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Inspired by glory
The new pastor at St. John Baptist brings a new life and renewed focus to the church
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The Rev. Stephen Samuel, new pastor at St. John Baptist Church in Gainesville, led his first service June 1. He previously was pastor of Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Trenton, N.J., but he grew up in Rome. - photo by Tom Reed

Making the Bible simple makes it practical for church members.

At least that is how the Rev. Stephen Samuel looks at it.

"I try to be as simple and practical as possible," said Samuel, the new pastor at St. John Baptist Church. "For some the Bible is very difficult, whether it be because of the language or because of understanding. We attempt to take something that is very difficult and make it simple, maybe through bringing out meanings of words that may not be common or by paraphrasing into modern language.

Additionally, Samuel said doing everything to God's glory is the church's goal.

"We want to do things in order, decently," he said. "The most important thing is when we came here for worship or for study that we leave here better than we came.

"I want that to be the foundation of my relationship with the church and their relationship with me. I don't believe that God does anything arbitrarily. I think what happens is planned, that God has a way of bringing people together and hopefully in a way that I can better them."

Samuel led his first service at St. John on June 1. During the service, Samuel changed a few of the old ways, such as how the offering was taken and reduced the amount of church announcements.

But members aren't concerned about the changes - they are welcoming Samuel's new style for the church.

"I think that it is unique in that it is more modern than it is the old traditional (way), and it has a flair of information that is very appropriate for the years that we are living now," said longtime member Charles Morrow Sr.

Gainesville Mayor Myrtle Figueras couldn't hold back her excitement about Samuel and the new leadership for St. John.

"I pray that we are going to learn more and more about each other and move forward," she said. "(He's) very, very good. He got my attention. He's a regular old, good old Baptist preacher. I think he is just what we need at St. John."

Figueras also was delighted with the new members who have gone forward since Samuel has been in the pulpit.

"The past two Sundays he had, four, five, six come up to the front to join the church," she said. "And he's just been here two weeks."

Which isn't a surprise when Samuel explains how he plans to inspire his new congregation.

"What we believe in must take precedence over tradition, history, preconceived ideas, personalities," Samuel said. "We have to fulfill the assignment God has and once that task is fulfilled either you have a new assignment that comes or something else kind of intervenes."

Prior to Samuel's assignment at St. John, the church was led by an interim pastor, the Rev. Arthur Jones. He led the church for about a year after the Rev. Eugene Green left for a new congregation in South Carolina.

Samuel, 31, came to Gainesville from Calvary Missionary Baptist Church in Trenton, N.J., but was born and raised in Rome. His wife Trish is from Atlanta. The couple has one daughter, Paris Simone, 4.

He joined the ministry at age 18 and attended Morehouse College in Atlanta as a pre-med student, then changed his major to African-American studies and history to become a teacher before deciding to join the ministry full time.

Samuel said coming to a church about twice the size of his former church is a two-fold process.

"You have to revitalize some of the things that they have in place ... and as you revitalize you also want to challenge, to bring in some new ideas and aspects on what ministry is and how it should operate," he said.

Samuel is set to be officially installed as senior pastor of St. John in late July; details are not yet definite. The Rev. Nim Russell of Thankful Baptist Church in Rome, who was Samuel's childhood pastor, will be on hand for the installation.

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