The History and Spirit of the House of the Lord Churches
Early Pastoral Years - 2024 Fulton Street Brooklyn, NY
The multiple challenges of being a pastor were becoming increasingly overwhelming. First, there was the building itself. It was a small storefront located at 2024 Fulton St. There were about nine of these little storefront churches on Fulton St., between Saratoga and Howard avenues. The walls were unpainted with holes in them. The ceiling was dropping as though there had been a flood upstairs. There was an old potbelly stove in the middle of the church. In the winter, which was my first year, I used to come from Jersey City to start the fire. Then when I purchased a car, I would go pick up the members, have worship service, then take them back home. And on top of it all, there were children upstairs who would start running and playing as soon as we commenced our service.
In my early months, I would travel from Jersey City. I lived at 65 Grant Ave in Jersey City. I had to take a bus across Jersey City to Exchange place. Then take a subway or a ferry to New York. If I wanted to be alone, I would go underground on the subway. If I wanted the more scenic route, I would take the ferry at Ferry Park, Jersey City. Upon my arrival at Chambers Street, NYC, from either the subway or the ferry, I would then take another subway to Ralph Ave in Brooklyn. After the long subway/ferry ride I then started a long 1.5 block walk to the church. The total cost of the subway trip was $.20, and the total cost of the Ferry trip was $.15. (The Daily News was $.03)
I would work six days per week Monday through Saturday, first as an apprentice making $20 per week. I learned the fundamentals of pressing clothes and the overall cleaning business from my oldest brother Lonnie’s cleaning business, which he opened in Brooklyn in 1946, after he returned home from World War II. After one year at the Apprentice job, it occurred to me that I was doing all the pressing work and I was good at what I was doing. Nick was the owner of the cleaning business. I trusted Nick because he had employed another one of my brothers, Bob and mother. My mother was a seamstress at the time. One day I said to Nick, “I’m doing all the work six days a week and my skills are comparable to anybody, I should be getting more money.” Smiling, he said, “I was wondering when you were going to ask me for more money”. After saying that he started laughing. I didn't think it was funny, but it taught me a priceless lesson and perhaps that was the pay for my labor. You have to know yourself and your values and make demands on the world accordingly. Don't wait on others to inform you of your value. Don't trust the kindness of others. If there is kindness in business, that's a bonus. KNOW THYSELF!
After the conversation with Nick, I received top dollar for my work. At that time Pressers were paid by the individual garment. For example, a male suit consisting of pants, jacket, and vest would yield $0.25 per garment. At the end of the day the individual garments were counted and at the end of the week the total was calculated.
When I first started, I did not have enough money at the end of the week to go back and forth to the church in Brooklyn and to work in Jersey City. I had to go to the church at least two times a week and once on Sunday. My contributions to the church left me with hardly enough money to take care of my other needs. Thus, I had to get a part time job. I worked two jobs in order to take care of my personal expenses as well as my church expenses. I lived with my mother. If I missed paying rent occasionally it was OK. In fact, she was pleased with my commitment, and it seemed her prayers were being answered. She really wanted to do more. She did accompany me as often as she could to the Brooklyn church. However, I had another deeper, inescapable challenge, which was none of my doing.
My mother and father had severed they're marital ties when I was about two or three years old. My mom took me from Augusta GA to Savannah GA, where I lived with my grandmother, my maternal grandmother.
I remember it so well because it was the last time I saw my family together. I had three older brothers and I was small enough for my oldest brother to carry me on his shoes as I tried to tackle him playing football. Afterward, the early years were spent traveling back and forward from Savannah to Augusta and vice versa. Later my father brought me to Brooklyn where he started the storefront church approximately in 1942. Over the years my mother and father both remarried. My father and his wife lived in Brooklyn. My mother and her husband lived in Jersey City, and I bounced back and forth between the two cities as I bounced back and forth between Augusta and Savannah during my early childhood years.
As a point of humor and to demonstrate my ineptness regarding not only the general knowledge of the church but the aesthetics of the church; we tried fixing up the little storefront. We did some painting, plastering and, would you believe it, I had the front windows of the church painted brown. When it was finished, we became the laughingstock in the neighborhood. As the question around the neighborhood was, what are they hiding in there? This was in direct reference to the brown painted windows. After finding this out we scraped the paint off the windows, and we put curtains to the windows, which allowed people to see inside.
One redeeming factor was that it showed me the complete loyalty of the people. Surely they must have known that brown paint wasn’t the right thing to put on a window, but nevertheless, at my word they proceeded to do just that.
In addition to the physical structure there was the overall administration of the church. There were the challenges of human interactions. Here I was with these towering challenges, just out of jail, trying to pastor a church. It was only the Lord's doing that sustained me. However, there was so much I had learned, intellectually, administratively, and interpersonally, while incarcerated. But all my life it seemed that God was preparing me for the leadership of the church. I was always the leader, in athletics, in games, in every endeavor I always emerged as the leader. It was only the Lord’s doing that sustained me.
One of the major qualities I had, and I have often thought about this, perhaps it is in my DNA, it is a quality which allows me to easily, almost naturally, enter into cordial and friendly relationships with people. From my earliest years and as far back as I can remember, I always had an easy time cultivating friendships and cordial relationships with everyone. Even during my wild years, I had good relations with everybody, whenever and wherever – gamblers, hustlers, pimps, prostitutes, athletes, etc. This quality helped me a great deal as I began to pastor. With all of these problems that I mentioned, and others not mentioned, I was becoming depressed.
On an occasion when I had hit my worst point, discouraged, disappointed and despondent, for some reason, I'm convinced it was the Lord's doing. I decided to visit Bishop George Brown. He was one of my father's proteges. He left the church, not on the best of terms, so I was told. He pastored a church on the corner of Saratoga Ave and Dean St, about five blocks away from our church at 2024 Fulton St church. It was after Sunday worship and after greeting the people as was our custom after worship, that I paid a visit to Bishop Brown. He led me into his office and for some reason, again, I believe it was the Lord’s doing, he started rehearsing his ministry and how he got started. He informed me that he started pastoring after he left my father’s church. He had one member and that was a little girl named Margaret. From there it was many years of non-productivity. He had a difficult time getting members and then once members started joining there were additional challenges in pastoring and all that it encompasses in terms of relationship to “the flock.”
When he finished his story I realized I had not seen “nothing yet.” I went back to my church and sought forgiveness for thinking about quitting. I had renewed my resolve to fulfill the vision that God had given me, and I prayed that God would give me the strength and all the qualities that would be needed to be successful. I returned home to Jersey City feeling more determined.
Then the Lord gave me this song that I didn’t know then and still don’t know if it were somebody’s song I had heard somewhere and had forgotten it. “The Lord will make a way for me if I live Holy, keep on praying and keep on serving, the Lord will make a way for me…”
To be continued…