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Tennessee Baptist Convention elects its first African-American president

Dr. Michael Ellis Sr. received a unanimous vote to lead the 140-year-old convention.

Tennessee Baptist Convention elects its first African-American president

by Wiley Henry

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A spirit of humility swept over Dr. Michael Ellis Sr. after he was elected the Tennessee Baptist Convention’s first African-American president in its 140-year history. He’d also served as the convention’s first African-American vice-president three years ago.

“I am grateful and blessed all at the same time and humbled that we have a Tennessee Baptist Convention that is inclusive,” said Dr. Ellis, pastor of Impact Baptist Church at 835 Whitney Ave., a church plant of the Bellevue Baptist congregation, which he organized in 2006.

The unanimous vote of more than 940 “messengers” representing hundreds of Southern Baptist churches from across the state was a turning point that catapulted the convention into the 21st century as an inclusive body of believers.

The annual meeting – or Summit – was held Nov. 10-12 in Brentwood, Tenn., at Brentwood Baptist Church. The convention rotates each year around the state. The vote drew a standing ovation for Dr. Ellis, who believes he was chosen to lead the convention based on his qualifications. He will serve a one-year term.

Two years earlier, the Nashville-based Southern Baptist Convention, the nation’s largest Protestant denomination, elected its first African-American president, the Rev. Fred Luter Jr., pastor of Franklin Avenue Baptist Church in New Orleans.

Dr. Ellis succeeds Dr. Fred Shackelford, senior pastor of Ellendale Baptist Church in Bartlett, as president. He was quoted as saying Dr. Ellis’ election was “long overdue” and that he has what it takes to lead the convention.

Dr. Ellis said the conventioneers were looking for the best-qualified person, “and God put me in the path to receive the nomination.”

The newly elected president said he would love to be a connector “to connect our convention with others who believe what we believe.” He also intends to move expeditiously to implement the vision of Dr. Randy C. Davis, the convention’s executive director-treasurer.

“I’m going to stay focus on his vision for the convention, such as planting churches and reaching the lost for Christ,” said Dr. Ellis, 54, a U.S. Navy veteran and the father of six children. He and his wife, Angela Ellis, are uniquely positioned in ministry.

“We are in a unique situation,” Dr. Ellis said. “My wife has been elected president of the Baptist Ministers’ Wives Guild of Memphis and Vicinity Inc. She will serve a four-year term. We’re in a unique position to create a spirit of unity in the body of Christ.”

He said he wants the city of Memphis and the state of Tennessee to “shine” across the country.

  • Written by Wiley Henry

Pilgrim Rest Baptist Church to install 22-year-old pastor


An abiding sense of optimism will color the service at Pilgrim Rest Missionary Baptist Church this Sunday, Nov. 9th, as the church installs its new 22-year-old pastor, the Rev. Ashton Alexander.

Located at 491 McLemore near Wellington, a banquet will be held on Friday, Nov. 6th celebrating his pastoral position, with the official installation service to take place two days later during regular services.  

  • Written by Tony Jones

The true ‘Church Folks Revolution’


I read an article today by “TJ” of Church Folks Revolution, pimppreacher.com which he titled, “Dear Jim Crow I Think We Need You: What Happened to Black Preachers After 1965.”

“TJ” is an advocate…let me rephrase that. “TJ” is the only activist for social justice within the church that I know of, or ever have known directly. While I don’t agree with the wrath, anger, and searing harsh judgments that he passes on to all of us preachers…the brother has some very good intentions, and most times I agree with him. His site is a daily expose’ unfortunately (or fortunately) of the underbelly of the modern day church, and he always has his facts straight. I checked.

The Bishop’s daughter at 94


Earlier this month, Ruth Mason Lewis made a rare social visit to the Germantown home of her cousin, Eugene Phillips, for what she knew would be an unforgettable celebration of his birthday. Imagine her delight and surprise when she made her way around the table and discovered that the cake actually said, “Happy Birthday Ruth.”

The evening was, indeed, memorable!

  • Written by Dr. Sybill C. Mitchell

Stevenson Clark challenges himself and succeeds in gospel music and radio

by Wiley Henry

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Stevenson Clark loves a challenge. He took the reigns of a fledgling Christian radio station in Southaven, Miss., retooled it to compete in the marketplace, and increased the ratings significantly after three months.

“I proved that I could do what I’d never done before,” said Clark, the general manager and program director at AM 1240 WAVN Radio. “People didn’t believe that I could to it.”

Clark was a neophyte in radio to some degree, but it didn’t take him long to adjust and learn everything that he needed to know about the business – including sales, administration and management. He even cut his teeth as an on-air personality from 3 p.m.-7 p.m., Monday through Friday.

“I had no idea that I would be where I am today,” said Clark, 47, who first started with a 30-minute, three-day show on WAVN until Dr. George S. Flinn Jr., the sta- tion’s owner, offered him the management position in 2009. He has been at WAVN for 8 years now, 5 1⁄2 in his current position.

“I wear several hats,” Clark said, including those of a prolific songwriter, arranger and singer.

