The sermon, interwoven with references to biblical passages, sparked shouts of “Amen!” from the pews. The loudest were from his mother, who was in the front row, using her video camera to document the moment.
After the sermon, a boy, about 12, rushed toward the front of the sanctuary to give his life to Jesus. Even the preacher was surprised.
Ezekiel Stoddard is 11. Last month, he was ordained as a minister in his family’s independent Pentecostal church, an act sanctioned by the state of Maryland.
A couple of weeks earlier, he had knelt on the soft, spring-green grass in the yard of the Temple Hills house where he lives, searching for a rabbit whose nest he had found and inspecting a lizard that had shed its tail.
The reptile would be okay, he told his younger brother and sister, and it would probably grow another tail. His voice was confident and comforting.
Ezekiel is part of a centuries-long tradition, one that spans the globe. Even as the world becomes ever more modern and sophisticated, child preachers remain a subject of fascination and debate. Skeptics have suggested that they are more motivated by attention and pushy parents than God. How, after all, can a child understand the Gospel or the intricacies of ministry?
Others, including the Rev. Al Sharpton, who started preaching in the Church of God in Christ when he was 4, believe that God can, indeed, speak through children.
“God can use anybody; why not a child?” said David Warren, a member of the chorus that performed at Ezekiel’s ordination at Fullness of Time Church, which occupies a former Capitol Heights warehouse and is headed by Ezekiel’s stepfather.
Everyone agrees: Ezekiel is committed, caring and mature beyond his years. He writes his own sermons, although his mother sometimes types them up.
“Ezekiel really studies the Bible,’’ said Adrienne Smith, his mother, who is also a minister. “He will cross-reference, and he will go deep into the Scriptures.”
He also likes to ride go-carts. He loves basketball, the NBA’s Lakers in particular, and isn’t above showing off when he steals the ball or nails a tough shot.
Ezekiel says God spoke to him in a dream when he was 8. “God said, ‘You are going to lay hands on the sick and preach to the poor,’ ” Ezekiel said.
The voice, Ezekiel said in another interview, sounded like fire. “He said, ‘Son, you are going to be something.’ ” The boy’s mission? “Ministering the Gospel,” Ezekiel said, “and running souls right over to Him.”
Self-assured and uncommonly articulate, Ezekiel is on the case.
“The kingdom of God is at hand,” he said in a sermon at his ordination. His hands punctured the air, seeming to reach out to all of the 50 or so well-wishers present.