At Gov.-elect Wes Moore’s last Baltimore church service before inauguration, hugs of encouragement, prayers of hope

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Gov.-elect Wes Moore, with wife Dawn and son James, worship at their church, Southern Baptist Church in East Baltimore, on the Sunday preceding his inaugural week in Annapolis. Bishop Donte Hickman Sr. invited Moore to address the congregation at the end of the service.

Bishop Donte Hickman was building toward the climax of his sermon early Sunday, his deep voice climbing gradually in volume, energy and pace, as he brought an oft-quoted passage from the Book of Matthew to life.

God has given us what Jesus called the keys to the kingdom — and the keys to our own dignity, sanctity and future — he said, as long as we remain strong in our faith.


“If you have the keys, won’t you take them out?” Hickman cried. And in the front row at Southern Baptist Church, his most famous congregant stood and did exactly that.

It was the final Sunday service at his home church for Wes Moore before he becomes the 63rd governor of Maryland on Wednesday, and the longtime member of the East Baltimore congregation held up and triumphantly rattled his keys, presumably the ones to the vehicle that had brought his wife, Dawn, and their son, James, to the 7:45 service that morning.


“Just like now, just like tomorrow, just like always, regardless of our living in Annapolis, my church home is Southern Baptist,” he said moments later when Hickman invited him and his family to take the stage, and the 600 or so people in the sanctuary roared. “I also know that even after Wednesday, even after we head to Annapolis, I know who my Lord and savior is. I know who my God is. I know who my Father is.”

When Moore, a bestselling author, community activist, former banker and military veteran, begins his term Wednesday, becoming the first Black governor in Maryland history in the process, it will mark the first time he has ever held public office. He spoke passionately on the campaign trail of his goals of expanding educational opportunities for children, working toward a more equitable health care system, and developing safer neighborhoods for older adults and all other citizens. But he rarely cited the ways in which his faith life affects his views on public policy.

He didn’t do so on Sunday, either, but for anyone paying attention, the clues were difficult to miss.

Seated feet away from Hickman beside the state’s soon-to-be first lady, 47, and their son, 9, Moore rose to sing the words to praise songs such as Michael W. Smith’s “I Give You My Heart,” along with the church’s award-winning choir. He watched the pastor, a friend of many years, intently throughout the sermon, as Hickman says Moore and his family do every Sunday when he is in town.

And he held a small but well-worn leather-bound Bible aloft when Hickman made key points — such as when the pastor said that whenever a Christian relies on God in his worldly dealings, God’s enemies will attack him, before naming such landmark Black reformers as the abolitionists Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass, civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer and the community leader Booker T. Washington, all Christians, as individuals who “kept the faith.”

“Martin Luther King Jr. kept the faith, and Wes Moore kept the faith,” Hickman added, one of several times the pastor, a longtime community activist, pointed to the historic nature of the pending Moore administration during the livestreamed service. “Our hope is based on nothing less than Jesus and his righteousness.” And Moore held his Bible aloft as if in salute.

Moore took no questions from the media Sunday morning — he was to take part in a worship-centered pre-inaugural event, “An Evening of Faith and Community,” at Kingdom Fellowship AME Church in Calverton on Sunday evening — and did not respond to requests last week to discuss his faith. But as Hickman pointed out in an interview with The Baltimore Sun on Friday, Moore has never been a stranger to church life.

“He comes from a long line of ministers,” Hickman said.


Moore’s maternal great-grandfather, a minister, lived in South Carolina for a time before returning to Jamaica, the land of his birth, Moore told The Washington Post in a recent interview. And his maternal grandfather, James Thomas, became the first Black minister in the Dutch Reformed Church or the Reformed Church in America.

Moore’s father died when he was young, and after his mother moved his family to New York, where family lived, Thomas became a profound influence on Moore, he has said. Moore’s children, 11-year-old Mia and James, will hold Thomas’ Bible during their father’s swearing-in ceremony Wednesday; Moore will take the oath of office on a Bible once owned by Douglass, one of his heroes.

Hickman says the fact that Moore doesn’t often refer to his faith life in public does not surprise him, nor does it bother him. He has known Moore since the two met as guests on a radio show in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray in custody of Baltimore Police in 2015.

Maryland Gov.-elect Wes Moore, left, acknowledges the praise of his pastor, Bishop Donte Hickman Sr., right, during Sunday services at Southern Baptist Church in East Baltimore. This Wednesday, Moore will be sworn in as the state's first Black governor.

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Moore and his family joined Southern Baptist shortly after, and Hickman says his service in the church has inspired many members.

He has pitched in when the church helps feed hundreds of families during Thanksgiving, Hickman says, and he took a downright ministerial approach after an elderly member, Evelyn Player, was killed on-site in November 2021.

Moore was one of the first to call Hickman upon hearing the news. He came straight to the church, where he gave an uplifting, off-the-cuff talk at a vigil for Player, Hickman said.


“What I’m impressed with is that while he doesn’t talk a lot about his faith, he does demonstrate it in his engagement with people, his ability to bring consensus among all kinds of people of different races, gender and creeds. That speaks volumes about his faith life,” Hickman said.

As the service came to a close, congregants lined up by the dozen, single-file, to have their turns hugging the smiling future governor, wishing him luck and posing for selfies, and doing the same with his family members. One woman even had Moore sign her Bible.

They say he’s off to do great things for a state in need — and they have no doubt that as he does so, he’ll be thinking as much about them as they do of him.

Barbara Howard, center, a teacher at Montebello Elementary/Middle School, and other members of Southern Baptist Church greet fellow congregant Gov.-elect Wes Moore after Sunday services at the East Baltimore church. Moore has pledged to make education a top priority, including fully funding and implementing the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future.

“I told him, ‘I’m very happy for you, I’m praying for you, and I know you’ll do a good job for our race and all races,’” longtime Southern Baptist member Harriet Lashley, 97, said, fresh off an embrace with the rising political star. “He said to me, ‘You’re amazing for your age. God bless you. And keep up the good work.’”