“I’ve given my whole life to the ministry, the Right Rev. John R. Bryant told the hundreds gathered at both sites of the Bethel AME Church last week to honor his 50 years in ministry. “But the ministry has given me my life,” he said, referencing the challenge of weathering the spiritual and emotional storms of life.
The service was very much a homecoming for Bryant, who led the congregation, as had his father, before being consecrated as a Bishop. “To be able to come back and see familiar faces has been a delight. So much of our histories grew out of this church,” said Bishop Bryant.
Bryant began preaching as a teen soon after earning his diploma from City College in Baltimore City. After graduating from Morgan State University in 1965, Bryant became known as the “Peace Corps preacher” while serving two years with the organization in Africa. This time would forever change the path of his life and influence his ministry.
Upon returning to America, the preacher would go on to earn a degree from Boston University School of Theology in 1970 and a doctorate degree in ministry from Colgate Rochester Divinity School.
“What he preaches and what he teaches is actually how he lives,” said Bishop Bryant’s daughter, Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis. “I can say I’ve had the blessing of seeing a father who lives with integrity. I believe he is such an effective preacher because he loves God and he genuinely loves people.”
Bishop Bryant’s commitment to social justice and community improvement, as intricate elements of ministry, have made him a shining reason AME churches across the nation now have a formula to attract, engage, and retain members into the thousands.
“Bishop Bryant is an excellent minister because you get a lot of wisdom and knowledge when he’s preaching and you can comprehend everything he’s saying,” said Ella Chalk, a member of Bethel AME Church for 25 years. As a tenured member of the church, Chalk has had the unique pleasure to worship and serve under both pastors Dr. Reid and Bishop Bryant. “I love the things that they have done for the community and continue to do. They are excellent preachers.”
Bishop Bryant became pastor of Bethel AME Church in 1975 and was determined to inject self worth and self-love straight into the heart of the black community. His message and stance on black empowerment set him apart and fostered a strong bond with those he was ministered to. Through job fairs, school supply and food drives, Bryant took a hands-on approach to lifting up those who had been sidelined to the margins of society.
“As a young pastor he mentored us, directed us to school, and even allowed us as young people to come in a preach when we were 19 and 20-years old so it was like presenting my father,” said state Sen. Anthony Muse, shortly after awarding Bishop John R. Bryant a proclamation from the City of Baltimore. “He’s a spiritual father to us, and certainly one that directed us in the right way.”
Prior to serving the AME church as bishop and presiding prelate over the 4th district, Bryant lead the districts 14 and 10 of the denomination.