By Marnita Coleman,
Special to the AFRO
To everything there is a season and a time to every purpose under heaven: a time to plant and a time to grow, a time to sing and a time to dance, a time to reign.
Now, for Rev. Dr. Frances “Toni” Draper, pastor of Freedom Temple African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, it is time to retire.
On Oct. 1, from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. congregants, family, and friends will gather at Martin’s West in Woodlawn, Md. to celebrate 30 years of ministry, 20 years of pastoral leadership, and the retirement of Draper from her post as leader of the South Baltimore church.
Draper was called into ministry while attending the Lord’s Church in the West Baltimore community of Park Heights, under the leadership of Bishop Kevia Elliot.
“This is an official retirement,” stated Draper. “In the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, the responsibility for appointing a pastor is solely on Bishop W. Darin Moore, the 99th Bishop in the line of succession in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.”
Draper said that the official retirement date “will be around Dec. 10,” at a checkup meeting. “That is when Bishop Moore intends to name a new pastor. I’ll be at Freedom Temple AME Zion Church until the bishop appoints somebody and that person actually comes for their first service.”
The decision to retire came just as clear as the call to enter into ministry.
Draper said she felt the Lord instructing her to end her tenure as pastor at the end of the year.
Before making a public announcement, she was intentional about giving adequate notice to the presiding bishop of the AME Zion Church, the officers and the congregation of Freedom Temple AME Zion Church. She joked that it is better to be tennis legend Serena Williams and retire while you are still vibrant and able to do what God called you to do.
Draper is healthy, the family is well, and she is not stepping away to spend more time with the grandchildren or travel the world. She incorporates family and travel time in her everyday way of doing things. This industrious businesswoman who averages four hours of sleep per night is quite active in her full-time position as publisher of the AFRO.
Draper oversees a vibrant congregation, serves on various boards, and will continue preaching the gospel when she is called upon.
“Obviously, there’s someone else in place ready to come into this great opportunity. Sometimes we make church about a person– it is about a person– but the person’s name is Jesus,” she said. “The church is about worshiping God and then doing what God calls us to do.”
Some of Draper’s proudest moments at Freedom Temple AME Zion Church have been the outside revivals, community food giveaways, street witnessing, and outdoor festivals. She has also traveled abroad to Uganda and other places.
A native Baltimorean, Draper graduated magna cum laude from Morgan State University with degrees in Spanish and education. She also holds a master’s degree from the Johns Hopkins University, and in May 2006, she received a Doctor of Ministry degree in preaching and leadership from the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio.
In February 2018, Draper was elected Publisher of the AFRO-American Newspapers, a publication founded by her great grandfather in 1892. She currently serves as its board chair and recently completed 24 years of service (six years as vice chair) on Morgan State University’s Board of Regents.
For more than 45 years, Draper has been married to Andre Draper. They have four adult “children” and 12 grandchildren.
“I love this congregation,” said Draper, who counts it all joy that she has been able to witness people coming to know Jesus, understand their spiritual gifts, serve God through those gifts and make a difference.
“To my pastor, Dr. Draper, words cannot express my gratitude. I thank you for your prayers and the sincere love you constantly show my family. Even in my darkness you moved me unconditionally and told me, ‘Nakia, God has a purpose for your life,’” said Nakia Mack. “Thank you for pushing me out of my comfort zone. Thank you for your prayers as I always travel to ensure my parents are okay. Pastor, you are simply amazing and loved by many. Now, it’s your time to take a step back, but your legacy of commitment and community will live through those you have touched, such as myself. Happy retirement, Pastor Toni, with love always!”
For tickets to the retirement celebration, please visit https://www.tickettailor.com/events/freedomtempleamez .