It was the red rosebush that caught her eye first, 45 years ago, when Lily Keel was still a stranger from Montgomery, Ala., looking for a new church in Dorchester. The garden in front of Pleasant Hill Missionary Baptist Church reminded her of home.
And when she attended her first service and felt a calm wash over her as she listened to the words of the Rev. Samuel H. Bullock Sr., who had planted that rosebush with his own hands, she knew she had found something special.
“I found family here at this church. I found love here at this church. I found God here at this church,” said Keel, now 71 and a deaconess. “This church was a home away from home.”
On Sunday, Pleasant Hill celebrated its 75th anniversary during two services that capped off a week of revival, including sermons from visiting ministers and a banquet with US Senator Elizabeth Warren. Later in the month, parishioners will recreate a march from Waumbeck Street, where the church was originally built, to its current location on Humboldt Avenue.
“It’s enormous,” said the Rev. Miniard Culpepper, the church’s current pastor, grandson of the Rev. Bullock Sr., and a staunch antiviolence community advocate. “When I look back and think of the 75 years of the toils of our forefathers and foremothers, it makes me think about the significance of the work we did in the community.”
Culpepper’s office is decorated with signed pictures of him posing with presidents, clasping President Clinton’s hand and smiling with President Obama. Behind his chair is a picture of him with Warren, who signed for him a copy of the Congressional Record last year when he spoke in the Senate as the guest chaplain.
“Rev. Culpepper and his congregation understand that their community extends well beyond the walls of their church,” Warren told the Senate in her statements that day, relaying stories of Culpepper’s outreach to gang members and victims of gun violence. “After all, as Rev. Culpepper remarked, this is not somebody’s problem down the street or on the other side of town, this is my problem.”
Culpepper, who is fighting cancer but spoke and sang with verve on Sunday, said that he has tried to carry on the social justice legacy of his grandfather, who he said marched with Martin Luther King Jr. from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery. Seventy-five years, he said, has changed the technology the church uses — sermons are recorded, and the church has a television program on cable — but not the philosophy.
“The original mission, to feed the hungry, set free the captive, give sight to the blind, hasn’t changed,” said Culpepper.
Source: Boston Globe | Evan Allen