The “Israelites” of Israelite Baptist Church recently elected and embraced the Rev. Robert Anthony Johnson as the church’s new senior pastor.
For months, the Israelite Church family grieved the loss of its founder and father, Pastor S. L. Harris.
As 2020 was drawing to a close, the 89-year-old Harris died, leaving a flock of parishioners in mourning.
Pastor Harris was never far from memory as the congregation witnessed the mourning drapes covering Harris’ seat. After six months, the drapes were ceremoniously removed in an afternoon service on June 27.
“Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted,” said Pastor James O. Short of True Faith Baptist Church. Short was Harris’ long-time friend and “son in the ministry” offering words of comfort and encouragement in a keynote sermon when the mourning drapes were unveiled.
Two weeks later, Johnson was officially recognized as Israelite Baptist’s new leader, as a welcoming spirit swept the sanctuary dotted with friends and well-wishers.
Pastor Maurice Hunt of Eternal Peace Baptist Church delivered a sermon filled with hope and healing for the solemn occasion, assuring the host congregation that their beloved pastor and founder, Pastor Harris, had left, but the God of Pastor Harris has not left.
Johnson married Harris’ daughter, Jessie Harris Johnson in 1980. Four years later, the Johnsons joined Peace Missionary Baptist Church under Harris’ leadership.
In 1986, Johnson was at Harris’ side every step of the way as the elder clergyman founded Israelite Baptist Church.
In 1992, Johnson accepted a call to preach. Johnson’s election to the pastorate seemed a natural selection as a minister who had always sat under the tutelage of Harris.
Johnson served Harris all those years as a son and associate in the ministry, assisting Harris with pastoral duties and learning ministerial administrations from one he revered as a “father, indeed.”
Samuel L. Harris was born in Webb, Mississippi to Rev. Daniel and Bessie Harris. Harris was “called to preach” at the age of 13, but accepted that call later, at the age of 29.
Harris loved being a pastor and was known widely in the 38109 community as a kind and compassionate leader. The church is at 152 Silverage Ave.
Harris often fostered GED programs, second chance efforts to help ex-felons and other social services to assist families in the church’s neighborhood.
Harris died on Dec. 29 and a celebration of life service was held on Jan. 9 at Limit Breakers Church, pastored by his grandson, Minister Donald E. Walker Jr., and eulogized by another grandson, Rev. Frank J. Harris Jr, pastor of Second Canaan Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit.
Johnson, a native Memphian, was born Nov. 29, 1953, to Robert and Pearl Johnson. He is the second oldest of six siblings.
Robert confessed his hope in Christ at the age of 12 and was baptized at Greater Abyssinia M.B. Church under the leadership of Rev. Juan Shipp.
Johnson married Jessie Harris on February 14, 1980, and the couple has five children and eight grandchildren.