NASHVILLE – Bishop Joseph Walker III – the 45-year-old pastor of the 28,000-member Mt. Zion Baptist Church in Nashville – is the new presiding bishop of Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International, the largest African-American Protestant religious organizations in the United States.
The Southern University graduate will succeed Bishop Paul S. Morton as presiding bishop of the Full Gospel Baptist Church Fellowship International (FGBCFI), with an estimated 2 million members. Bishop Morton, who founded the FGBCFI 20 years ago, is based in New Orleans.
"I'm humbled and thankful by this God ordained responsibility and opportunity," said Bishop Walker. "I'm so grateful for the confidence Bishop Morton and the Bishop's Council has shown in choosing me as the next Presiding Bishop," said Walker, who recently shared his thoughts in this interview with The Tennessee Tribune.
TRIBUNE: Congratulations on becoming the new Presiding Bishop. Can you share with us a brief summation of how you were elected?
BISHOP WALKER: Thank you! The Full Gospel denomination has the Bishop's Council, which is a delegation of 21 bishops, that includes Presiding Bishop Paul S. Morton. The Bishop's Council did their voting, I won and that's basically how it was done.
TRIBUNE: How long has it been since you've known that your name was being considered as a serious contender for the position?
BISHOP WALKER: About a year and a half ago.
TRIBUNE: What was your very first initial reaction when you received the news that you had been elected as the new Presiding Bishop?
BISHOP WALKER: I was humbled. I was in awe of this amazing responsibility and the weight of following the legacy of Bishop Morton and how he has impacted Christendom. It's an amazing responsibility to be on the forefront of redefining church to a generation of people who have become very cynical about church. It's an opportunity to speak to this generation as Bishop Morton did 20 years ago. He spoke to the people under the power of the Holy Spirit, encouraging them on how to live better lives above what the enemy was trying to get them to live.
TRIBUNE: How will your new appointment impact your local ministry?
BISHOP MORTON: The members of Mount Zion won't see a difference at all. As their pastor, I will still be present every Sunday and most Wednesdays. A similar situation is how Bishop Charles Blake (presiding Bishop of the Church of God in Christ), does with his local church there in Los Angeles and as their former bishop, the late G.E. Patterson, was to his local church in Memphis. Again, I will still be at church on Sundays and Wednesdays, but I will be traveling a lot more in between the week.
I have a great infrastructure and support system of elders, deacons, ministers and others, who help hold my arms up in this ministry, stand in the gaps and do a lot of things with me. But my first responsibility, as it's always been, is to pastor the people of Mount Zion Nashville. So I will continue running around the city, doing what I've always done for the communities, trying to make a global impact.
TRIBUNE: When will you officially become the new Presiding Bishop and what type of ceremony and celebration will take place?
BISHOP WALKER: That will all happen in 2015. We will make announcements about various activities as we get closer to the date. ...
TRIBUNE: What are some of the changes Full Gospel members can expect under your leadership?
BISHOP WALKER: We hope and anticipate ... a tremendous influx of young, progressive pastors, coming together to make a positive change, in terms of speaking to various issues that affect us today. People will see a great emphasis on social justice issues too. I'm a galvanizer of people. I believe that we can literally come together with power on things that affect our people in terms of policy and a variety of other issues. I'm a firm believer that we're better when we're all together. During the 1960's a lot of powerful things took place through our churches.
So my focus will be on social justice and getting our people healthy too. A lot of these diseases so many people have can often be prevented by getting the proper resources. We shout a lot at church but we often don't eat right. So I want to use this platform to help get people healthier by partnering with various agencies and organizations that are trying to also help people to become healthier.
I also want to have programs to help educate people on how to be more economically sound by getting out of debt. My desire is to also to help our churches learn how to develop more fiscal responsibility and management.
And finally, I want to reach more of our youth and college students by creating a unique base for them. This is an area that's very dear to me. I see Full Gospel as having a premiere presence as it relates to colleges around the world. Basically, what people have seen happening locally at Mount Zion, I hope to also have it happen with Full Gospel internationally. We want to try and impact a lot of people that traditional church hasn't been able to reach. There's a whole culture of people around the world who watch us on our virtual church website. These are some amazing young people out there and I believe God has enabled us to reach them.
TRIBUNE: We know that Bishop Morton is retiring but will you still be able to have access to him for questions, further mentorship and guidance?
BISHOP WALKER: Absolutely! Yes, Bishop Morton is retiring but he's the father of the fellowship. He will always be present...still attending the annual conferences and continue to work behind the scenes as the CEO of Full Gospel. He's still going to be on hand. I will just be taking on more responsibilities, re-developing vision, and moving forward. Bishop Morton doesn't want me to be a maintenance Bishop but to push our vision ahead that the Lord has given to me. But it's a blessing to have a spiritual father right there to bounce ideas around with. I'm excited about it. ...
TRIBUNE: We know that your lovely wife (Dr. Stephanie Hale Walker), is a medical doctor by profession. What plans and or programs does she have in mind to implement once you become the new presiding Bishop?
BISHOP WALKER: My wife's been in prayer about this area too. She's actually working on some plans now. I know where her heart is about serving the underserved when it comes to health disparities. She's very concerned about women's health, so what better platform to address some of these issues, than by being the first lady of the International Full Gospel Fellowship. This new role will give her the undivided attention of women throughout the world to discuss these matters. If the Lord leads her, I can see her moving into that direction. But right now she's really in prayer about it.
TRIBUNE: Obviously, prayer is a vital force for your ministry, but what else can the public do to help you at this stage in your ministry with the upcoming work you will soon be undertaking?
BISHOP WALKER: People who are reading this article can certainly help support what we are doing by continuing to keep us in prayer. The work we plan on doing will impact the world but Nashville is still home. When we bring the conferences to Nashville, we hope to impact the city in a positive way. We want to make sure there's continuous hospitality and support from everyone. I just want to know that I have the physical and prayer support from the people of Nashville in that area.
(For more information about any of the Mount Zion ministries, visit: www.mtzionnashville.org.)
(Special to the NNPA from The Tennessee Tribune)