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Pastor has mission to reach at-risk youth

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By Brian R. Ballou, Boston Globe

Two hours before he was installed yesterday as the Twelfth Baptist Church’s new pastor, Arthur T. Gerald Jr. was recruiting members of his congregation to walk through the sprawling Warren Gardens Housing development and other crime-plagued areas in the shadow of the historic church to reach out to at-risk youth.

“I’ve always felt that the church should be about the community,’’ said Gerald, sitting in his spacious second-floor office on Warren Street yesterday afternoon. “It’s great to be a house of worship where people come in, but we as a church have to have a passion about the community, so we’re going to go out across the street and walk and speak to people and let them know that we’re here for them and we care.’’

Gerald, 62, became the church’s 13th pastor during an installation service that began at 4 p.m. yesterday and lasted more than two hours. The speakers list included Mayor Thomas M. Menino and several state and local elected officials.

Gerald, said Menino, is “someone I can count on, rely on to give me counsel and wisdom, who can talk to at-risk kids.’’

In addressing Gerald and the dozens of clergy assembled during the ceremony, Menino said: “Let’s continue to work together. We face many challenges, so let’s stay focused and make sure every young person in our city has a bright future.’’

Gerald succeeds the Rev. Michael E. Haynes, a former state representative and a political insider also known for his work with at-risk youth.

Last March, with a 70 percent vote, Gerald became pastor-elect of the church. Now the formal title of pastor gives him the ability to establish a team and to implement a plan to focus on community and youth.

In doing so, Gerald said he is returning the favor he received as an impressionable youth. He said he may have ended up incarcerated if it weren’t for positive role models, men who stepped into his life.

“If it wasn’t for people like Mike Haynes and Jeep Jones, I may have ended up in prison by hanging out there with the negative elements in the community,’’ he said. “Those two men gave me a positive spin on life.’’

Haynes and Clarence “Jeep’’ Jones organized youth trips to historically black colleges from Pennsylvania to North Carolina during school breaks in February and April, “to let them see that there was something else out there, to encourage young black men to look beyond high school, to look to go to college.’’

Gerald, who attended a college he visited in Pennsylvania, said such programs may be in short supply now, but the Boston TenPoint Coalition, a faith-based antiviolence group of area clergy, is looking to start similar outreach efforts.

One of Gerald’s longtime friends, the Rev. Bruce Wall, leader of the Global Ministries Outreach Church in Codman Square, several years ago took “ownership’’ of a 10-block radius around his church, leading marches and other events in the community to try to stem chronic violence.

The coalition recently met with Gerald to discuss a plan to expand Wall’s efforts throughout the city, calling on other church leaders to take ownership of their surrounding communities, Gerald said.

Gerald graduated from Boston English High School in 1962, and graduated from Berkshire Christian College with a bachelor’s degree in theology.

He earned a master’s degree in theological studies from Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. After graduating, he joined Twelfth Baptist, and served as an associate minister for about 30 years. In 2004, upon Haynes’s retirement, he became interim minister, and last March was named reverend-elect.

The church dates to 1840, when 47 members of the African Baptist Church withdrew from that congregation and formed an independent church.

Boston City Councilor Charles Yancey, a member of Twelfth Baptist for about 30 years, attended the event yesterday.

“It’s a very good gesture that every church should make, to reach out to the community. It’s a given that he’ll want to commit to the effort,’’ Yancey said. “I don’t think we should ask Reverend Gerald to emulate a Bruce Wall. His [Gerald’s] calling is to steer this church in a direction that forces us to do more for the community, more for the youth.’’

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Written by Symphony

June 29, 2010 at 6:54 pm

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