The Rev. Kerry Tillmon, pastor West Point Baptist Church, recently became senior pastor among the historically black Baptist Churches in Galveston. He talked to The Daily News about that traditional role.
Q: With the retirement of the Rev. Andrew Scott Johnson of Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church, you’re the senior pastor in Galveston. That’s often viewed as an unofficial, but important, role as people draw on your experience and ask for advice. What is that role like in Galveston?
A: In the Black Baptist Church there’s always a sense of independence and autonomy. Serving as senior pastor does carry an honor, privilege and to some degree a sense of responsibility as the years often bring wisdom and knowledge that cannot be obtained through any other means. One of my most significant mentors was Pastor Johnson and his astuteness was essential in shaping my ministry, so in terms of reciprocity, being able to pay forward that knowledge to new pastors on the Island as well as laypersons seeking a spiritual perspective is an incredible privilege.
Q: How did you get to West Point?
A: I spent my childhood in West Point. I grew to understand that ministry was the call on my life and was subsequently licensed in 1981 and ordained as a minister 1984 all at West Point and later called to pastor in April 1985.
Q: What is it about the church and the community that made you want to stay for so long?
A: Galveston is my home. The church is also my home, it is where I grew in ministry and it’s one of the cornerstones of my faith so when the prospect arose to merge those two things together it was an opportunity that was God appointed. God has planted me in Galveston as my primary field of ministry. I have other responsibilities within the denomination that call me away from Galveston but my roots are in the community and people here.
Q: Ministry has a spiritual side, of course, but it often has a role in the community, supporting charities and getting involved in the public life of the city. What do you see as that role in public life?
A: Our communities are a reflection of who we are and what we hope to be so investing time with people and in the community is a chance to meet people where they are, build relationships and carry the work of the church directly to the people without any barriers or limits.
I have served in numerous capacities within the city; vice president of NAACP, Galveston Chapter for two terms, board of directors of Galveston County Community Action Council for 10 years and seven years on the Board of Commissioners for Galveston Housing Authority.
I took on those roles because I wanted to see changes in our community and sometimes we have to lead the charge to be the change we want to see in the world.
Q: We’re in the middle of Juneteenth celebrations. What can you say is the church’s importance to the meaning of what Juneteenth really is?
A: The Black Baptist Church has always been at the forefront of civil rights and promoting social justice, the voice of reason within the community. As we celebrate Juneteenth we have to understand that it is celebration not just about freedom from slavery but also a call to walk in freedom from other vices that are holding our children, families and communities in bondage and how we as a people can contribute to the very issues that impede our success. We are called to be accountable and responsible for the role we play in where we are in our lives, relationships, churches and communities.
Q: As senior pastor, what is your overall aim or goal that you want to see within the people of this Community?
A: We are still rebuilding from the impact of Hurricane Ike and for many it has been difficult but I believe there is still opportunity here on the Island; my hope and aim is to have all those who desire to return to Galveston. Upon their return that there will decent affordable housing, better paying jobs and educational opportunities. Additionally, that there is a restoration of middle class, particularly in the African American community on the Island. Finally, a spiritual awakening/a revival breakout and that all churches flourish as we seek to win the lost for Christ.
Q: Is there anything you want the people of Galveston to know about you?
A: Most people know me as a pastor and for my preaching but not so much for teaching. My passion is for Christian education, enriching the individual in their relationship with God, knowledge and understanding of God’s word and supporting that churches speak to discipleship in meaningful and effective ways.