The Rev. Mark Whitlock, leader of Christ Our Redeemer AME Church in Irvine, built a large African-American congregation in a county that is less than 2 percent black — but now he is leaving, having been appointed to oversee Reid Temple, a 14,000-strong megachurch in Glenn Dale, Md.
Reid Temple is one of the largest African Methodist Episcopal churches in the world.
Whitlock started Christ Our Redeemer in a storefront with five members a little more than 20 years ago. Today, the church has about 4,000 members and its own paid-for building in Irvine.
The reverend also has gained a reputation as a civil rights leader, social justice warrior and a “bridge-builder” in the community, seeking to forge relationships that transcend religious and racial barriers.
These qualities stood out when Reid Temple and the AME Church began a national search to head the high-profile congregation, which is known for its diversity, activism and service to the underserved, said Bishop Clement Fugh, president of the AME Church’s Council of Bishops. The search for a new pastor began after the Rev. Lee Washington, who had led the church for 34 years, retired in February.
Whitlock was a perfect fit, Fugh said, adding that the Rev. Roosevelt Lindsey will take over as interim pastor in Irvine until a new senior pastor is appointed.
“We needed someone who was a great communicator, preacher and talented administrator,” Fugh said of Reid Temple. “Rev. Whitlock’s involvement in Orange County showed his ability to take a leadership role in politics and social justice issues.”
Whitlock said he was shocked to be offered the high-profile job. “It’s the premier church of African Methodism,” he said. “I was totally surprised. I didn’t ask for it.”
The greatest challenge, Whitlock said, was to leave behind his congregation at Christ Our Redeemer.
“We grew up together,” he said. “I’ve baptized children, officiated weddings, managed funerals and done eulogies. This has been my life for the last 20 years.”
Whitlock acknowledged that his move to the Washington, D.C., area comes as an important election year looms.
“Being the largest and most well-known African-American congregation in the country, we must be politically active and purposeful,” he said. “We need to get behind the Democratic candidate. The person currently in the White House is not the best for our country.”
As pastor of Reid Temple, he said, he hopes to inspire young people as well.
“The AME Church marched and died for the right of people of color to vote,” Whitlock said. “We need to inspire young people to grow and change our community.”
In Orange County, Whitlock has been a unifying figure. Three years ago, his church formed a partnership with RockHarbor Church in Mission Viejo, a predominantly white congregation. The church also has had a relationship with the Islamic Center of Irvine.
Two months ago, Rabbi Richard Steinberg, who heads Congregation Shir Ha-Ma’alot in Irvine, came to teach a Bible Study class at Christ Our Redeemer. Steinberg said it was a first for him, but it’s the kind of forward-thinking approach he has come to expect from Whitlock.
“It speaks to (Whitlock’s) openness and hope that people will be receptive to different ideas,” said the rabbi, who also chairs the Orange County Human Relations Commission.
Steinberg praised Whitlock for his pivotal role in forming the Orange County Sheriff’s Interfaith Advisory Council, comprising several of the county’s faith leaders.
Whitlock has been vocal when it comes to the relationship between the police and communities of color. In 2016 he, along with community partners, law enforcement and faith leaders, held the first Unity March in Irvine, attended by hundreds.
Bishop Kevin Vann, who leads the Diocese of Orange, called Whitlock “a great friend” and partner in the community. Whitlock invited Vann in August 2015 to preach to his church on a Sunday, marking a historic occasion for both churches.
“But going where God calls us is what we do,” Vann said. “It’s part of the job description.”
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Source: Orange County Register