Clark started singing when he was 2 years old and dropped his first CD in the mar- ketplace when he was 5. “I still have a copy of the two songs,” he said, “‘I Believe There’s a Heaven Somewhere’ and ‘God is Able.’”

In 8th, the spritely youngster started playing the piano. Also during that time, he directed and taught adults vocal lessons. He is the oldest of the Rev. Denville and Verdie Clark’s six children, who blended their voices as “The Clark Family.”

Clark attended Hamilton High School in Hamilton, Miss., his hometown. He sang with the Hamilton High School Choir and, after graduating, received a scholarship to attend Ittawamba Junior College in Fulton, Miss.

Clark didn’t finish Itawamba. He had other plans, opting to sing instead with the renowned Grammy Award-winning Mississippi Mass Choir, one of the most suc- cessful traditional gospel choirs in the music industry.

“I sang my way through high school and college,” said Clark, who toured with the choir for five years. In 1993, he headed to Memphis and took jobs at Methodist Hospi- tal as a lab technician and at the Marriott Hotel as a server.

“After I arrived in Memphis, I furthered my singing in churches. It’s my life and I decided I’ d pursue it more,” said Clark, serving then as the minister of music for Mt. Ararat Baptist Church and the musical director for Pilgrim Baptist Church.

Clark eventually recorded his first cd in Memphis entitled “All the Praise.” A pro- moter in Italy heard the CD, and the group, Stevenson Clark and Friends, would cut a swath across Italy from 1996 to 2009 spreading the gospel through their music.

During his travels abroad, Clark was ascribed the moniker “The Little Prince of Gospel Music.” His second cd project, entitled “My God is Truly Blessing Me,” was recorded at Brown Missionary Baptist Church in 2000.

Clark has sung with gospel artists such as the late Frank Williams, Leann Fayne, Vickie Winans, Evelyn Turrentin-Agee, Lee Williams, and most recently on the CD of one of Memphis’s most reknown quartets, “The Mighty Kings of Harmony,” singing “I’m Not Tired Yet” and “Touch Me Lord.”

Broadcasting is now Clark’s portal through which his voice is heard. After assuming the duties as general manager and program director, he has pumped up WAVN to a level of respectability. The station is now ranked one of the Top 5 most-listened radio stations in the Memphis and the Mid-South area.

“I love the challenge,” he said, adding, “I want to eventually own my own FM gospel station and reach the top in my singing career. I want to record songs that will bless people in life and keep traditional gospel music alive.”

Fall Fest Saturday...

On Saturday, Oct. 11, from noon to 5 p.m., Stevenson Clark will present “Fall Fest” on the grounds of WAVN, 1336 Brookhaven Dr., Southaven, Miss. James Chambers, an on-air personality with WLOK Radio Station, and Telisa Franklin, senior servant of The Servant’s Circle in Memphis, will host the event.

The artists scheduled to perform are Preacher Man, Pam Armour and the Shop, Echo Aires, Memphis Teens with a Dream, the Cork Singers, Vincent Tharpe and Kenosis, Carla Tolbert Taylor, Melodic Truth, Supreme Harmonettes, Moments of Joy, Andrew Know, Miracle Temple Choir, and Stevenson Clark himself.

A Kidz Zone and lots of food will also be available. For more information, call 662-280-9599 or 662-280-9809.

  • Written by By Wiley Henry

Former lifestyle compels preacher to help troubled youth


Charlotte Y. Cobb wasn’t always compelled to preach the gospel or steer youth away from the crime-ridden streets of Memphis. She also wasn’t always trying to arrest teen pregnancy, keep wayward youth in school, or intervene on their behalf to keep them out of gangs.

In fact, Cobb, who pastors the Cherokee Outreach Ministry Empowerment Center (COMEC) at 2218 Eldridge St. in the 38108 zip code area of North Memphis, is trying to make a difference in the lives of teenagers who remind her that she could’ve lost her life on the same streets, in the same zip code area, decades ago.

  • Written by Wiley Henry

Traditional gospel music keeps Billy Rivers and The Angelic Voices of Faith out front 35 years

Community choirs come and go, but the Stellar Award nominated Billy Rivers and The Angelic Voices of Faith has been a mainstay in traditional gospel music. In fact the choir will celebrate its 35th anniversary with a reunion concert Sunday, Aug. 31st at Golden Gate Cathedral, 3240 James Rd. 
The doors will open at 6 p.m. The choir also will host a banquet gala Friday, Aug. 29th. The location hasn’t been announced by press-time.
  • Written by Wiley Henry

‘A heart for people’ inspires the Servant’s Circle

new ministry
“I have a heart for people and I’ve always been a servant of the community. I just want to see people have the best in life,” said Minister Telisa Franklin, senior servant of The Servant’s Circle, a newly formed ministry that Franklin started Aug. 2nd.
The Servant’s Circle is a non-traditional, non-denominational church that holds service on Saturdays in a building that Franklin has used as her place of business along a business strip at 2988 Old Austin Peay Hwy. Service starts at 6 p.m. each Saturday.
  • Written by Wiley Henry