Hearts and Souls

For more than 100 years, Ebenezer United Methodist Church has survived as a spiritual beacon and social landmark

Three days after receiving his diploma from Mays High School, Brown took his first plane ride, to Tampa and to his first assignment in the U.S. Air Force. The structure and relative color-blindness of the military appealed to a Southern black boy raised on welfare by a single mother. Yet even during his seven years of duty, Brown found himself drawn back to the church. He assisted a congregation during a stint in Honolulu. In Thailand he spent his leave helping to build an orphanage. Upon his discharge and return to police work in Miami, Brown decided to make religion a pillar of his life's vocation. He began pastoring at two Broward churches simultaneously, in Deerfield Beach and Hallandale. From 1986 until 1999 he served Kerr Memorial Methodist Church in West Perrine. He also excelled as a cop.

"When he was coming up through the force, we were all asking ourselves: Is this guy for real?" reveals A.D. Moore, a Miami-Dade officer and one of Brown's closest friends. "And the answer is yes. Jimmie Brown really is a man of God."

Brown's clothes fit a bit too snugly when he took over at Ebenezer two years ago. To mark his new beginning, he vowed to shed 25 pounds over the course of his first year. He ended up dropping 30 pounds in just one month. A typical Sunday has him officiating at 7:15 a.m. and 11:15 a.m., always with two different sermons. Frequently there is a third service as well, at 4:00 p.m., a special celebration for which Brown often is asked to give a completely new sermon, preferably glorifying God's work as performed by the women's group or the ushers board or whatever organization for which the ritual is held. At 7:00 p.m. he guides addicts through a substance-abuse twelve-step group. By 11:00 p.m. he is on the air at Hot 105 (WHQT-FM), facilitating Hot Talk, the hourlong call-in show he's hosted every week for the past eleven years, ever since the Lozano riots.

A tireless workhorse, the Rev. Jimmie Brown has concentrated on attracting more young people to the church
Photos by Steve Satterwhite
A tireless workhorse, the Rev. Jimmie Brown has concentrated on attracting more young people to the church

Sunday is not even his busy day. Reverend Brown leads two Bible-study classes every Tuesday. He serves on the board of Friends of WLRN public radio. He teaches management at Barry University and criminal justice at Florida Memorial College. The Miami chapter of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes elected him its president. Sometimes Brown attends meetings fifteen days in a row, he gripes, noting that he must juggle these commitments with his already full schedule of weddings and funerals and calls from, say, a church member so despondent about her divorce she swears she's going to kill herself if she doesn't meet with Brown immediately. If the pastor is lucky -- and only if he's lucky -- he'll find time on Friday for a quick round of golf, solo, at high noon, when most courses are empty. Best time to work on his sermons.

"I used to wonder what full-time pastors did all day," he cracks. "Now I know. They work."

This workload enables Brown to live fairly large. He owns three cars, including a Cadillac and a Mercedes. His dress shirts feature French cuffs embroidered with his initials. He occasionally flies to Las Vegas with his friend, famous boxing promoter Don King, to watch a title fight. Three of his fingers sport rings of surprising heft and dazzle. Such visible wealth creates no ill will among a congregation composed largely of schoolteachers and civil servants. To the contrary Brown is encouraged to showcase his prosperity. "They want their pastor to represent, know what I'm saying?" he explains. "It's a matter of church pride."

An organist lightly massages his keyboard while Reverend Brown takes to the pulpit. The 56-year-old pastor crosses his hands and rests them on the Bible open before him. A thin black microphone snakes up from the podium toward his mustache.

"Thank you," he says. Every service starts with a few minutes of extemporizing. Brown nods at his wife, Avis, stationed as always in the front row, and closes his eyes. "Please be seated. And once again let us prepare our hearts for prayer.

"Our Father. God of power. God of amazing grace. Here we are again, thankful to be in your house one more time. God of love. God of STRENGTH, thank ya'! When we think about just how good you are, our hearts have to cry out: ďWhat an awesome God we serve!' Lord, ya' been so good to us. You've been our going out and our coming in. You've been our doctor when the doctor didn't know what to do. Thank ya', Lord! You've been a friend when we couldn't find a friend nowhere.

"Oh God, we come, and we come trying to lift up your name. We pray that you would just send your holy spirit by Ebenezer just for a little while today. Somebody needs to feel the power of your salvation. Somebody feeling so all alone needs to feel your power of love and fellowship. Have mercy today. Somebody may be even a little confused today. PEACE BE STILL! Have mercy today."

As Brown warms up to his invocation, he grows more animated. He sucks in his cheeks with the intake of every breath. Rising eyebrows punctuate the words he wants to emphasize. At the end of each sentence, he rocks forward onto the balls of his feet. He is channeling the spirit, improvising like a jazz musician.

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