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The Rev. Errol D. Gilliard, Greater Harvest Baptist pastor known for outreach efforts, dies

Greater Harvest Baptist pastor took leadership role after 2015 unrest to urge calm in streets of West Balt.

The Rev. Errol Dwain Gilliard Sr., a Baptist minister and pastor of West Baltimore's Greater Harvest Baptist Church who was a vocal proponent for peace during Baltimore's 2015 unrest, died of cancer Saturday at the Seasons Hospice at Sinai Hospital. The Severn resident was 58.

Born in Baltimore and raised on Fairmount Avenue, he was the son of Hugh T. Gilliard, a laborer, and Mamie Gilliard.

He attended Fannie L. Barbour School and was a 1976 graduate of Carver Vocational-Technical High School, where he studied printing and publication.

Family members said he had wanted to become a preacher since he was a child.

"He would go to church and come home and repreach the sermon," recalled a sister, Barbara Gilliard of Baltimore.

"When a pet died, a cat or a goldfish, he held a funeral in our backyard," she said. "We knew it was just a matter of time before he would have his own church."

She said her brother briefly worked as a printer at Harbor Printing on East Baltimore Street.

"My brother was honest, lovable, ambitious, talented, kindhearted, funny and fearless," said his sister. "He could encourage you, motivate you, teach you and nurture you, all at the same time.

"He was one of a kind. He would say — when preaching a funeral — that no one has a 'host' of friends. If you can find two good ones, you are blessed," she said.

Even before he was ordained, Mr. Gilliard began visiting Maryland prisons with a fellow church member Lois Proctor.

"He taught the inmates and brought them the word of God," said his sister.

He decided to become a preacher and earned a degree at the Virginia Union University in Richmond.

He went on to receive an honorary doctorate from Eastern Theological Seminary in Lynchburg, Va., as well as an honorary degree from the Determined Biblical and Theological Institute of Baltimore.

At the time of his death, he was studying at Palmer Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania.

"He was a no-nonsense pastor, even though he was a jovial person," said a colleague, the Rev. Jesse Young of the Silas First Baptist Church of Severna Park. "He hit straight from the hip and didn't back down. He was also an excellent mentor to young pastors."

The Rev. Samuel Ray, pastor of the Morning Star Baptist Church of Christ, who died in 2015, was a childhood friend of Mr. Gilliard's and trained him in public speaking and directed him in church practices.

In 1981, Mr. Gilliard became pastor of the New Mount Carmel Baptist Church. He was named pastor of Greater Harvest Baptist Church in 1985 and served its congregation for 31 years.

Friends said that under his leadership, attendance grew at the church, at Saratoga and Vincent streets. During his tenure, he also added church-sponsored housing and a recreation center.

After last year's civil unrest in the city, Mr. Gilliard joined other members of the clergy in a march on North Avenue.

"He was instrumental in getting the Baptist Ministers Conference in solidarity with other clergy to get in one accord to fight the situation head-on," said the Rev. John Lunn, pastor of Berean Baptist Church in Northwest Baltimore.

"He was an organizer and a leader for humanity," said Mr. Lunn. "He loved preaching. He had a commanding voice — and he could really sing."

Bishop Reginald Kennedy, pastor of the Gospel Tabernacle Baptist Church, described his colleague as a "people's pastor." He said he was contemporary in his thinking, and had a way of reaching through his sermons.

"He was a great orator," said Bishop Kennedy. "He was gifted and had a fresh understanding of the Bible. He had a skill in the art of preaching and he could keep your attention. He just made the message plain, a message that was comprehended by all walks of life."

In early 2015, Mr. Gilliard became president of the Baptist Ministers Conference of Baltimore and Vicinity.

In 2012, The Baltimore Sun reported that Mr. Gilliard "issued a call to arms" as same-sex marriage was being discussed in the Maryland House of Delegates. "'They took your tax dollars to push an immoral bill,' Gilliard preached into his microphone," The Sun reported.

Funeral services will be held at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Greater Harvest Baptist Church, 1617 W. Saratoga St.

In addition to his sister, survivors include a son, Errol Dwain Gilliard Jr.; four brothers, James Lester Gilliard Sr., Robert Lee Gilliard, Raymond Eugene Gilliard and Wayne Leake; another sister, Rosa Gilliard; and a grandson — all of Baltimore. His marriage to Brenda Cooper ended in divorce.

jacques.kelly@baltsun.com

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