By Angel Booth
VCU Multimedia Journalism
RICHMOND, Va. — First Baptist of South Richmond was a fusion of color and praise as the sound of the organ and tambourine flowed through the sanctuary filled with saints dressed in their Sunday best determined to hear a Word from the Lord.
“Have I got a witness?” Rev. Steven Carter, the guest minister for the morning, asked from the pulpit.
“Glory! Hallelujah!” the congregation responded.
The call and response of worshipers echoed from the balcony to the floor. Pew by pew members rose to their feet and clapped in agreement that the Lord is good and worthy of a standing ovation.
On this sixth day of summer, cars lined the neighborhood streets. The church that occupied the block of 15th Street and Decatur Street was packed. The occasion: The first anniversary of the church’s pastor, Rev. Derik E. Jones, the long time son of the pastor, now pastor of the church.
Derik Jones, 33, grew up a preacher’s kid. His father, Rev. Dwight C. Jones became pastor of the First Baptist Church of South Richmond nearly a decade before he was born. First Baptist has been Derik Jones’ life. Last year; Derik succeeded his farther as pastor of his home church while his father transitioned from his more than 35 years behind the pulpit, to mayor of the city of Richmond.
“A good leader has a good plan for when he’s not the leader anymore,” said Derik Jones. Dwight Jones’s strategy: a succession plan under which he has taken a step back to become senior pastor, while his son has taken on the day to day tasks of the church.
In a letter to the congregation Dwight Jones expressed his compassion to the church and explained his plan to the congregation.
“The succession plan we have in place provides for the continued growth of the ministry and an opportunity to meet the needs of our growing and diverse congregation. This father son partnership that will manifest itself in co-pastoring one of God’s greatest churches is a God ordained privilege.”
Dwight Jones was inaugurated mayor January 2009. By then his nearly 3,000-member congregation had already voted in favor of installing Derik as pastor.
“We were gonna do this before he ran for mayor, not because he ran for mayor,” Jones said about the transition. Derik Jones was installed pastor on June 28, 2009. Prior to him, there have only been five pastors in First Baptist’s 189-year history.
Since his installation, father and son have been implementing a joint vision for the church.
“They’re definitely a team…a great team,” said Violet Brown, 70, who’s been a member of First Baptist over half a century.
Son of a Preacher Man
In the pulpit they looked like a team, Derik Jones in the middle chair, his father to his right, both coordinating with matching black short sleeve button downs and black slacks. Derik grew up in this church. All his life, he’s been a member of First Baptist. He was baptized here. He was a Cub Scout here. He married his wife Tamara Elise Jones here last year, and today he announced the birth of their first daughter, born only a few days prior.
As a kid, Derik’s twin sister Nichole Page was always looking out for him.
“She was the leader of the two. She helped him tie his shoes, she corrected his language,” said Chandra Barnes, who babysat the twins growing up.
The burden of ministry was on Derik at a young age. He’s a fifth generation preacher. But on a typical Sunday morning as a child Derik was like others his age. He sat with his friends in a secluded corner in the balcony, unseen by others, where he talked and played during the service. “We would have a ball,” he reflected. It wasn’t until his junior year at Virginia Union University that began preaching.
From Union, Jones went on to the Yale School of Divinity and seminary at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Boston, Mass. He returned back to his home church to join its staff in 2001.
Home Sweet Home
Derik Jones worked his way from youth minister, to associate minister and primary preacher at the church’s Empowerment Hour services at the church’s second location at Meadowbrook High School on Ironbridge Rd.
“He’s always been really interactive with the youth,” said Ashleigh Lofton, who recalls Jones trying to persuade her as a child to join the activities at First Baptist although she wasn’t a member.
But after coming back Jones found that one of his biggest struggles was carving out his own individuality and measuring peoples expectations at a church where everybody knew him practically from birth and was use to his father as the leader.
“One of the challenges (was) making a distinction between my dad and me. I have great respect and great honor for him but I’m not him. I’m different. I’m not a carbon copy,” he said.
Under his wing
Jones considers himself an apprentice under his father, still learning from him. Their relationship has always been good. Derik loves his father who he says helped shape him but admits that being business partners can challenge their relationship.
“You can spend a whole phone conversation.20…30 minutes and you haven’t talked about anything personal. I haven’t had a chance to ask him how he’s feeling,” said Jones.
Still at the end of the day, Jones knows he can go to his dad for advice.
“One of the great things or privileges I have at this point of my life is to usher in a new era of what has been a historic church…and to have the privilege of furthering my dad’s legacy,” said Jones.
First Baptist of South Richmond is the first independent black congregation in Richmond. It is a member of the National Baptist Convention USA, Inc. is the largest African-American Christian Denomination in the United States. The Virginia Chapter, the Baptist General Convention of Virginia consists of a network of over 1,000 churches across the state.
As for following his dad into politics, Derik Jones says he doesn’t see it in his near future, but will go if he feels the need.
Jones says he never wants First Baptist to be a mediocre church, and said the church continued to grow in the past year. They are now constructing the Imani Village, in Chesterfield County, a building project that will house a 2000 seat cathedral and family life center.
The work of a pastor, Derik says, is very gratifying.
“You know you’re doing what you should be doing when you can’t see yourself doing anything else and I can honestly sit here today and say I can not see myself doing anything else then other than what I’m doing. This is my Lebron James thing…this is my Kobe thing.”