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A Place of Hope and History, Mount Pisgah Baptist Church Welcomes New Pastor

Timothy and Karin
Timothy Mark Harris will be installed as the Pastor of Mount Pisgah Baptist Church. He will be accompanied by his wife, Karin Harris.

Mount Pisgah Baptist Church will be appointing a new leader after losing its longtime pastor, Frank McSwain Sr., who died in 2018 after leading the church for 35 years. In a ceremony Sunday, the church will welcome Timothy Mark Harris as its new pastor.

Harris said in accepting the position, he’ll be inheriting both a legacy and a responsibility. Mount Pisgah has a rich history in the Twin City community. It was founded in 1865, the same year that the Civil War drew to a close. Today, the church is home to more than 500 members, making it the area’s largest African American church.

Mount Pisgah serves as the “hub of hope” for the community, said Harris, who began his career in 1999 and has held ministerial positions in Ohio, New York, and Michigan. In coming to Bloomington-Normal, Harris hopes to continue his work in community engagement and social justice.

“We want to engage with partnership, transparency, and truth. And try to help to be agents of change,” Harris said of his ministry’s role in the community. As a new member of the community, Harris said wants to be mindful not to overstep boundaries. But he said he’s spoken with his parishioners to identify opportunities to offer support, citing assistance to recent flood victims and issues of policing as two primary areas of focus.

“In essence, with African Americans, we’re getting stopped three to four times more than our white brothers and sisters. And so there are some points of engagement we have to have,” said Harris, explaining that he plans to work with the NAACP and other community leaders to address the disparity and the broader issues that underlie it.

“This is and can continue to be a great area,” Harris said. “We just need to be truthful with one another.”

An important component of social justice is to know what you’re asking for and who to ask for it, according to Harris. And once clarity has been developed around those goals, he said people shouldn’t be afraid to be demonstrative.

As for the family of Jelani Day, the Illinois State University graduate whose body was identified Thursday after weeks of outcry from his family, Harris said “there definitely was a lack of a sense of support.” Day’s mother, Carmen Bolden Day, made national headlines pointing out the disparity between the attention her son’s case received compared to the high-profile case of a missing white woman.

“We want to support her,” Harris said of Bolden Day, “And then actually get down to what the real issues are and then we can go forward, and prayerfully, this will never happen again.”

Harris also hopes to help bring an end to the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic by positioning the church as an educator and advocate.

“It’s not a hoax,” Harris said of the pandemic. “People are dying, and it’s real."

Harris said Mount Pisgah also will partner with other community groups to continue educating people about the risks of COVID and the mitigation strategies to contain it.

“It’s a constant education,” he said. “It doesn’t stop.”

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Sarah Nardi is a WGLT reporter. She previously worked for the Chicago Reader covering Arts & Culture.
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