About the Pastor
“Steve, before you die you have to come hear my pastor preach!” That’s what Sister Annabelle Wilson said to me for the first time in the winter of 1990. And since we worked together in the same building at Austin College, she continued to extend the invitation until we finally set a date for our family to come worship.
In the Spring of 1991, my wife Carrie, our almost four-year-old daughter Alyssa, our nearly one-year-old son Willy, and I visited Greater New Hope Baptist Church for the first time. It was, of course, “the old church” with the children’s nursery in the little frame house on Maxey Street. As Sister Stell likes to recall, she dropped the kids off with Sister Pat Hambrick and her daughter Shanequa without a bottle or diaper bag, since she wasn’t thinking it would be very long. That was when we first discovered that Sister Hambrick was endowed with Christ-like qualities!
I don’t remember much about the sermon that Rev. Michael Moore preached that day, except that it touched me deeply. I had heard purely emotional preaching before on the radio, but I had never gotten much out of it. And I had heard more substantive preaching growing up in the Presbyterian Church, but it had never really moved me emotionally. But that day I experienced for the first time emotional preaching and substantive preaching combined, and God’s Spirit touched me powerfully.
Although it was the preaching that first grabbed us, it was the heartfelt worship of the congregation, their love for God and their generosity of spirit towards us (as a young white family who had stumbled into their midst) that quickly began to pull us in. Because of the many deep ways we were being blessed and fed there each Sunday, Sister Stell and I both began to feel called to worship regularly at Greater New Hope.
When we accepted Sister Wilson’s invitation to visit, it had never crossed our minds that we might someday join the church. There were no other Caucasians at Greater New Hope at the time. And Carrie and I were both raised Presbyterian. I had received my M.Div. and Ph.D. degrees from Princeton Theological Seminary (which is Presbyterian), had worked at a Presbyterian Church while I was in Seminary, had taught for a semester at Princeton, and was teaching at Austin College, a Presbyterian-related college. So this sense of calling to Greater New Hope ran contrary to all our initial expectations.
When Rev. Moore left, he invited us to go with him to a new church he was forming in town. However, Sister Stell and I discerned that we were being called to Greater New Hope, not to Pastor Moore. So we decided to wait until the new Pastor came -- to see whether he minded a Caucasian family joining the church. I’m glad to say that Rev. Fred Cason did not mind, that he opened his arms to our family (which now included our third child, Sarah, born into the Greater New Hope family), and soon asked me to serve as one of the Associate Ministers. After Pastor Cason left, Rev. Rayford Malone continued the tradition of excellent preaching and also ministered to me during a very difficult time in my life, ordaining me to the ministry in 2011.
These years at Greater New Hope can only be described as the richest spiritual blessing of my life. We have had the privilege of loving and being loved by our church family for almost a quarter-century now -- sharing together in the ups and downs of life and the constant faithfulness of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Sister Stell and I look forward with eager anticipation to God’s continued work in our midst!