt is asked whether it’s hard to be a person of faith in his profession.
Whenever that question is posed, he said, the implication seems to be that “this business is not for people of faith.”
“I think there’s a connotation that we’re the liberal, atheist media,” Holt said. “And I know a lot of people in this business who are people of faith — maybe not this specific faith that I share, but people who believe in God and follow their faith. So I don’t find it hard.
“In fact, I find in many ways that this job is a blessing, in that as a journalist, I really get to see life in all its permutations. ... I see death. I see people going through the depth of tragedy, and I see people going through the highest of things. It just reminds you of how short life is ... and I think it’s the kind of thing that in many ways is faith-affirming.”
The difficulty in terms of faith is not his profession but the time it requires, said Holt, who married his wife, Carol, in 1982, and has two adult sons.
But that stress is no different than if he were a doctor or a stockbroker, he said.
“One of the hard things for people to wrap their arms around — because they flip around the channels and hear all the opinionated liberal hosts and conservative hosts — is what I do working for the mainstream network,” Holt said. “I don’t bring an opinion to the table. In fact, I jealously guard my personal opinion.
“My job is to take people to the news of the day, and sometimes, there are going to be stories that are going to offend them, stories in which they’re going to hear a side that doesn’t particularly gel with their political and moral beliefs. But as journalists, we’ve got to report on this.
“I always feel like when I’m being hit from both sides, then I must be doing something right.”