34-year-old Pastor Darius Curtis Thomas, has learned various life lessons that have made him mature enough to embrace history and look to the future as he becomes the pastor at Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Joliet.
Thomas is replacing Pastor Dr. Lishers Mahone Jr., who celebrated his retirement ceremony in September. Mahone served as pastor at Brown Chaple African Methodist Episcopal Church for 33 years.
Several familiar faces were waiting for Thomas to welcome him to AME Church. He is longtime friends with Sandy Carter and his wife, the Rev. Theresa Carter, of Brown Chapel. Carter, who is on the Steward Board of the Joliet church, said he has known Thomas since he was around 15-years-old in Chicago. “He comes with good lineage,” said Carter. “He is doing a great job and he is well educated.”
It was overcoming obstacles at a young age that forged Thomas to enter the ministry. “In 1994, my mom became ill,” said the young man who grew up in Chicago. “I prayed because the doctors said she would die after suffering a massive stroke. The doctors gave up hope, but God answered my prayers. I took that as a sign for me and it compelled me to surrender myself to God.” Today, his mother, who is in her 60s, is doing well and has no residual effects from the stroke.
Prior to taking over pastoral duties at Brown Chapel on Oct. 12, Thomas worked for 11 years at the Greater Allen AME Cathedral in Jamaica, Queens, New York, pastored by the Rev. Dr. Floyd Flake, who also was a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from 1986 to 1997. Thomas said Flake left a positive mark on his career and outlook on life.
“I met Dr. Flake at Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio, when I was a student representative to the board of trustees and he was the alumni representative,” recalled Thomas. After Thomas graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science, the young man was offered the opportunity of a lifetime.
“He was impressed with me and he offered me the job to serve as youth pastor at Greater Allen AME Cathedral,” Thomas said. While serving in this capacity, he had oversight of 1,200 youths and 33 ministries and programs. In 2008, Thomas was elevated to minister of discipleship and membership. Some of his responsibilities included management of the 24,000 members, ministerial training courses, development and oversight of the new members and discipleship courses, prison ministry and some pastoral counseling sessions.
“Brown Chapel is the second oldest black congregation in Will County,” said Thomas. “It has amazing people. We want to grow not just numerically, but spiritually. I eventually want to build an educational center here.” Since Thomas attended Yale University on an academic scholarship, Thomas recognizes the value of education. ”I believe education is the way we improve our reality,” he added. “I want to pay it forward.”
But Thomas, who is pursuing a master of divinity degree at Yale Divinity School in Connecticut, does recognize that he has big shoes to fill, considering the legacy of his predecessor. “He did amazing things with the congregation,” said Thomas. “But we have different leadership, preaching and teaching styles. Plus, I am adjusting to different regions. Queens is very urban, whereas Joliet is rural.”
But Thomas said he can’t wait to continue the tradition of Mahone by ministering the spiritual needs of the 150 or so members at Brown Chapel, which is predominantly African-American, though there are some Hispanic and Caucasian worshippers. Sunday worship services are at 10 a.m.
“I am looking forward to not just serving Brown Chapel, but the good people of Will County and Joliet.”