Bishop Al Baldwin, Jr. was recently named the new senior pastor of Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church in Safety Harbor.
BY KARIN DAVIS-THOMPSON, Editor
SAFETY HARBOR — Bishop Al Baldwin, Jr. said he heard the call when he was 18.
“I’ve always had a desire to preach the word of God,” Baldwin said. “But at the same time, I was young and I also wanted to live my life and enjoy it the way I wanted to.”
He said many people had prophesied and told him that they could see that God had chosen him. And even though he was active in the church, he was not ready to answer the call. Until one night while standing in a club, he heard the voice of God asking him what he was doing there.
“The next day, which was a Sunday, I rededicated my life totally to Christ,” he said. “Even though I had never left the church or Christ and was still working in the church, part of my heart was still in the world. So the Holy Spirit let me know that he was time to give God all my heart.
Since then, Baldwin has never looked back, and recently became the new pastor of Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church in Safety Harbor.
Although this is not his first pastorate, Baldwin said he was grateful to God for the opportunity to serve the congregation.
“My first reaction was to start praising God not because I had become the pastor of the church, but because he had fulfilled his promise to me as stated in 2 Peter 3:9,” said the 42-year-old man. “I didn’t have to go through a voting process, I didn’t have to send out resumes, sit in front of a board and answer questions or anything like that. God had already gone before me and put his seal of approval. I am grateful to God and I have no desire to let him down.
Baldwin said he is also grateful to God for the growth of the church over the past few weeks since he was installed as pastor.
“To date, we have about 60 members who faithfully assist and serve the ministry,” he said. “When I accepted the assignment of pastor, there were only four members of the church left. Many had passed away and several others had moved on after the death of the former pastor, who had been there for 40 years.
As of today, Baldwin said the church has a full praise and worship team, a full roster of musicians, a youth dance team and several newly created ministry departments.
“I strongly believe that it is God who gives the raise,” he said. “My prayer for this ministry is that God will send whoever He wants to be a part of, regardless of their lifestyle, sin and outward appearance.”
The father of five said growing church membership of dedicated believers is also part of the church’s mission.
“The Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church is born and called to proclaim the gospel of Christ and the beliefs of the evangelical Christian faith, to uphold the worship of God, and to inspire in all people a love for Christ,” a- he declared.
Baldwin’s installation service was facilitated by Bishop Willie C. Sands of Word of Faith Ministries in St. Petersburg and Benjamin Adams, Jr. of St. John Primitive Baptist Church in Clearwater.
He said the service is an important ceremony for the new pastor and the congregation.
“It is a welcoming ceremony to recognize the call of the pastor to recognize his responsibilities and duties and to celebrate a new chapter,” he said.
The service includes the laying on of hands and prayer for the new pastor, the symbolic passing of the torch to the new leader, and ensuring that the congregation can trust that the newly appointed pastor will carry out God’s vision and plan.
He said the congregation stands together and is committed to serving God in any way they can.
“Bethlehem is a loving church,” he said. “A church that is open to growth through the word of God and available to be used by God.”
Baldwin has been married to Tashumbi Baldwin for four years. He graduated from Largo High School and earned his associate degree in funeral science from St. Petersburg College. He served as associate minister at St. Mary’s Missionary Baptist Church in Largo and acting pastor at an interdenominational denominational church in St. Petersburg.
Bethlehem Missionary Baptist Church is located at 695 Elm Street, Safety Harbor.