The Rev. Maurice Watson is the sixth pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church, a 150-year-old congregation in the District that for decades has welcomed presidents, other politicians and iconic figures in the African American community.
Watson, 54, is a nationally known preacher in the Progressive National Baptist Convention, an institution that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. helped found decades ago. Watson is coming to the Washington area from Macon, Ga., where he was pastor of the Beulahland Bible Church.
Watson has a bachelor’s degree from Philander Smith College in Little Rock, where he was valedictorian. He has a master’s degree in theology from Creighton University in Omaha and a doctor of ministry from Beeson Divinity School in Birmingham, Ala.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Watson talks about the responsibility that comes with following the church’s legendary pastor, the Rev. H. Beecher Hicks Jr., and some of the challenges of trying to pull the church out of bankruptcy after the loss of its unfinished multimillion-dollar sanctuary in Largo, Md.
Talk about your faith journey and why you decided to come to Washington.
I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior at age 14. I was called to preach two years later when I was 16. I was ordained into the ministry by Mount Olive Baptist Church in North Little Rock when I was 18. I was called to pastor my first church, St. Mark Baptist Church in Little Rock, when I was 21. After pastoring there for seven years, I was called to pastor Salem Baptist Church in Omaha, and I served there for 15 years. Early in 2004 . . . I was called to Beulahland Bible Church in Macon.
I decided to accept the call to become the pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Washington because I believe it is what God has led me to do. My desire is to please God by serving this wonderful congregation at this critical time in her history.
Metropolitan has a great history. How do you plan to continue the legacy of the Rev. H. Beecher Hicks and his predecessors?
Whenever a new pastor goes to his new assignment, he should join the church’s culture and history. This means that the new pastor should learn the church’s history, customs, traditions and ministries. The pastor should also find out the church’s strengths and weaknesses. That is what I intend to do at Metropolitan. This is a church that has been in existence for 150 years. Therefore, I want to join that history and heritage, but I also intend to lead Metropolitan in a forward path to new ministry initiatives.
Dr. Hicks is known and respected as one of the great preachers and pastors in the nation. His commitment to the relevant, powerful and sound proclamation of the gospel has set a standard for preachers of younger generations. I want to continue that tradition of preaching and teaching.
Talk about the challenges and opportunities at Metropolitan.
The biggest and obvious challenge that we have at Metropolitan is the debt she is facing, due to a failed building project. I knew this before I accepted Metropolitan’s call as senior pastor. While the debt was certainly something that I had to take into consideration, I was more concerned about hearing the voice of God. As crazy as it may sound, I truly believe God has led me to come to Metropolitan, even at a time like this. I don’t know what success will look like. I make no promises, but I will work as hard as I can to honor God in serving the people of Metropolitan.
Some see Metropolitan as being irreparably damaged by the circumstances she is facing. However, there remains a strong core of members who have weathered the storm. . . . The members of Metropolitan continue to praise and worship God in the midst of our difficulties.
How do you keep the church relevant with this generation?
I know some people believe that in order for the church to be relevant, it must compromise its beliefs, get rid of its dogma and blend in with the culture. However, I really don’t believe that is what will draw this generation to the church. I believe that in order for the church to be relevant, it has to be willing to change its “methods” while continuing to embrace its “message.”
For example, a few years ago, I took pride in the fact that I had nothing to do with the social media. However, it was brought to my attention that whether I liked it or not, the social media community is here to stay and it can be a powerful tool for reaching people. I decided to give it a try, so I led the church that I pastored at the time to embrace social media venues, and the impact of our ministry increased tremendously. Thousands of people streamed our services live. Online giving increased our revenue, and it helped the church to keep the members informed of the activities and ministry opportunities that were being offered. We changed our method, not our message.
Churches such as Metropolitan were once the epicenter of the black community. Can that be reclaimed?
Great leaders like Dr. Gardner Taylor, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and a few others are once in a hundred- or two-hundred-year kind of people. They were born at the right time in history, and they were endowed with rare and remarkable gifts that the world needed. So, let’s take them out of the discussion. However, I am not so sure that the church has abdicated its place and responsibility as the epicenter of the black community.
For example, in the recent events that happened in Ferguson, Mo., notice that one of the meeting places the people of the community gathered to hold community-wide meetings was in the church. Did they gather at the church for the obvious reason — that it is a large and spacious building that provided seating for a large crowd of people? Yes, that is one reason. But I think they gathered at the church because black people have historically looked to the church for guidance and comfort in a time of a crisis.