Long­time pas­tor says good­bye to Bethel AME

Af­ter nearly 28 years at the church, Frank M. Reid is leav­ing to be­come a bishop

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Pamela Wood

When the Rev. Frank M. Reid III first climbed be­hind the pul­pit of Bethel AME Church in Oc­to­ber 1988, he had a mes­sage for mem­bers of the his­toric church: “God is still in charge.”

Step­ping to the pul­pit Sun­day to bid farewell to his con­gre­ga­tion, that mes­sage remains as rel­e­vant as ever, Reid said. And God has plenty of bless­ings in store, he said.

“God’s got greater things com­ing for Bethel and Bal­ti­more!” the 65-year-old preacher thun­dered as wor­ship­pers clapped and cheered him along.

Dur­ing a ser­vice that stretched for more t han two hours, Reid im­plored wor­ship­pers to seek God’s bless­ings and share those bless­ings with oth­ers. That’s the only way, he said, to heal a hurt­ing city.

He en­cour­aged them to stretch and do not just good work, but great work in God’s name.

“Giv­ing food to the hun­gry is good work,” Reid said. “Re­build­ing a city is a greater work.”

Sun­day was the fi­nal ser­vice at Bethel for Reid, one of Bal­ti­more’s most in­flu­en­tial pas­tors. He has been el­e­vated to the rank of bishop in the African Methodist Epis­co­pal Church — a pro­mo­tion that means he’ll be leav­ing his pul­pit of nearly 28 years.

For the first time as a min­is­ter, he won’t have a con­gre­ga­tion to shep­herd. In his new role, Reid will over­see AMEchap­lains who work in the mil­i­tary, pris­ons and hos­pi­tals. And he’ll do so­cial ac­tion work, as well — he’s form­ing plans for a voter regis­tra­tion and ed­u­ca­tion cam­paign tar­get­ing African-Amer­i­cans.

“It’s very im­por­tant, while black lives

mat­ter, that peo­ple re­al­ize that black votes mat­ter,” Reid said in an in­ter­view.

Though he could have been sent any­where in the coun­try or even over­seas, the new job as bishop will al­low Reid and his fam­ily to con­tinue to live in Bal­ti­more. Reid plans to set up an of­fice closer to Washington.

But first, Reid had to bid farewell to his church home in West Bal­ti­more — and his fol­low­ers had to say their good­byes, too.

Bethel mem­bers and church visi­tors prayed for their pas­tor and praised their Lord. For some younger wor­ship­pers, Reid is the only pas­tor they’ve known at Bethel. For other mem­bers, he’s the best pas­tor they’ve known. For some, Sun­day was bit­ter­sweet. Charles and Lil­lie Hy­man, a Ridgely’s De­light cou­ple who have been mem­bers of the church for nearly 40 years, wor­shipped with mixed emo­tions.

“I’m happy for them and for their min­istry to go on,” said Lil­lie Hy­man, 67. “I’m just sad be­cause we’ll miss the fam­ily.”

Hy­man said she ap­pre­ci­ated not only Reid’s spir­i­tual teach­ings as a pas­tor, but also his work with other faith lead­ers in the city. “We all serve the same God,” she said. Leiola Matthews, a 65-year-old nurse, said Reid’s preach­ing and teaching has changed her life in the nearly two decades she’s be­longed to Bethel.

“He teaches the word that el­e­vates your is­sues,” she said. “He’s a phe­nom­e­nal teacher.”

Matthews said she’s be­come calmer and is stronger in her faith. Reid has in­spired her to be a bet­ter mother and grand­mother.

“I’ve come through the snow, the rain, a lot of buses,” she said. “But it was al­ways worth it.”

Doreen Oliver, a 54-year-old fed­eral em­ployee, de­clared Reid “the best pas­tor ever.”

Oliver cred­its Reid with mak­ing her want to read the Bible.

Oliver grew up around the cor­ner from Bethel and later moved to Ran­dall­stown. But she kept com­ing back.

“I drive past many a church,” she said, “but this is where I need to be.”

For Reid’s fi­nal ser­vice, Bethel was packed to standing-room only with reg­u­lar wor­ship­pers and a bevy of in­flu­en­tial guests, in­clud­ing politi­cians from the city, Bal­ti­more County, the state and the fed­eral govern­ment. Speak­ing from the pul­pit, Sen. Ben L. Cardin pro­claimed: “I’m glad Bethel doesn’t be­lieve in term lim­its!”

Other re­li­gious lead­ers stopped by. Rabbi Steven M. Fink was greeted with warm ap­plause. In 2009, when Bethel was struck by light­ning, Fink ar­ranged for the church to wor­ship at Tem­ple Oheb Shalom in Park Heights.

