By Marnita Coleman

Special to the AFRO

“Behold, I am the one who has laid as a foundation in Zion, a stone, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone, of a sure foundation.” Isaiah 28:16 ESV

Sept. 17 marked a historic moment for the members of Freedom Temple African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church at 2926 Hollins Ferry Road in the Lakeland community of Baltimore.

The congregation, family, friends, distinguished clergy and Baltimore district pastors of the AME Zion Church filled the sanctuary with praise, worship and jubilant celebration as they gathered to dedicate the cornerstone of Freedom Temple and bestow the highest of honor upon their beloved founder and Pastor Emeritus, the Reverend Dr. Frances “Toni” M. Draper. 

“Where two or three are gathered in His name, there He is in the midst of them,” proclaimed the Reverend Dr. Reginald Jermayne Chandler Sr., new pastor of Freedom Temple. “In all ages, His servants have separated certain places for His worship. We are now assembled to lay the cornerstone of a new house for the worship of the God of our fathers.”

Although Dr. Draper retired from the office of pastor in December 2022, she and husband Andre Draper, remain active in worship and service at Freedom Temple under the pastorate of Dr. Chandler.

“We have to shout out the gift that the Lord has sent this way. Before I even got to this church, I was a fan of Dr. Draper,” stated Pastor Chandler. “Her ministry is so impactful and it reaches far beyond where you can see.” He continued, she left indelible prints on all of their lives.

In September 2002, the late Bishop Milton A. Williams Sr. appointed Dr. Draper to the John Wesley African Methodist Episocal Zion Church in East Baltimore, becoming the church’s first female pastor. In 2009, Freedom Temple was established after seeking the Lord’s guidance for a different location, ministry name and purpose. Later in March 2015, while fasting and praying during the Lenten season the Lord gave the church the opportunity to purchase its current location.

Under Dr. Dapper’s leadership, Freedom Temple was very active in outreach. They held back-to-school festivals, food giveaways, Christmas giveaways, community Thanksgiving dinners, missionary outreach, voter registration drives, evangelistic prayer walks and street witnessing. In recognition of faithful service, Freedom Temple has named the Andre and Frances “Toni” Draper Fellowship Hall, after the couple.

The run of show for this electrifying dedication included guest speaker, Bishop W. Darin Moore, Presiding Prelate of the Mid-Atlantic Episcopal District of the AME Zion Church, and “the transformative leader,” the Reverend Dr. Evalina Huggins, Presiding Elder of the Baltimore District of the AME Zion Church.

Bishop Moore esteemed Dr. Draper as “one of the most extraordinary leaders” in the church today. She has a “keen intellect,” “loving heart,” and is “gifted!” Dr. Draper has been one of his trusted sources of counsel and advice over the years. 

In Bishop Moore’s powerful message, he explained that consecration is how God reveals Himself through common elements, the sacred manifesting itself in the ordinary, being set apart for God’s glory. 

Dr. Draper was “humbled,” by the accolades shown to her.

Mr. Draper weighed in on the honor.

“It’s overwhelming at times. But, you don’t do it for that, you do it for the Lord,” he said. “When you are used to serving, it’s a different feeling.”

Dominique Johnigan Simmons said the moment was historic for her, as a steward of the church and among those listed on the dedicatory plaque. “It’s documentation of where we have been” and a model for “documenting” where we are going!