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New Birth holds first service after interim pastor steps down

As New Birth Missionary Baptist Church begins its search for a new pastor, Sunday’s guest preacher said finding a new leader means allowing the former one to rest in peace.

Bishop Gary Oliver, pastor of the Tabernacle of Praise church in Fort Worth, Texas, was invited to preach following the resignation of interim senior pastor Bishop Stephen A. Davis. The Stonecrest church announced on Wednesday that Bishop Davis had stepped down under the strain of commuting between DeKalb County and sister churches in Birmingham and Tuscaloosa. 

A national search will be conducted to find a new permanent leader. Davis remained in Alabama on Sunday.

During his sermon, Oliver acknowledged that the legacy of former senior pastor Bishop Eddie Long continued to loom large over the congregation. He warned that the next leader cannot live in Long’s shadow.

“He was the one and only; we need to let him rest with that,” Oliver said.

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Long became the megachurch’s senior pastor in 1987, when the congregation had only 300 members. The church had grown to more than 25,000 members by 2010.

Oliver also told parishioners not to dwell on the past or worry about the future, but to focus on the present or “the now.”

“We’re not lost; we’re right on time; we’re right on path; we’re right where we’re supposed to be,” he said as the crowd cheered.

Davis became interim pastor after Long died in 2017 of an aggressive form of cancer. Long was a charismatic leader whose  ministry was also plagued by scandal and controversy. He drew fire for speaking out against same sex marriage and homosexuality. The biggest threat, however, was in 2010, when four men sued Long in state court, claiming he abused his “spiritual authority” and gave them cars, clothes, cash and trips to lure them into sexual relationships while they were teens. The case was dismissed, and a settlement was eventually reached. 

Long, though, was also a beloved figure not only among his congregation but in the community. The pastor bought people cars, helped them find jobs, and gave them food and clothing.

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