The congregation of Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church – The Blvd – will gather Saturday (July 7) at the church's midtown campus, where they will hear more about the unexpected departure of the megachurch's Senior Pastor, the Rev. Frank Thomas.
Thomas, who has led the church since 1999, will retire as the church's pastor and from active ministry in December. He will continue to serve as church CEO and pastor until a replacement is selected.
Word of Thomas' pending exit began to spread on Monday after an "e News from The Blvd" message was circulated. The message served as a members-only invitation to Saturday's "Chat with Pastor Frank" and included a link to his retirement letter.
"I know that the rumor mill and grapevine will have all kinds of untrue reasons, half information, misinformation, gossip and downright scattered opinions to cloud the facts. But I wanted you to know the truth," Thomas wrote in the retirement letter.
Noting that he began contemplating retirement three years ago, Thomas said he alerted church leadership that he was thinking and praying about the move, agreeing that he would make his intentions known by June 30, 2012. He chose that course to create a smooth transition in pastoral leadership and "so that the church would not experience the disruption or needless stress and anxiety of an unplanned transition of the Senior Pastor."
Thomas explained that God called him to be a pastor and also called him to teach.
"I have suppressed the call to teach for many years in order to serve as a pastor," wrote Thomas. "In recent years, the call to teach has become stronger and more present in my spirit, and I began to seriously contemplate my retirement from pastoring to engage the teaching call on my life."
The Church Council has formed a transition team and formulated a transition plan.
Interim spokesperson for the church, the Rev. Kia Granberry, who serves as Director of Ministry and Leadership Development, said the announcement of Thomas' departure has been a tangle to deal with, adding that he has the church's full, if somewhat sad, support.
"It will not be abrupt because he is going to be here with us during the transition, serving in his full capacity while we deal with the emotional experience of him leaving. He has been in a period of discernment regarding what he feels God has called on him to do and he feels he must go into teaching to help shape the next generation of ministers," said Granberry.
"He is already known for his expertise in the field, here and worldwide, so he is doing what he feels God has led him to do. The staff had already been notified and we were here with him last night (Monday) when he explained it to the members. The meeting took about an hour, but most of the time was spent with people talking informally about the announcement and their feelings about it."
The church's congregation includes District 3 City Councilman Harold Collins.
"As a member of The Blvd and having served as a Moderator of the Congregation, Dr. Thomas has provided great leadership," said Collins. "His style of teaching/preaching has transformed our church into a critical thinking church.
"We now use our creative God given minds to interpret the gospel. Pastor Frank challenged us to use the word of God daily and by doing the right thing in all relationships."
Betty Boone, president of the 100 Black Women Memphis Chapter (and 2011 TSD Women of Excellence Award recipient) said the announcement of "Pastor Frank's" retirement brought great sadness to her.
"He taught us through his teaching, preaching and living how to live a life pleasing to God and to 'do the right thing' in all relationships regardless of the consequences. We love him and sister Joyce (Thomas's wife) and will miss his humble and courageous spirit."
Thomas succeeded the Rev. Alvin O'Neal Jackson. In addition to its location at 70 North Bellevue Blvd., the church now has a second location referred to as The Blvd East at the Clark Opera Memphis Center at the corner of Wolf River and Kirby Road.