New Hope AME Church in Atlanta Celebrates Passing Down the Faith Through Generations for 150 Years

It’s altar call and the Rev. David F. Richards III, dressed in a flowing white and gold embroidered grand boubou, invites members of New Hope African Methodist Episcopal Church to pray.

For those who cannot kneel at the altar, he walks to them and prays with them or sends the associate minister, who holds one man’s hand as he bows his head.

They don’t have to raise their hands. He knows his congregation well enough to know when there’s need for prayer.

It’s that kind of closeness that has kept members like Melanie Few coming back to the historic 150-year-old Buckhead church Sunday after Sunday.

Her great-grandparents went there. So did her grandmother and her father, who once attended the church school that ran from first through seventh grade.

“I think there are still people in Atlanta that desire a family feel when they come to church,” said Few, the founder and executive producer of the NFL Super Bowl Gospel Celebration. “Here, if you come for a while and then stop coming, people will call you and see if you’re OK or bring you a meal. It’s the love that is shown on a personal level.”

That extends to the Richards, who regularly checks on members.

“A church with 30,000 members, they can’t do that,” Few said.

On Sunday, the small, immaculately kept white-painted wooden church that sits tucked away surrounded by high-end homes, was packed as people gathered to celebrate the church’s 150th anniversary. Well wishes came from U.S. Congressman John Lewis, D-Ga.; former Atlanta Mayor Sam Massell, now president of the Buckhead Coalition; and U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson, R-Ga.

The church has a weekly attendance of betwen 50 and 75 people with 130 people on the rolls. Worshippers range in age from 96 to 3 months, about 40 percent of them are senior citizens. White residents from nearby neighborhoods regularly attend.

“The spirit in this church is awesome,” said Richards, 58, who grew up a military brat and became senior pastor of the Arden Road church about two years ago. “Some are quiet, but they will shout ‘Glory’ to the living God and that motivates a preacher.”

Atlanta is home to well-known megachurches, so how does a small church like New Hope compete?

“I’m not competing with them because we’re on the same team,” he said. “However, they’re using means of modern technology to enhance their worship experience, but when the rubber meets the road, it’s about good old-fashioned Bible study, church school, gospel-filled preaching, Holy Ghost-filled services and I’ll put our choir up against any choir.”

Bishop Reginald T. Jackson, presiding prelate of the Sixth Episcopal District, said the spirit of New Hope is an example of what needs to happen in houses of worship today, especially as studies show younger people don’t feel connected to organized religion.

“New Hope, as you celebrate this 150th anniversary, make sure you pass down the faith,” he said. “So that our children know the way that God has brought us.”

He said he was happy to hear babies and young children making noise during the service, which showed a new generation was coming into Christ.

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SOURCE: The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Shelia M. Poole