The community at New Shiloh Baptist Church sure knows how to treat its pastors.
In its 115-year history, the church has had only six of them - a testament both to the welcoming nature of the congregation and to the caliber of the people it elects as leaders.
On Aug. 11, current senior pastor Bishop Dr. James Washington was honored with a ceremony celebrating his 23rd pastoral anniversary.
While 23 years is a long time at one job, Washington said the many opportunities it has afforded him to work with his congregation and beyond have made it a pleasure.
"I've been able to not only exercise my ministry for the congregation, but have been able to minister in the community, in terms of, you know, reaching out to those who were in need, doing my part to improve the quality of life for those who live in Atlantic City and the vicinity," he said.
The ceremony began at 8 a.m. with a sermon led by Pastor Kevin Ragland, of Lighthouse Community Church in Pleasantville, which was followed by lunch. Washington's son, Rev. Aaron Washington Sr., also of New Shiloh Baptist, conducted a second sermon at 10:45, which was followed by lunch, and Pastor Collins Days, of Second Baptist Church in Atlantic City, closed the ceremony with a 3 p.m. service.
The theme of the day's sermons was family, and it was a fitting one, because Washington has made a point of integrating his into the leadership of the church. His wife, Ruby, is a pastor, and his sister, Pamela York, is a trustee. Both women, along with Rev. Aaron's wife, Natalie, were instrumental in planning the event.
In addition to Rev. Aaron, the couple's sons Shannon James and Anthony James and their daughter, Nicole Lyles-Belton, also helped at the event.
The pastor's wife said she felt overwhelmed by the outpouring of gratitude for her husband's work during the ceremony.
"Just being there and just, the excitement of it all, and the smiling faces on everybody that was there," Washington said. "I'm listening to all the ministers, preaching and teaching and our choir, our choir."
Bishop Washington was serving as a pastor at a church in Wisconsin when he was informed of the vacancy at New Shiloh by the a friend who was an officer with the National Baptist Convention USA Inc. He traveled back and forth to Atlantic City a few times, and was offered the position as pastor. Having long sought a church in need where he could make an impact, Washington took the offer as a sign from God, and moved his family to Atlantic City.
In his years at New Shiloh, Washington has implemented a number of programs and events in the church and beyond, organizing a gun buyback, bringing citizens and police officers together through neighborhood walks and working closely with AtlantiCare on several public health initiatives.
In addition to the sermons, Washington was honored with presentations by a few of the church's ministry groups , and was presented with a letter of commendation from the mayor's office.
New Shiloh has a membership of about 1,000, and more than 600 from the congregation and the community attended the ceremony, York said. He has been a strong leader for the church body, she said, and she expects him to continue to be for years to come.
"Whenever he can help and lend a hand, that's what he believes he is to do, and he goes to any length to carry that out, and that's what he teaches as well. He sets the example, and he takes example from God, from Jesus," she said. "Shiloh follows him, he follows God."
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