Bradenton church to install pastor who grew up in neighborhood

BRADENTON -- The small corner store. Wooden buildings all along First Street. The dirt roads.

Standing outside St. Mary Missionary Baptist Church, Rev. Jasper Jackson remembered all of it.

"I was a little boy then," said the 67-year-old preacher. "To see how the place has changed -- the streets, the houses, the traffic. It's amazing."

Some would say the same about Jackson's return to the neighborhood where he grew up, not far from St. Mary where he will be officially installed Sunday as pastor.

"A wonderful thing," said Deacon David McCarter.

"A most exciting thing," said Deacon Tommie Anderson.

"There are so many people who remember him and he remembers them as well," said Deacon Napoleon Mills. "It's something to experience."

Marian Copeland was overjoyed at the return of her Lincoln Memorial High School classmate.

"It's a blessing and an inspiration to our community," said the senior No. 1 choir president.

St. Mary had been without a pastor for more than two years when it reached out to Jackson, who'd spent

years in Indiana and Kentucky following his ministry.

"I got the call in July and I was asked, 'Are you ready to come back home?' Yes, I was. I said if the deacons choose me, I'll be glad to come back home," he said. "Can I come home again? Yes -- and I thank God for that."

Born in Palmetto and baptized at Providence Baptist Church, Jackson was one of 11 children -- all his siblings were girls -- and moved to Bradenton in elementary school.

"People who grew up with my sisters say, 'Oooh, I remember you when you were a little boy.' " he said. "I said, yes, you're right. I know most everybody in church. Of course, we're all a little older."

One person with whom Jackson goes back a long way is Chip Nelson, whose basketball prowess at Lincoln put him in the National Negro High School Basketball Hall of Fame.

They'd play hoops at all hours in the old 13th Avenue Community Center and that friendship led Jackson to St. Mary.

"I used to come here with Chip and I didn't even belong here," Jackson said. "If somebody had said back then I'd be pastor of this church, I'd have said, nooo."

But Nelson had a hunch.

"Out of all us who ran together, Jasper was only one who always had to leave for church and the rest of us kept playing in the streets," he said. "We knew he was going to be a preacher. We used to call him, 'Preacherman.'"

Appropriately, Jackson is being tasked with revitalizing the congregation and its community. There are about 65 regular congregants and twice that on the books.

"We're counting on him to the kind of leader St. Mary has been looking for," said Deacon McCarter. "Our mandate is to take the word of God into the streets and bring more people into the church."

Especially the young.

"When I see the kids in this area as I walk the neighborhood, I see what God's showing me for the future," Jackson said. "We have to get out there, knock on doors and let people know we're here."

Amen, said Deacon Anderson.

"It's doable, it needs to happen and we intend to support him," he said. "He felt he was led back into the community by the Holy Spirit. He's enthusiastic, passionate and prayerful about what he's trying to accomplish. There is an audience we can capture."

So Jackson can go home again?

"Absolutely," Anderson said.

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

Related stories from Bradenton Herald