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Pastor Orlester Johnson looks back 30 years and forward to greater works

Thirty years after preaching his first sermon in a house, Pastor Orlester Johnson of Greater Faith Tabernacle Ministries eyes an “upward path in pursuing greater ministry.”

“I can’t believe it’s been 30 whole years,” Johnson said. “The time just flew by. I am left wondering, ‘Where did the years go?’ But one thing I can attest, and that is God has been faithful.”

Johnson is a native Memphian who initially chose another career path.

“It wasn’t so much that I was running from a call to preach,” Johnson said. “I just wanted to be sure of what God was saying. I was in graphic design, a printer. And I just loved the printing business. As the first, Black supervisor of Lithograph Printing, I operated a 100-feet well press. I just loved printing.”

Johnson pondered “his call” through a time of meditation and prayer. He was gainfully employed and loved his career choice. But once he was sure that “it was the Lord calling,” there was only one option for him.

 “Although conflicted, I stepped out on faith to start a church. The Lord gave me the name, ‘Greater Faith.’ Our first service was held in a house back in 1991.”

Johnson said that from the first day, securing a viable place to worship was a challenge.

“I heard God say, ‘build,’” said Johnson. “But no bank would give us a loan. They needed three years financial history and we didn’t have that. One Sunday, a Caucasian gentleman named Rick Taylor came by and told us, ‘I’ll help build your church.’ That was 30 years ago. We are building our third church right now.”

Greater Faith at 905 East Shelby Drive was established as a local church connected with the Church of God in Christ denomination. Later, that connection became tenuous. 

“There were some things going on that I just didn’t think were right,” said Johnson. “And so, I became a renegade, you could say. I was still associated with the church, but I didn’t feel a connection.

“For about eight or nine years, I was out there just, trying to do what I felt the Lord was requiring of us.”

Johnson altered his course, strengthening Greater Faith’s COGIC connection. He points to Bishop Charles H. Mason Patterson Sr., pastor of Pentecostal Temple COGIC and the great grandson of COGIC founder Charles Harrison Mason, reaching out and outlining a path to Johnson becoming a bishop.

“Becoming a bishop puts you on an upward path in pursuing greater ministry,” said Johnson. “Everyone would like to be recognized for their hard work and effort over the years. Bishop Patterson asked me to join with him. I know the collaboration will be blessed of God.”

Greater Faith is “excited about what lies ahead,” said Johnson. “We operated independently for a while, but Greater Faith is a growing and vital part of what God is doing in COGIC today. I’m ready for the next 30 years.”

Johnson’s 30th anniversary celebration is set for Oct. 17. 

“We had originally planned for a celebration on a much larger scale, but the pandemic has inspired us to use wisdom,” said Johnson. “Greater Faith will share a time of reflection with old friends and supporters who have been a part of us over the years. 

“People will have the opportunity to tell their stories of what the ministry has meant to them and to their families. My wife, Jo Ann, and I are looking forward to the celebration.”

Masking will be mandatory for all attendees. The congregation currently is worshipping at 4665 Auburn Rd. after a burst pipe damaged the Shelby Drive sanctuary in February.


(For more information, call the church office at 901-346-4429.)

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