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Friday, September 22, 2023

After 30 years as pastor, Bishop Barber retires from his Goldsboro church

By Cash Michaels, Peacemaker Senior Contributor / June 23, 2023

Bishop Barber preaches his last sermon at Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro.

Last Sunday, while some were preparing to celebrate Juneteenth, and most were honoring Father’s Day, Bishop William J. Barber II, renowned minister and national civil rights leader, was retiring from the church he proudly pastored for the past 30 years – Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro.

Before a packed sanctuary, Bishop Barber, also the president of Repairers of the Breach and co-convener of the Poor People’s Campaign, delivered his last sermon before the congregation at Greenleaf entitled, “Would You Consider the Testimony of a Cripple About the Grace and Glory of God.”

“I have no reason to be standing here but by the grace of God,” he told the congregation and many visitors.

It was one of the rare times in public over the years that the former N.C. NAACP president publicly talked about his personal struggle with a unique form of arthritis known as ankylosing spondylitis, which, according to the National Institutes of Health, causes inflammation in the joints and ligaments of the spine.

The disease has contributed to Bishop Barber’s large size, and inability to walk long distances without a cane. He told the church how he experienced serious bouts of depression earlier in his life, and was told by doctors that he might lose his ability to stand. That threatened the need for Bishop Barber to be able to stand in the pulpit to preach early in his ministry, and he prayed to God for the strength to overcome.

That strength came, later allowing Barber not only to preach, but to lead numerous Moral Monday and other demonstrations in the streets over the years regarding social justice issues.

His own life of physical struggle allows him to now bear witness that GOD doesn’t just use the strong, but also those who have suffered an affliction in life that by all accounts, should make them weak and useless.

“There is a thread throughout Scriptures, that God does his best work with cripples,” Bishop said, noting that the main characters in several books of the Bible are crippled or broken in some way, and yet become divine examples of God’s grace to inspire others.

Barber, 59, told congregants that it is no different today, and that even the best Christians are nothing without the grace of God.

The message was important because of Bishop Barber’s main mission in life now – to inspire, particularly young people of all colors and backgrounds, to pick up the mantle of social justice in this nation, and confront the ills that continue to plague the poor, and deny racial and gender justice to millions. Thus, Bishop Barber’s new role as founding director of the recently established Yale University Center for Public Theology and Public Policy.

“GOD’s grace and God’s glory is most evident when we are weak,” Bishop Barber preached, adding that in many cases, God’s greatest saints and servants are “crippled by design” in order for them to represent the grace of God “without arrogance.”

Barber counseled the congregants and visitors that they must come to terms with their personal state of being crippled, what is biblically known as “lo-debar,” be it emotional, physical or spiritual, and realize that only by serving God do they become strong, and spiritually whole.

“That’s what I’ve been trying to preach to you for 30 years, Greenleaf,” Bishop Barber told the church he’s called home since 1993.

While acknowledging the importance of Father’s Day, Bishop Barber also warned all about the commercial and national exploitation of Juneteenth – what was originally supposed to be the acknowledgment of how enslaved Africans in Galveston, Texas received word of the Emancipation Proclamation, the end of slavery, two years late.

While Juneteenth has traditionally been commemorated in Texas for many years, it became a federal holiday when Democrat Pres. Joe Biden came into office, and many states and municipalities, including North Carolina, decided to also recognize it.

Many critics, however, have been warning this year that the true meaning of Juneteenth has been lost amid the celebrations, parades, holiday and retail sale events.

Barber admonished his congregation not to be tricked, and that Juneteenth should be a time for reflection and recommitment to the cause of freedom, and the end of present-day slavery.

As part of his retirement festivities, Bishop Barber was lauded at a local event in his honor on June 10, which was keynoted by MSNBC personality Joy Reid.

Pres. Joe Biden also sent a congratulatory video, and Vice President Kamala Harris a letter acknowledging Bishop Barber’s many years of civil rights and social activism.

Bishop Barber preaches his last sermon at Greenleaf Christian Church in Goldsboro.


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Since 1967, the Carolina Peacemaker has served as North Carolina’s leading news weekly with a national reputation. Founded by Dr. John Kilimanjaro, the newspaper is published by Carolina Newspaper, Inc.

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