Leadership change: Jamal Harrison Bryant becomes newest pastor of New Birth Atlanta
Article By Barbara Stanfield // EEW Magazine Ministry News
A new pastor has been appointed to Atlanta’s infamous New Birth Missionary Baptist Church in the wake of Bishop Eddie Long’s successor resigning back in June.
Pastor Jamal Harrison Bryant, the 47-year-old founder of Empowerment Temple in Baltimore, MD, has accepted a role as senior pastor, and is set to preach his first sermon in this new role on Dec. 9.
Bishop Stephen A. Davis, who took over after Long died of cancer at 63, said he needed to step down to focus on the New Birth ministry he founded back in Birmingham, Alabama. He only lasted six months in Atlanta.
Leaders are hoping Bryant, who founded Empowerment Temple in the year 2000 and grew it from dozens of members to 10,000, will stick and stay when he takes over.
His last sermon at his Baltimore church will be preached on Dec. 2. It will be a great loss for Baltimore, as the charismatic leader managed to build one of the most impactful and influential predominantly African-American congregations in the area.
Bryant, a Morehouse graduate and civil rights activist, was chosen from 138 candidates considered for the high-profile position.
Bishop Neil C. Ellis of Global United Fellowship in the Bahamas, one of the late Bishop Long’s closest friends, has made multiple appearances at New Birth since Bishop Davis resigned. He helped lead the search committee in its effort to find a suitable replacement.
“New Birth is going forward,” Ellis said to the congregation after announcing the appointment of Bryant according to a WSB-TV Atlanta 2 report. “Here’s my appeal to you: I need all of New Birth to guard your spirit, settle your emotions, eliminate your criteria. A lot has gone into this. Is everybody going to be happy about the appointment? I doubt it. No matter who we put in front of you, some people are going to have a challenge and you may be deserving of those challenges, but you have to trust somebody.”
Understandably, trusting might be hard.
New Birth, at its height, right before being hit by Long’s scandal in 2010, had reached 25,000 members. But after Long was named in a lawsuit alleging that he coerced young men into relationships using influence, gifts and exotic trips, membership dwindled by 15,000.
The latest count shows there are a remaining 10,000 on the roll.
According to Ellis, Bryant, who is a third-generation pastor, has “been placed on a timeline for evaluation,” to make sure he’s the right fit for New Birth.
Anthea Butler, an associate professor of religious studies at the University of Pennsylvania, said, “This may be a chance for New Birth to get back some of the glory days. Jamal Bryant will appeal to a younger generation and might be able to fill up the pews again.”