When the Rev. Kerry Hill was elected to the Maryland House of Delegates last year, he vowed not to forsake his parishioners at New Chapel Baptist Church. Last weekend, the Camp Springs minister took it a step further and combined politics with the pulpit.
Hill held what he billed as his First Annual Prayer Breakfast. For $25 a person, about 300 neighborhood activists, elected officials and business leaders were invited to pray and have a chance to help Hill pay off $12,000 in campaign debts.
"I could have just held a rally and asked people to support my campaign committee, but the community needed prayer. Parents are shooting the children, kids are shooting kids because we have not been focused on values," said Hill, a 35-year-old freshman Democratic lawmaker who represents the 26th District. He doesn't face reelection until 2002.
Hill is occupying a seat vacated by the Rev. C. Anthony Muse, pastor of Resurrection Prayer Worship Center in Brandywine, who launched an unsuccessful bid for the state Senate, so the community is accustomed to preaching lawmakers.
Hill said he is planning ahead for the General Assembly session, and his legislative priorities include supporting the new school superintendent, Iris T. Metts, attracting more supporters for the National Harbor project near Oxon Hill and getting the faith community to take a more active role in improving life in Prince George's County.
Hill, who is a member of the Economic Matters Committee in the House of Delegates, sponsored legislation last year to promote economic development and enterprise zones in the county. He also wants to encourage ministers to get involved in community development efforts.
"The church needs to take a more active role in being agents for change in the community," said Hill, who invited the Rev. Wyatt Tee Walker, pastor of Canaan Baptist Church in Harlem, to be guest speaker. The speech by Walker, a veteran civil rights leader, was entitled "The Faith Community's Role in Economic Empowerment." The event was held at the Best Western Potomac Place in Oxon Hill. About 300 supporters attended, raising about $10,000.
But Hill didn't need to hear a message from Walker, one of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.'s closest associates, to get charged up about doing good for the community. Hill said he arrives at his church building by 6 a.m. most days, because he and his wife operate New Chapel Christian Academy, a preschool.
"We can no longer build 10,000-seat churches with no classrooms, no computer training," said Hill, who has 125 students in the preschool. "We can no longer pray for people on Sunday and send them back into tormented neighborhoods Monday through Saturday."
Air Force Master Sgt. Shirlene Ogburn and her husband, Jacob, have a 4-year-old daughter at New Chapel Christian Academy. "This church has been a blessing," said Shirlene Ogburn, who is stationed at Andrews Air Force Base. "I met my future husband at this church. This church is very family oriented."
Hill's wife, Donna, said the church's focus on the family starts right in their Camp Springs home. She said that even though her husband is a member of the House of Delegates, he always comes home at night, and she travels with him as much as possible.
"He has made a commitment to Annapolis, he has made a commitment to New Chapel, and he has made a commitment to me. He is home every evening," said Donna, who fell in love with him when she was a teenager. The two have been married for eight years and have an 8-year-old son, Keon Dakari Hill.
Kerry Hill said he is trying hard to be a role model as a minister and a lawmaker. "As a minister, there are things that go on in Annapolis after hours that is just not for me. I am committed to my family."
The Rev. William Hill started New Chapel Baptist Church in a Southeast Washington basement in 1969. Today, he co-pastors New Chapel with his son, Kerry. The church has a $2 million budget and 1,200 members who gather at three services because the congregation has outgrown its building.
Kerry Hill grew up in Seat Pleasant. He graduated from Crossland High School. He received a BA in economics from the University of Maryland in 1987, a master's of divinity from Howard University in 1994 and a doctorate of divinity from United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, in 1997.
"I am looking to promote the relationship between the church and the community versus being a traditional church that is only open from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.," Hill said. "The African American church has been the hub of our community, and now we need to look at how the church can strategically affect the community."
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