Seventeen years ago, Dr. Eugene Gibson, affectionately known as “Pastor Geno” walked through the doors of Olivet Fellowship Baptist Church, The Place of the Outpouring and transformed a church reeling from a traumatic past into a powerhouse.
On November 1, Pastor Geno will stand at the pulpit at The Place of the Outpouring for one last time before making his way to Columbus, Ohio with his wife, First Lady Shakitha Boone Gibson, to serve as Head Pastor of Mount Olivet Baptist Church.
Gibson, a Chicago native, grew up as a preacher’s kid with a love for music. But, like many preachers’ kids, he tried to do everything that “church boys” didn’t do and had no desire to become a preacher himself. However, God had other plans for him.
“God called me to ministry. Some people would say a little bit later as I was 26 when I was called, but I knew when God called me that I was going to be a pastor,” Gibson said. “I was clear. I didn’t fight the call. I knew that God was too big to fight.”
After being called to ministry, Gibson earned a Bachelor of Theology from Christian Bible College, a Master of Arts in Religion/Urban Ministries from Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and a Doctorate of Ministry from United Theological Seminary. The Sunday before graduating with his doctorate’s degree, he was called to his first church and the rest is history.
In the middle of a search committee at Olivet Fellowship for a Senior Pastor, Deacon Lafayette Chamberlain visited Mississippi Boulevard Christian Church to hear Gibson preach. Upon hearing the sermon, Chamberlain went back to Olivet Fellowship to inform the search committee that he had found their new pastor.
“In March 2003, I was invited to Olivet Fellowship, and from that moment on, they tried to get me to submit and I gladly did,” he said.
Taking on his new role as Senior Pastor did not come without its challenges. Olivet Fellowship was in the midst of a vehement court battle over officers and leadership, a bi-product of the split with Olivet Baptist Church, now known as The New Olivet. The case was eventually settled out of court at the beginning of his tenure. Gibson notes that though the lawsuit had been settled decades ago, the congregation still harbors a love for Olivet Baptist Church which he says presented some challenges and may have prevented maximum growth.
“It is my hope that with me leaving that chapter will be closed, and they move on,” said Gibson. “We have done great work there together, but it’s time for seasons to change.”
Additional challenges that Gibson has faced in his seventeen year long journey pastoring in Memphis includes navigating loss, long-term sickness within the congregation and personally – his public divorce and remarrying and the backlash that transpired afterwards.
“Sometimes, people can be unkind to pastors, especially when their private life is on public display,” Gibson explained. “But I have to say that the members of the Place of the Outpouring were so kind to me. However, there were some people that left, but we remained stable.”
Gibson notes that though there have been many trials, there have been just as many triumphs. The Place of the Outpouring has produced several young doctors and pharmacists, built a school in Haiti, donated $25,000 to the Haitian Earthquake Relief Fund, $10,000 to a local food bank and $5,000 to Agape Child & Family Services.
“We have done great work as far as blessing the community. All of these experiences have led to my growth over the years. My preaching and administrative skills have matured. I’ve become more patient, and I’ve gained more experience and exposure.”
Gibson will undoubtedly miss The Place of the Outpouring, but he believes that his new position is God’s move for his life. “It’s bittersweet and hard to leave, but because this is what God has ordained for my life, it’s sweeter than just bitter. I did not apply for this position; it just came to me. The church that I am going to is what Olivet Fellowship would look like if you fast forwarded it, because of the current ministry that they have. I have planted seeds for those ministries where I am now. I would dare say that it’s the hardest thing and the best thing at the same time,” said Gibson.
Typically, in African American Baptist churches, candidates hold a sermon at the prospective church. The people then cast their votes, and the candidates find out whether they are successful or unsuccessful that night. However, due to COVID-19, the sermons were held via Zoom and the final decision didn’t come until a week later.
“During that week, I was losing my mind. In my head, I was thinking everyone would say ‘no.’ It was insanely stressful. When they called me, I was like ‘wow, this is happening,” but I remained cool until I hugged my wife. Then, I cried like a child. God is never late. You can experience things, and you feel as if God has forgotten about you. Pastors feel that too,” Gibson said.
Gibson looks forward to starting over, fixing mistakes that he’s made along the way, bringing a newness and freshness to Mount Olivet’s aging population, and building meaningful relationships. In a final message to his congregation and to the Memphis community, Gibson said in a statement, “I speak life to you. I pray that no bad thing comes nigh thee. That we will continue you to do God’s will even in different places until we meet again on this side of the Jordan or the other. Until we meet again. Amen and Ashe’.”