New pastor leads Sunday service at historic Bethel AME Church

A new pastor led the Sunday service at Bethel AME Church in West Baltimore.

For a few brief moments as he began his sermon, the Rev. Patrick D. Clayborn paused, leading some at Bethel AME Church to think he was nervous and to shout out words of encouragement.

Instead, the 41-year-old pastor launched into a service so energized a few in the congregation became overcome with emotion and wept, while one congregant kicked off her white heels and danced barefoot in front of the altar. Clayborn paced around the pulpit shouting "hallelujah."

Sunday marked the pastor's first sermon at the 231-year-old West Baltimore church. Rev. Frank M. Reid III, the church's pastor for 28 years, was recently elevated to the rank of bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church.

Clayborn's message to his new congregation: Take the path of courage, dare to be yourself, and stir things up. He used the biblical story of Joshua, who led the Israelites after the death of Moses, to illustrate how sometimes people pass from our lives when their purpose has been fulfilled.

Reid served his purpose, Clayborn said, just as he had served his purpose as a pastor in Alabama, and that it was time for both of them to take a new path.

"You be you and I'll be me, and by being ourselves, we take the path of courage," Clayborn said. "Accept yourself. Stop trying to be somebody else. Joshua could never be Moses, and that's okay. I can't be Mr. Reid on my best day. I can't be Bishop [James] Davis on my best day. They are super pastors and preachers and bishops. I'll never be them, and that's okay. Because God didn't call me to be them. God called me to be me."

Jericka Robinson started texting old friends who hadn't been to Bethel AME in a while during the sermon. "Oh my god," she wrote. "You need to hear this new pastor."

"It was refreshing," said Robinson, 57. "We're looking forward to new opportunities, a new season. It's nice to see someone with as much energy as you. Sometimes you need that new energy."

Former Baltimore Mayor Sheila Dixon, an active member of Bethel AME, also said she was refreshed and encouraged by Clayborn.

"I'm looking forward to this new chapter in Bethel," Dixon said. "There's a lot we're working on in this community to enhance it and I think he will bring a lot of great new ideas and strong leadership, and stir up in many of us some of the gifts that have gone dormant for whatever reason."

Clayborn, a Memphis native, earned degrees at Morehouse College and Georgia Institute of Technology before entering the ministry, ultimately earning a doctorate from Drew University in New Jersey and going on to teach ministry at several schools and colleges around the country, according to a biography from his former church. He became pastor of St. John AME Church in Huntsville, Ala., in 2011. His wife, Sheri, is also a pastor and the couple have two children.

Clayborn said his inspiration for his sermon came to him in a dream.

"It's my hope that I honor those who come before me," Clayborn said. "If I had to cast a vision for where I pray we're going, somebody asked me the other day what are the three things you stand for, and I said off the top of my head, God, family and community. My prayer is that as I love God and I love my family, that I will be of service to the community."

cwells@baltsun.com

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