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Megachurch pastor Jamal Bryant moves from Baltimore to Atlanta

Jamal-Harrison Bryant, pastor and founder of Empowerment Temple. Photo courtesy of Empowerment Temple

(RNS) — An Atlanta-area black megachurch led by the late Bishop Eddie Long has announced it has chosen a new leader, plucked from another black megachurch, as its pastor.

The Rev. Jamal-Harrison Bryant, pastor of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, will move to Lithonia, Ga., to assume the position of senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church. He will also be shifting from an African Methodist Episcopal congregation to one affiliated with a Baptist network.

“Rev. Dr. Jamal-Harrison Bryant embodies the rare balance of spiritual gifts and practical educational experiences that connects pastoral leadership and discipleship teaching with prophetic preaching and courageous social action,” New Birth said in a news release on Monday (Nov. 19).

The transition comes months after Long’s first successor resigned after serving for about a year and a half. Bishop Stephen A. Davis said in June that he would return to serving the branch of New Birth in Birmingham, Ala.

Long died in January 2017 at age 63 after fighting health issues for several months. When he became pastor of the church in 1987, it had about 300 members. Its membership reached more than 25,000. When the church announced Davis’ departure in June, the membership had dropped to slightly more than 10,000, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution reported.

“One of the big difficulty with churches that have had nationally significant pastors is precisely the problem of continuity,” said the Rev. Cheryl Townsend Gilkes, professor of African-American studies and sociology at Colby College.

And the issue of succession, no matter the prominence or the size of the church, becomes an “incredibly painful problem” when a pastor dies.

“Even though pastors are professional, it is like losing a family member,” she said, and a successor often winds up preaching with “some kind of enshrined shadow or ghost sitting or standing over the person.”

Bryant started his Baltimore church in 2000 with 43 members and, according to its website, now has more than 10,000. It is affiliated with the African Methodist Episcopal Church, an historic black denomination that celebrated its bicentennial in 2016.

Bishop Frank M. Reid, who is in charge of the African Methodist Episcopal Church’s ecumenical affairs, said a shift of a megachurch pastor from an AME-affiliated congregation to New Birth would be a new dynamic that would have to be worked out between the pastor and the leader of the former AME district where the pastor was previously located.

“We would have to ask Jamal, ‘Are you leaving the denomination or are you maintaining your ties with the AME Church or are you turning in your ordination papers?’” Reid said. “But that would be between him and the bishop of the district.”

Gilkes said the AME Church, which includes bishops, is organized differently from Baptist churches, which traditionally recognize only the offices of pastor and deacon. But Long became a bishop of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International, a 24-year-old network of churches, in the 1990s.

Both Long and Bryant encountered controversy even as they watched their congregations grow under their leadership.

Long faced suits, settled in 2012, from young men who accused him of using money and gifts to coerce them into sexual relationships. In 2011, Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa concluded a three-year probe of six ministries including New Birth and found that Long’s staffers declined to respond to most of their questions, including the amount of the senior pastor’s salary.

Bryant and his ex-wife, Gizelle Bryant, who later became a star in “Real Housewives of the Potomac,” divorced in 2009 after he had an extramarital affair. In 2015, he announced a run for Congress only to end his campaign eight days later.

New Birth said Bryant’s first Sunday as “senior pastor elect” will be Dec. 9.

About the author

Adelle M. Banks

Adelle M. Banks, production editor and a national reporter, joined RNS in 1995. An award-winning journalist, she previously was the religion reporter at the Orlando Sentinel and a reporter at The Providence Journal and newspapers in the upstate New York communities of Syracuse and Binghamton.

29 Comments

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  • Going from Long:

    Long faced suits, settled in 2012, from young men who accused him of using money and gifts to coerce them into sexual relationships.

    …to Bryant:

    Bryant and his ex-wife, Gizelle Bryant, who later became a star in “Real Housewives of the Potomac,” divorced in 2009 after he had an extramarital affair.

    From the frying pan into the fire. Will New Birth Missionary Baptist Church never learn?

  • Come on, AA. You know megachurches want pastors with big public baggage. How else can they have the grand dramatic repentance speech, complete with tears and hand-wringing? Now that’s entertainment!

    The megachurch is all about theater. Even the architecture screams it. No altar, all big screen, stage and bandstand. If you want sacrifice and moral guidance, go elsewhere. If you want Hallmark channel-type warm fuzzies and juicy scandal you can really sink your teeth into, the megachurch is it!

