Story of an Urban Pastor

Pastor J.L. Holmes of Rose Hill Missionary Baptist Church has been on a 44-year crusade to help his central city parishioners.

By - Jul 10th, 2013 11:22 am
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The outside of Rose Hill Missionary Baptist Church. Photo by Tony Atkins.

The outside of Rose Hill Missionary Baptist Church. Photo by Tony Atkins.

If you take a walk south down Martin Luther King Drive starting from Clinton Rose Park on Burleigh you will see a lot. You will find an African-American business strip that saw some brighter days in the 1970’s and 1960s.

Since then, the Harambee neighborhood has seen many changes, both for worse and for better. The famous Black Holocaust Museum is now gone. The ever-prosperous Walgreen’s on North Avenue has expanded and moved north on the strip. Today new buildings and businesses are getting to their feet as the area looks like it might return to more prosperous days.

But some things remain constant in the neighborhood. As you continue on past North Avenue, moving south,  you will notice a small church with the little blue banner on it that seems like it has been there forever. Pastor J.L. Holmes has been the pastor of Rose Hill Missionary Baptist Church (at 2024 N. Dr.  Martin Luther King Dr.)  for 44 years and in that time, he has seen many changes.

The neighborhood church been a constant in black communities across the world and a key part of urban life.  It is arguable that churches aren’t as prevalent in people’s lives as a generation or two ago, but they still have importance, and Rose Hill is no exception.  The Harambee area it serves has built a bad reputation over the years stemming from incidents like the violent events at Juneteenth in addition to other crimes that have occurred in the areas. Holmes, a man born in Jackson, Mississippi, believes in Milwaukee and believes the key to getting this city back to what it once was involves getting the church back into the lives of young people.

Pastor J. L. Holmes in street clothes. Photo by Tony Atkins.

Pastor J. L. Holmes in street clothes. Photo by Tony Atkins.

“I’ve been in the King Drive community for 44 years,” says Holmes. “I wish we could get some type of… something to help us pull in youth. The youth really just need somewhere to go to be taught about the Lord. They already know about the Devil. The Devil is in this city every day.”

A big part of getting people back into their local churches begins at home, according to Holmes. He believes that parenting plays a role in the absence of youth in the church.

“I’m a father of 14 kids and I know what it takes to raise a child and I know how you have to handle your children. The Bible says, ‘If a man can’t rule his house, he can’t take care of the church,'” he explains.

Holmes, 86, has made it his life’s mission to get people, young and old, off the streets and into the church and works to help them make that first step towards a more productive life, both in the secular world and spiritual worlds.

Reverend A.W. Martin. Photo by Tony Atkins.

Pastor J. L. Holmes and Reverend A.W. Martin. Photo by Tony Atkins.

“I’m trying to show ‘em something different. You been out in those streets, you been there. You cut your head getting from where you were to where you’re at now. It’s time to make a change,” Holmes preaches.

One of the church’s longtime members and reverends, A.W. Martin, has supported Holmes and the church for years. Martin also believes that the key to a better world begins at home.

“Our thing is to reach out to these young people to stop the violence. Too many lost souls out here are dying in the streets because they are not getting the proper upbringing in their homes,” says Martin. “We are killing each other for no reason at all. Martin Luther King’s dream is steadily dying every day.”

People buying BBQ. Photo by Tony Atkins.

People buying BBQ. Photo by Tony Atkins.

To reach out to the youth is one thing. To actually get them to change is another. Holmes and the members of Rose Hill have been organizing events to get the church physically out on King Drive and out into the community. In May, the church had a fundraising barbeque outside on the strip where they sold food to people stopping by or walking by. The Church also hosts it’s Praise-N-The-Park, an all-day event that allows people to come out to the Washington Park for some of the usual church activities such as praise-dancing and singing.

But Holmes wants to offer more to the youth of Milwaukee. While he feels the church is key to the growth of the black community, Holmes thinks the city needs to provide more funding for programs helping youth.

“This city can be a wonderful city but the people running this city are not doing their job right. They have a lot of money to do a lot of things to make the community better,” Holmes contends.

After more than four decades in ministry, Holmes has seen a lot of different people come through the doors of his church. People looking to turn their life away from the streets or just people looking to enrich their relationship with God have all set foot inside of Rose Hill. Through all the ups and downs of his own life and the life of his church, one thing has remained constant: Pastor J.L. Holmes.

“I wouldn’t take one thing back. The experience I had from one year old to eighty-six. I wouldn’t take one thing. My light means more than anything,” says Holmes. “The Lord’s gift will set you free. If you need an example, you’re looking at one. So I thank him.”


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