110 W. New York Ave.
DeLand, FL 32720
The Rev. Willie Barnes takes post at Bethel AME Church
By Pat Andrews
posted Jun 27, 2012 - 1:53:06pm
The Rev. Willie N. Barnes had just graduated when he got the assignment; he reported to the church in DeLand June 4.
Barnes is taking over a church that has had several pastors during the past few years. That's taken a toll on the congregation, he acknowledged.
The plan: "Go about doing the work of the Gospel and Jesus Christ."
Barnes said he will work to address the congregation's spiritual, emotional, physical and economic needs.
"I want to establish, with God's help, a ministry that serves the needs of the whole person," he said.
He will be firming up Bethel AME's alliances with other area pastors and churches, including First United Methodist Church of DeLand and sister church First Presbyterian Church of DeLand, with which Bethel AME traditionally shares Ash Wednesday services.
Barnes has already met with Interim Pastor Radford Rader of First Presbyterian, and he introduced himself to DeLand city leaders at the June 18 City Commission meeting, garnering applause when he told them he looked forward to working with them to help ensure a better DeLand.
"If religion doesn't address the current needs of the people, it might as well be dead," Barnes told The Beacon. "You have to have relationships … people to worship with you, celebrate with you."
Barnes is taking on a beautiful but aging Victorian-era church that needs constant maintenance. Bethel AME was founded in 1878. The church sanctuary features beautiful stained glass and soaring heart-pine cathedral ceilings, along with its original pews, but the building and an attached fellowship hall need paint and repairs.
Barnes will be looking for people who can help with that.
He's taking it all on faith, a faith that began as a youngster who attended church every Sunday.
From the time he was a little child, Barnes would preach to his family.
"I always felt this call, or longing," he said.
But when he reached the age of 8 or so, his thoughts turned to pursuing a secular career — perhaps as a stockbroker, banker, or sports agent.
When Barnes got ready to start college, he settled on public relations as his major, figuring he had an aptitude for relating to people.
He went off to Florida A&M University in Tallahassee. During his first year, Barnes' thoughts returned to ministry.
He graduated summa cum laude in 2009, then headed for Connecticut and Yale Divinity School, with a "wonderful scholarship package," he said, that covered all his educational expenses.
It was a bit of a culture shock, Barnes said, but he wanted to experience differences. At Yale, he met people from all over the country, of different backgrounds and lifestyles, as well as international students.
Now, he is happy to be back in Florida, and only an hour-and-a-half away from his family in Lakeland. Barnes, who is single, looks forward to spending more time with young nieces and nephews.
He will live in the parsonage at Bethel AME, and get involved in the life of his church and become vested in the community. Barnes wants to be accessible and available to his congregation.
He invites everyone to attend the 11 a.m. Sunday church service at Bethel AME, at 226 E. Howry Ave. Call him at 863-640-2589, or send him an e-mail at email@example.com.
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