  • Bling, it would seem, is a necessary accoutrement for mega-church pastors, right along with Rolls-Royces, enormous mansions, and private jets. Just, as you say, as Jesus recommended in the Gospel of Matthew.

  • Net, net, I would recommend endless expansion of Religion News Service and anything remotely like it. We need everyone reading and learning about religion, religious trends, the inside goings-on in all faiths, all denominations and all locations. We need this more than we need people in the pews, attempting to immerse themselves in church experiences first hand—-especially those so big that they are indistinguishable from show business..

    Consider lakes. One can learn to appreciate them for beauty, wildlife, ecology, flood control, recreation, maybe generation of electricity. One can experience them best from the shore, from a boat, from knowing their histories and their present statistics. One does not have the broadest understanding of a lake by simply jumping into it literally and personally.

    We’re talking about megachurches. First of all, let’s notice that the biggest and most widely distributed Sunday events are in the National Football League. Then, let’s notice that going to church in a building with thousands of other people is a similar kind of spectator sport from the standpoint of the fans in the stands. You cheer for your team (whatever it is), you behave in standardized and coordinated ways, you idolize your stars. You “participate” in a rather pre-structured manner. (Full disclosure: I once spent a few years loosely attached to a medium-sized megachurch which claimed thousands described in single digits—–several thousand but less than ten thousand. It blew up with a scandal. We moved away later anyway. We don’t miss it and did not go looking for another.)

    Rambling today. So, for the real subject churches here, what can I say? I wish them the best, of course. What else? May the people there have blessings on their lives and a sweet, gentle Holy Spirit in their hearts.

  • When asked about his diamond cuff-links – Bryant replied they were 29 carats each – 30, he said, would have been ostentatious !

    But his jeweler (undoubtedly Harry Winston) should have sold him a platinum watch also. Gold just so doesn’t match !

  • Reminds me of the P G Wodehouse story, “Mulliner’s Buck-U-Uppo” and the quarrel between the bishop and the vicar over how many orphreys are proper on a chasuble.

  • Sadly, bling, Rolls-Royces, mansions, and jets are not confined to mega-church pastors of color. So you are therefore quite wrong, as usual.

  • Maybe you’re right. But maybe you’re wrong.

    One might simply contact this New Birth Missionary Baptist megachurch, and ask the deacon/trustee boards for permission to do a professional, statistically valid poll to see if this is a Christian or a Non-Christian church. Then you would know the truth.

    I can hunt down the Church Secretary’s phone #, if you wish. You wanna Dial ’em up?

  • A poll would prove nothing as self identifying data is well known to be highly suspect. You conveniently forget I have an advanced degree which included extensive education in conducting, analyzing and reporting data. I can easily “prove” anything with a survey, I only need to write it in a manner to obtain the desired data. My favorite stats book is titled “How to lie with statistics”. Therefore you thinly veiled attempt to discredit my statement once again blows up in your incompetent and biased face.

  • Matthew 25 is about false prophets and the bottom line is by their fruits you shall know them.
    While some mega-churches are certainly suspect, others are doing a good work in bringing many to Christ.
    Church often seen by many as irrelevant boring; and a place to sleep, so if the mega-church is getting people excited about Jesus Christ again and involving parishioners in a good work (some have quite extensive social services), more power to them.

  • Let me warn you off on Mark Silk.

    https://disqus.com/home/discussion/religionnews/trumps_evangelical_base_has_shrunk/

    Silk has in the past banned folks from RNS.

    He is anti-Catholic:

    https://onepeterfive.com/slandering-cardinal-burke/

    and knows less about Catholicism than Spuddie.

    His doctorate is in medieval history from Harvard.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mark_Silk

    He built his career, such as it is, predicting the demise of religion in the United States and the triumph of Progressivism. He is a legend in his own mind.

    When Trump was elected he “shit a brick” and has been sniping at evangelicals, Catholics, and orthodox Jews in earnest.

    You are walking into a trap.

    You’ll notice no one else of our ilk participates in conversations on his articles, and for good reason.

  • I appreciate the heads up.
    I really wasn’t trying to start anything – although maybe I did come across that way.
    Where’s bob arnzen when you need him?
    🙂

  • Hiding from Mark Silk.

    Silk is a caricature of the uber liberal secular Jew.

    He is still in a state of shock Trump got elected, and even bigger shock that many of us would vote for him again.

    He thought that with Barack Obama the millennium had arrived.

  • Along with every other liberal.
    I pray that mueller finds nothing and they investigate this deep state coup that’s going on.

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