Rev. James Keeton Jr. Settles In as Pastor at Charleston’s Historic Morris Brown AME Church, Looks To Expand Community Ties

Christopher Millette/Erie Times-News
The Rev. James Keeton Jr. is the new pastor at Morris Brown AME Church.

He’s young. He’s new in town. He’s got some clear ideas about the obligations of church.

The Rev. James A Keeton Jr., 37, is the new pastor of historic Morris Brown AME Church on Morris Street. It’s a big job in a thriving AME district at a church with a reputation for addressing social justice issues and fostering community.

Keeton likes school. He got a bachelor’s in history from Albany State University, a master’s in political science from the National University of Ireland in Dublin and a master’s in divinity from Duke University. He’s not done. Now he’s completing a Doctor of Ministry program at Southern Methodist University.

He has moved to Charleston with his wife, Leslie, and their two sons, 13-year-old Tyson and 9-year-old Jeston.

Q: You grew up in south Georgia. Was church an important part of your youth? At what point did you realize you wanted to become a pastor?

A: Growing up in a Cairo, Georgia, church was a very important part of my youth. My father was a pastor in the African Methodist Episcopal Church growing up. Additionally, my mother was extremely active in the church. So our days were filled with church activities and events. Many people told me as a child that I was going to be a preacher, but I tried to resist their prophecy. I wanted to take my own path, but the Lord called me into ministry when I was 24 years old, and I have been preaching ever since.

Q: The church obviously is about much more than Sunday morning worship service. And in the African-American tradition especially, the church has served as a focal point of the community. What trends are you seeing these days?

A: One of my greatest concerns about the contemporary black church is that she is not as active in the community as she once was. Too many churches seem to have an inward focus and part of the reason that the church is in decline is because of the separation from the at-large community. The church continues to have a significant role in the community, and I believe the centrality of the church in the black community can be strengthened when the church leaves outside of the walls and becomes more active and involved in the life of the community. Many times when there are issues in the black community, people continue to look to the church for help, therefore I believe that when we continue to partner with the community that the church will be just as relevant and vital as she has always been.

Q: You took charge of historic Morris Brown AME Church in November. Before coming to Charleston, you served at other churches in places like Camden, New Jersey. What did you learn in your previous positions that you can apply here?

A: Before serving at Morris Brown, the Lord blessed us to serve congregations in Forsyth, Georgia; Camden, New Jersey; and Erie, Pennsylvania. Those assignments have been vital. … It gave me opportunities to see the way other communities and congregations were able to handle obstacles. Even though each ministry setting is different there are some universal lessons that are transferable. Lessons like the importance of keeping God first and working together for common purposes are important lessons in every community. Past experiences in these areas will be vital to the ministry in Charleston. There are other specific challenges like the school situation in Erie and the murder rate in Camden that will not be so easily transferred.

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SOURCE: The Post and Courier – Adam Parker