Reid ex­horted mem­bers to turn to one an­other and re­peat af­fir­ma­tions, in­clud­ing “God’s got greater ex­pec­ta­tions for you. You ain’t seen noth­ing yet!” and “Our best days are in front of us.”

“It does not stop to­day,” Reid said. “It starts to­day.”

The church took up a spe­cial of­fer­ing for Reid, and he and his wife, Mar­laa, ac­cepted hugs and con­grat­u­la­tions as mem­bers brought their en­velopes to a bas­ket in the front of the church.

Then Reid asked mem­bers to raise their hands.

“Make this not a mo­ment of empty

emo­tion, but of en­abling em­pow­er­ment,” he said. Then, he asked God: “Make the Bethel na­tion greater.”

“I love you all,” he said fi­nally, be­fore turn­ing the mi­cro­phone over to Bishop James L. Davis, who pre­sides over the AME Church’s Sec­ond Epis­co­pal Dis­trict, which in­cludes Mary­land.

Davis praised Reid for his “trans­for­ma­tional lead­er­ship.” He said Bethel al­ready had an un­par­al­leled his­tory as a church, and Reid “took it to an­other level.” As Davis spoke, Reid sat qui­etly be­hind him, eyes down and his chin rest­ing on his left hand. But he quickly perked up when Davis joked that Reid was join­ing the club of min­is­ters with­out a flock, with­out be­ing in­vited to din­ners, with­out getting end­less phone calls from con­gre­gants. “Wel­come to the club!” Davis said, high-fiv­ing Reid. “Be care­ful what you pray for." Reid was elected a bishop last month. He said that the time is right to move on from Bethel, com­par­ing the tran­si­tion to a change of sea­sons or to chil­dren mov­ing out of their par­ents’ home when they be­come young adults. He calls it “a nec­es­sary end­ing.” Bethel was founded in 1785; Reid was its long­est-serv­ing pas­tor. Un­der his lead­er­ship, the al­ready-large con­gre­ga­tion ex- panded to a sec­ond lo­ca­tion in Owings Mills.

“This city has been a great bless­ing to me,” said Reid, a third-gen­er­a­tion min­is­ter. “My love af­fair with Bal­ti­more will never end.”

Reid’s suc­ces­sor as pas­tor has not been an­nounced. The new pas­tor is to be in­tro­duced next Sun­day.

Reid said he in­tends to give the new pas­tor space. He doesn’t plan to con­tinue to wor­ship at Bethel — in fact, he’s not sure where he’ll at­tend ser­vices next week­end. He hopes to visit many churches be­fore set­tling on a new church home.

Even­tu­ally, Reid said, he’d like to re­turn to Bethel to visit.

Reid promised to greet well-wish­ers for 15 min­utes af­ter the ser­vice. But as the re­ceiv­ing line snaked all the way down the long cen­ter aisle, it quickly be­came clear the fi­nal good­byes to a beloved pas­tor would take much longer.

Sit­ting in the front pew, with his pin­stripe suit jacket long since dis­carded, Reid shook hands, was en­veloped in hugs and posed for cell phone pic­tures. A group of fe­male ush­ers in white suits with match­ing fuch­sia flower pins lined up for a photo and then planted kisses on Reid’s cheek.

Each time the line of well-wish­ers dwin­dled, it swelled again. Reid briefly stepped away to do a tele­vi­sion in­ter­view, then re­turned to his ad­mir­ers.

The 15 min­utes stretched into 90 min­utes. Af­ter he posed for his last pic­ture and blessed the last baby, Reid gath­ered his fam­ily and pre­pared to leave Bethel for the fi­nal time.

“All right,” he said. “I showed the love to ev­ery­one.”

AMY DAVIS/BAL­TI­MORE SUN PHO­TOS

Bethel AME Church on Druid Hill Av­enue was packed with well-wish­ers who came for­ward to shake hands with the Rev. Frank M. Reid III af­ter he de­liv­ered his last ser­mon at the his­toric church. Reid served for 28 years.

Mem­bers of the Bethel con­gre­ga­tion re­mained for 90 min­utes af­ter the two-hour ser­vice to per­son­ally say good­bye to their long­time pas­tor.

AMY DAVIS/BAL­TI­MORE SUN PHO­TOS

The Rev. Frank M. Reid III, cen­ter, says farewell to the Bethel AME con­gre­ga­tion with his daugh­ter, Faith Mirachelle Reid, left, and wife, Mar­laa Hall-Reid, right, at his side. Reid is un­de­cided where he will wor­ship as a bishop.

Guests at Bethel AME Church on Sun­day in­cluded U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin, in front, and Bal­ti­more County Ex­ec­u­tive Kevin Kamenetz, seated next to him.

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