You might call it “the little church that could.”
Greater New Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church has been ministering in Tyler for more than 100 years.
Despite its relatively small congregation of about 200, the church has had a surprisingly large impact on the community. On Wednesday a groundbreaking was held on the church grounds for a foyer that would memorialize the race relations progress between the church and First Baptist Church in Tyler.
“My philosophy has always been, ‘We may not have $1 million or 1,000 members, but if we can make a difference in the life of one person, our living will not have been in vain,” said the Rev. Jerome Milton, senior pastor.
Milton has been pastor for 27 years, he said. One of the things he’s most well known for is starting the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. rally and march.
But the church he moved here to pastor was more resistant to the idea than he expected, he said.
“When I came to Tyler, there was just as much black prejudice as there was white prejudice,” he said. “Everybody respected one another, as long as you stayed on your side.”
For Milton, the effort was all about avoiding hypocrisy.
“We can’t preach one thing and live something else,” he said. “We’re more than just brothers and sisters in rhetoric. We’re brothers and sisters, indeed.”
Still, the church decided to hold the event in 1987.
“I think the way they changed their minds was by bringing blacks and whites together in our church,” Milton said. “They thought there was no way we’d get whites in our church for the rally. That’s when those walls started coming down on both sides … We quickly outgrew our church with the rally. I dreamed of holding it downtown. People said it couldn’t be done.”
Now, the event is one of the highlights of the year, with a march down Broadway Ave. from downtown to the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception. Hundreds of people from all walks of life attend every year.
“I can see the change,” said Vivian Blevins, 75, who has been attending the church for 70 years. “I remember what it used to be like. I wish my mother could be here to see it.”
In 2010, the church opened Datie Florence Brown Children’s Home for foster children, and they run a food and clothing ministry.
“We try to do things God’s way,” said Ioatie Flowers, 96, who has attended the church since 1939. That’s the way we were raised … Of course, there’s a little fault in every church. You just pray about it and keep going. You stay and help work it out.”
So what makes a small church have a big impact?
“I think it’s the love we have for one another,” Mrs. Blevins said. “When one person is happy, everyone is happy. When one person is sad, we’re all sad.”
Even with several projects in the community, the church’s work continues.
“Our ambition is to reach out in community service,” Milton said.