Zion Baptist marches forward with new pastor

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Establishing a relationship with current church members, growing the membership of the church and giving a voice to its youth members are just a few of the goals Rev. Crawford L. James, Jr. hopes to accomplish for Zion Baptist Church in McKeesport.

“I anticipate visiting every member of the church either in person at their homes or to be in contact with them on the phone by the end of July. Some of the people that have been away need the opportunity to come back to the church. My initial plan is to let people meet me personally and get to know me,” said Rev. James, 42.

receiving
RECEIVING CHURCH BIBLE—Presenting the church Bible to Rev. Crawford L. James, left, is Rev. Sylvester Holmes, associate minister of Zion Baptist Church.

As the newly installed pastor of the church, Rev. James will be able to do just that. His installation services were held during the week of June 10. Clergy from many of the Mon Valley’s churches turned out to support him.

“Please anoint him so he can speak with power and love and anoint his wife as a helpmate for him. We pray success on this pastor, this church and this family,” said Rev. Charles Wade, pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church in Blythesdale. Reverend Wade presided over Rev. James’ installation services. “Me and Brother James had been talking for a few years and I told him, ‘you got a house coming. This is your house, Brother.’”

Reverend James is the fourth pastor in Zion Baptist’s 96-year history.

Zion was established in 1915 by a group of Christians who severed their connection with Bethlehem Baptist in McKeesport. It became a Baptist church on Feb. 2, 1916. The church’s first pastor was Rev. John Richard Saunders. He remained pastor of Zion Baptist until his retirement in 1957.

Reverend James Leonard Nelson became Zion’s primary pastor on March 2, 1958. Under Rev. Nelson’s guidance, Zion’s membership grew, a parsonage was purchased and remodeled and both levels of the two-story church were renovated. Reverend Nelson resigned as pastor Jan. 2, 2000.

On June 9, 2002, Zion installed Rev. Henry M. Bill­ingsley as its third pastor. During that time, the church’s mime group and various women’s and youth ministries were restarted. Reverend Billingsley tendered his resignation Aug. 3, 2008.

Stepping into shoes that were large and historic would be daunting for some, but Rev. James remains unfazed.

“This just means that in that church’s 94-year history the people were following their leader and following what God was showing their leader. I feel they will follow me where God is leading me and the way that God is leading me to go.”

“The majority of my ministry has been with the youth, this is another path for me to walk down. It doesn’t matter what age you are as long as God uses you and you move on that,” Rev. James said.

Reverend James accepted Christ at the age of 12 under the direction of Rev. Rosamond C. Kay, then-pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church in Clairton. After graduating from Clairton High School in 1984, he attended Grambling State University and earned a degree in Communications in 1989.

Upon graduating from Grambling, he moved to Los Angeles and worked in a law office for 13 years. While in California, he began his ministerial training at Higher Ground Missionary Baptist Church under the direction of William Pollard. While there, Rev. James served as a deacon in training for five years.

After a brief stint in Colorado in 1993, he returned to Los Angeles and joined Mt. Beulah Baptist Church in 1994. He was a member of the church for nine years. He helped with the Young Men’s Ministry, an initiative that grooms young men to become junior deacons. He accepted his calling to preach while at Mt. Beulah Baptist. He preached his first sermon Oct. 15, 2002.

Reverend James returned to Pittsburgh in 2003. His wife, Gloria, and the couple’s three daughters—Ivory, Joie, and Tori—came to town a year later.

Upon his return to Pittsburgh, Rev. James rejoined his home church of Morning Star Baptist in Clairton. Working as an associate minister of Morning Star, he created the praise and dance and praise and worship ministries. He also taught youth Sunday School and helped with the junior church.

“I received a lot of training at Morning Star to help me get where I am today. Morning Star is home.” Rev. James said.

Many members of Morning Star attended his installation to show their support of his success.

“Pastor James, we love you. You come from us. God is good and we love you and we love your church,” said Minister Gloria Ruffling, an associate at Morning Star.

Morning Star member Jean Gressem-Jacobs echoed her sentiments.

“We are sorry to see him go, but we are glad to see what God has in store for him. Our time together has not been ended, it’s just on hiatus,” said Gressem-Jacobs, who has known him for more than 30 years.

In addition to increasing membership at Zion Baptist, Rev. James plans on making the church a beacon of light for the McKeesport community.

“I’d like to see Zion as a place for up and coming ministers. I want to see the youth of the church have a greater involvement in the church and the community. I want to make the church a place of healing,” Rev. James said “I want to get back to the hands-on approach that’s missing in the church nowadays. I want people to know that I am real and that I can relate to people. I was proud to say that I knew my pastor as a kid and I want people to know who I am.”

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