Millennium Baptist combines spritual, practical

The Rev. Clarence J. and first lady Donna M.J. Washington, center, and their children, Jasmine, 26, left, and Shana, 21, right, gather in the front of the church for a portrait in honor of the Washington’s 27th wedding anniversary. The different ministries at Millennium Baptist Church presented the couple with gifts, such as a gift certificate for a “date night.” (Not in picture, Jeremy, 19, who is in school and could not attend the service). — TRIBUNE PHOTO BY SHIRA YUDKOFF

The Rev. Clarence J. Washington is no cookie-cutter pastor. If one came to the Millennium Baptist Church in West Philadelphia on Sunday, May 5, his recently ordained wife would have been in the pulpit. In fact all of his four associate pastors are female, and half of them are single Christian women.

Washington, himself, brings to his calling to the ministry a Roman Catholic background and real world management expertise. He was originally baptized Catholic, the religion of his mother, and attended parochial schools in his hometown, Johnstown, Pennsylvania. While a student at Bishop McCort Catholic High School he attended Baptist churches for weddings, funerals and special occasions with his father’s family.

Though his formal education ended when he earned his Master of Divinity degree from Virginia Union’s Samuel D. Proctor School of Theology, his secular work is ongoing. This is because Washington works full time as a managing director for the FedEx Corporation and full time as Millennium’s senior pastor.

“I like to think that I am among the new wave of bi-vocational pastors,” Washington said. “I am director of operations for Federal Express which oversees three different states. I have 1,300 people and 160 management personnel. This helps me with the leadership and administration of the church. God has blessed me with a secular job that gives me a high level of training and expertise that I can bring back to the church.”

This has enabled the pastor to help his congregation and the surrounding community in tangible ways. There are times when he directs the unemployed or underemployed to a job opportunity either at his company or through his professional networks. He is also able to mentor and counsel, particularly young, African-American males, about what they need to acquire and retain employment.

Washington attributes the combination of the spiritual with the practical as one of the reasons that Millennium has seen an influx of membership among those between the ages of 25 and 40. Among these are college-educated professionals as well as those needing to acquire skills to make them more marketable in the work world.

“I believe that this is the generation that didn’t learn about responsibility and needs direction to become more responsible,” Washington said. “So, we show them here what Christ expects of them including their responsibility to themselves and their families. This is really a generational thing.

“This generation grew up with so many distractions with the shopping malls and technology — all things that could keep you away from serving God. Some already have their degrees, but others may be on public assistance and need to take the responsibility to maybe go to college or get the skills they need to help them advance,” he said.

So, Millennium has a Free Ministry Operation for Young Adults. This ministry allows those from late adolescence to early adulthood to fellowship on trip excursions and other outings as well as informal and formal discussion groups.

The church also holds missionary dinners where there is outreach by younger members to seniors who may live in convalescent institutions. “It’s all about not just coming to church to sit, but getting out of the church and taking up the responsibility to serve out of love,” Washington said.

Since being installed as Millennium’s pastor in 2002, Washington has preserved the church’s rich heritage while tearing down outmoded traditions. For instance, at one time when a single mother brought her child to be blessed it was not done in the pastor’s office. Now, the church makes it a joyous celebration as even children born out of wedlock are brought into the sanctuary to be publicly blessed before the congregation.

“We are very conscious of making the church available to the community,” Washington said. “We understand that a baby has not done anything wrong being born. There was a time when churches like this one would not allow non-members to have a wedding or funeral in the church. We do allow the community to use the church.

“Even the Parkside Association, when they were involved in the rebuilding of the shopping center across the street with the Shop-Rite and Lowe’s, we allowed the community to have their meetings here. I like to think we were part of that economic development process.”

The church also houses an expanding computer technology laboratory that both members and non-members have access to. Neighborhood children can be found in the center completing homework assignments or “just toying with it because they don’t have a computer at home,” according to the pastor.

There are always special activities going on at Millennium. On the heels of Mother’s Day they held their “Evening with Mothers” on Wednesday, May 15. The Deacon and Deaconess Annual Day will be held on Sunday, May 19.

This November the church will be celebrating its 66th anniversary with a revival. This will come months after the Back to School giveaway and computer lab tours on Aug. 17 at 11:30 a.m. and the Community Flea Market to be held on Sept. 21 at 10 a.m.

Before coming to Millennium Washington served at the nearby Bibleway Baptist Church located at 52nd and Media after joining Mt. Zion Baptist Church, also in West Philadelphia, during the 1980s. As a youngster he was an active Catholic who even served as an altar boy. Yet Washington was also influenced by his father who was reared Baptist and converted to Catholicism when he wanted to enter a courtship and marriage to his mother.

It was his third visit to a Baptist church that Washington said he received his initial calling to ministry. It was a small still voice that told him “this is where I belong,” he said. Yet he just filed the revelation into the back of his mind until another trek to a Baptist church many years later after earning his undergraduate degree from Lock Haven University. After that he heeded his calling by entering seminary.

Now his family is strongly anchored into the faith and life of Millennium. His wife, Donna Marie Washington, also earned her M.Div. degree from Virginia Union. The couple just celebrated their 27th wedding anniversary on Friday, May 10.

Their oldest daughter, Jasmine, is a graduate school student and University of Delaware alumnus. She works with the young adult ministries. Their younger daughter, Shana, is away at college. She is president of the student body at the University of Maryland at Eastern Shore. The family’s youngest member, Jeremy, is a freshman at the University of Delaware and sings with an a cappella groups.

“I like to say that there’s no one better to help new members love their church than my wife,” said Washington. “She now serves as spiritual advisor, head of the women’s ministry, and directs the new membership classes. She is the first person they see when they come into the church. So, when it comes to loving God and loving your pastor, there’s no one better to show them the way.”

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