Politicians are in the pulpit in Winston-Salem

Politicians are in the pulpit in Winston-Salem
July 09
00:00 2015

In photo above: The Rev. Derwin Montgomery delivers the morning sermon on Sunday July 5, at First Calvary Baptist Church, 401 NE Woodland Ave. (Photo by Tevin Stinson)

Public servants pastor local churches

The tragic death of the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a South Carolina legislator and pastor of Emanuel A.M.E. Church in Charleston, S.C., shed light on politician pastors, but the dual roles are not unusual.

Faith takes many forms to many people, and for some pastors, it takes the form of service in elected office.

One local pastor who’s an elected official is Derwin Montgomery, who was elected as East Ward City Council member in 2009, when he was a 21 year-old college student, making him the youngest elected official in the state at the time.

Three years ago, he became pastor of First Calvary Baptist Church, which he’d been attending since he arrived in Winston-Salem in 2006.
Montgomery, a preacher’s son from South Carolina, has been in ministry in some form for 10 years, having giving his first sermon when he was a teenager.

He said he’d always been civically active. A college internship at the social capital building nonprofit CHANGE (Communities Helping All Neighbors Gain Empowerment) exposed him to the needs of the community and made him want to get involved with Winston-Salem. He said he viewed his roles as pastor and city council member as complementary ones, both serving people.

“I don’t think you can truly pastor people without understanding the social context in which the people you pastor live,” he said. “There’s a statement in many pastor and ministerial circles that pastors in developing their sermons, must in one hand have a Bible and in the other hand have a newspaper, in the sense of making relevant what is being preached and taught within the church.”

In September, he also became the director of the Bethesda Center for the Homeless, which provides a day and night shelter for homeless men and women.

He said his job, church and appearances as a City Council member keep him busy, but they all coincide with his faith and goal of helping people.

“It’s a task, to say the least, but the thing for me that has made it worthwhile and not as strenuous as it may look, is that they align, in my opinion, on my values and my passions,” he said.

He said he still meets all his responsibilities as a pastor, preaching every Sunday, and says he’s supported by a great team at the church. As a pastor, Montgomery is hoping to see his church grow in its outreach to the community.

As a City Council member, Montgomery said he took pride in the passage of a requirement for all city employees to be paid at least $10.10, which he said sets an example he hopes businesses follow to pay a livable wage.

He said he expects his constituents and the rest of the city will see big improvements with the bond projects that will soon be starting.
He’s also hoping to pass a mandate that businesses that receive city dollars for housing projects must make some of their units affordable housing.

N.C. Sen. Paul Lowe Jr., who represents the 32nd District, is also a pastor, having led Shiloh Baptist Church for more than two decades and can still be found in the pulpit there every Sunday.

The longtime activist and volunteer in the Democratic Party has been a senator for six months.

He said his service as both preacher and politician come from the same place.

“For me, it was a sense of calling and a sense of duty,” he said. “To me, politics is an extension of that.”

He said African-American pastors have a long history of public service, including Adam Clayton Powell Jr., a Baptist pastor who was a U.S. Representative for Harlem, in New York City, and Andrew Young, a pastor who served as mayor of Atlanta, a U.S. representative and United States ambassador to the United Nations.

Today, pastors like Lowe and Garland Pierce, a Baptist pastor who represents the 48th district in the N.C. House and chairs the N.C. Legislative Black Caucus, can be found in the General Assembly.

“You’re still serving people, just in a different capacity,” said Lowe of being a lawmaker. “I see it as an extension of ministry; the only thing I don’t do is preach a sermon.”

During his short tenure as senator, Lowe has already co-sponsored a bill to study the effects of autonomous (driverless) vehicles on the state’s roads and highways that passed the Senate and is now in the House.

He’s currently focused on the prolonged battle to reconcile the House and Senate versions of the state budget in committee.
Lowe described the two versions as “worlds apart” and said he is hoping to restore teacher assistant jobs and support to museums, including local ones, that were cut in the Senate version.

Lowe was elected by his fellow local Democrats in late January to replace then-State Sen. Earline Parmon when she stepped down to take a job as U.S. Rep. Alma Adams’ director of outreach. Parmon, too, serves at her church.

She has been an associate minister at Exodus United Baptist Church for 12 years.

As a minister, she assists the pastor in worship and teaches Bible school and new member classes. S
he said during her time as lawmaker, she was able to make most church functions, and she also said her faith and elected duties went hand-in-hand.
“In public service, you’re serving the people, and that’s what we’re called to do as Christians: to serve people by providing for their needs, providing assistance in many different ways, and public service is just one of them,” Parmon said.

The death of Pinckney made national headlines last month when a gunman attacked people at his church, leaving him and eight others dead on June 17.

President Barack Obama delivered a powerful eulogy for Pinckney during a June 26 service.

Montgomery said he didn’t believe something like that could happen at his church, but said that his congregation, like many congregations across the country, is discussing safety issues after the shooting.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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