Award-winning pastor reaches out to teen-agers


The Rev. Michael Braxton removed his clerical gown and took off his tie.

"This is dress-down Sunday," he told his Annapolis congregation a few weeks ago. "God isn't so much concerned with your outward appearance; God is concerned about your heart."

Mr. Braxton, the pastor of Cecil Memorial United Methodist Church on Parole Street, often breaks with tradition to make a point.

Sometimes, he'll quote teen-ager's slang during sermons that tend to be lively and humorous.

"I use the slang the kids know," he says, "like, 'Whoomp! (There It Is)' [the title of a popular song]. It helps them to remember what I'm saying.

"I try to give young people the feeling that they don't have to be one way outside church and another way in church. They can bring their energy inside the church. God isn't boring."

The Anne Arundel minister was one of 10 community leaders honored in January with a Martin Luther King Jr. Drum Major Award. Mr. Braxton was singled out for his extensive work with young people.

"He has provided many opportunities for youth to participate in the church, as well as being a mentor," the awards committee wrote.

Since Mr. Braxton, 46, came to the 200-member church four years ago, he has initiated a tutorial program through which volunteers meet at the church on Tuesdays to help youngsters )) with school work.

The congregation also opened a food pantry to aid the most desperate of those who ask for help.

"We can't help everyone, but we're doing some creative things internally and trying to do external things," says the minister.

Mr. Braxton tries to impress on teen-agers the concept that church is a worthwhile experience.

"I try to let the kids know that church isn't for squares," he says. "It's not just for the very young and the very old. It's for them."

While teen-agers often can be a difficult group for churches to reach, Mr. Braxton has something in his favor: He and his wife have raised six children, and one of their daughters is already famous.

Toni, the oldest of Mr. Braxton's six children, has climbed to stardom as a blues and pop vocalist. Her debut album, "Toni Braxton," has been in the Top 20 of Billboard's album charts for months. This year, she received four nominations for the eighth annual Soul Train Music Awards, which will be awarded March 15. She also received two Grammy Award nominations.

"She hasn't forgotten her roots, and her four sisters are backgrounding for her," says her father. "I am very proud of Toni. She shows you can accomplish what you set out to."

Annapolis Alderman Carl O. Snowden, says, "He is an effective role model. Here's a man who has a family that the whole community is proud of, and of what they've been able to accomplish. It's refreshing to see how black men are able, through adverse circumstances, to maintain and raise families. His leadership flies in the face of the cynics."

Mr. Braxton grew up in Baltimore's Cherry Hill, graduated from Carver Vocational Technical School and married Evelyn Jackson, minister's daughter. They moved to Anne Arundel County, where Mr. Braxton earned an associate of arts degree at Anne Arundel Community College and studied business management at Bowie State University.

"My religious background was very traditional, in the United Methodist Church," Mr. Braxton says. "But as a teen-ager, I said, 'Church isn't for me.' I left church, but then I married a pastor's daughter.

"When you grow up, you start to see . . . the value of what the church can offer and what the church has done for you in the basic training of your life," he says.

About age 25, Mr. Braxton "received a call from God" to preach. "My call was to help people realize there's a better way of life, and through trusting in faith in God, it can be accomplished here on Earth," he says.

He served as an assistant minister at Metropolitan United Methodist Church in Severn, then was pastor at Mount Tabor UM in Gambrills for six years before going to Annapolis.

He is now attending Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. He works as a supervisor for facilities operations with the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co.

"Cecil has a lot of opportunities because it's an inner-city church," he says. "People there are hungry for leadership and have welcomed a new outlook on how to evangelize the Annapolis area. I love being a pastor. I love being around people and making them feel relaxed."

But the minister is quick to point out that while he loves preaching, he doesn't like applause.

"I think I have the gift of helps -- not the gift of a leadership role," says Mr. Braxton. "I see myself as in a supportive role, not one out there to make a name. I like to see results get done, even if it's not splashy."

He was "very honored and proud" to receive the King award, Mr. Braxton says.

"But the point of the award is to bring to the foreground that there is work to be done. Whether it's myself doing it or someone else, the work and the opportunity are there. I'm just a vessel."

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