The announcement on Sunday that Bishop Stephen A. Davis will become senior pastor of New Birth Missionary Baptist Church ensures a smooth transition after the death of Bishop Eddie Long.
Long died Jan. 15 at age 63 and after 29 years at the church.
Davis was formally introduced as the new senior pastor amid applause and cheers during Sunday services at the Lithonia megachurch. His installation is effective immediately.
Tapped by Long and the New Birth board of directors as part of the succession plan adopted in 2013, Davis comes to the Lithonia church on the “crest of a highly successful tenure as senior pastor, president and chairman of the board, formerly known as Refiner’s House,” according to a statement released on Sunday.
Davis has had direct ties with Long since 2006. Refiner’s House in Birmingham became a New Birth Church campus in 2011, as part of the New Birth Church expansion.
The “congregation is well acquainted with and has deep respect for Bishop Davis’ gifting as a dynamic leader, pastor, teacher and speaker,” according to the release. Member Kiva Fowlkes echoed that sentiment.
“The members know Bishop Stephen A. Davis very well. He has spoken a lot at New Birth Lithonia and is on the international prayer call that Bishop Long set up five years ago every Wednesday.” Fowlkes was at service Sunday when the announcement was made. “The congregation was elated!” she said.
There had been much speculation about who would replace the popular Long.
Dr. George Smith of Cape Town, South Africa, had never visited the Lithonia campus, but was familiar with Long from his numerous trips to his country.
The trips prompted Smith to become a follower on the Internet and although he didn’t know Davis, he appreciated that Davis had his own style.
“ He is just as powerful of a speaker as Bishop Long was,” she said. “God’s grace is all over him, he is just as generous, loving, and kind as Bishop Long was. Bishop Davis had a great respect and love for our Bishop Long, and you can tell how much he learned from Bishop Eddie Lee Long which is why he was perfect to continue his legacy.”
Long’s wife, Elder Vanessa Long, said during a memorial service for her husband that it was time for New Birth to move forward.
“We know what to do, and we know how to do it, Vanessa Long said. “We’re gonna get back to the business of ministry. We’re gonna serve the community. Were gonna bless others ‘cause that’s what he would do.”
The Rev. Portia Wills Lee, coordinator for the Selma T. and Henry V. Richardson Ecumenical Fellowship at the Interdenominational Theological Center said the idea of a pastor naming his successor is a relatively new phenomenon.
“Over the years we’ve grown accustomed to the concept that when a pastor retires or resigns or dies, then the church will create a search committee and nominating committee to find a new pastor,” Lee said. “One reason I like it is that a pastor will understand his or her flock. He knows their needs. ”
New Birth members are well-acquainted with Davis. Congratulations and messages of gladness peppered social media shortly after the announcement.
In assuming the helm of New Birth, Bishop Davis stated, “My wife, Darlene, and I, are blessed beyond measure and thoroughly thrilled to serve New Birth Lithonia, building on the foundation that Bishop Eddie L. Long established for this amazing ministry.” Davis added, “We look forward to advancing the kingdom of God, transforming more unsaved into believers for Christ, continuing to bridge the gap in the communities that New Birth serves and elevating New Birth to new heights.”
During his tenure at New Birth Lithonia, Davis will continue leading New Birth Birmingham as well as oversee the extended campus at New Birth Tuscaloosa.