September 17, 2008

Salem Native Officially Installed As Pastor at Manhattan Church

By Rob Johnson [email protected] 981-3234

The selection in August of the Rev. Brad Braxton, a Salem native, as the latest in a line of activist preachers at Riverside Church in New York City was made official Sunday by a vote of the congregation.

A majority of the members present at the 2,900-member church approved of Braxton's choice by the church's search committee. In a printed statement from the church, Braxton said, "For generations, the Riverside Church has aspired to embody God's inclusive love and justice in a world in need of both. In partnership with the congregation, I will work to extend the compassionate and courageous ministries that have endeared this congregation to so many people who are searching for hope and healing."

Riverside Church is a Manhattan landmark that has been visited by Nelson Mandela and the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. Its pastors have long been expected to be leaders on social issues.

The resume of Braxton, 39, indicates he's a logical choice for the job. Most recently an associate professor of religion at Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tenn., he has studied as a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University in England and was senior pastor for five years at Douglas Memorial Community Church, an interdenominational congregation in Baltimore with a reputation for social activism.

Riverside Church, affiliated with two denominations -- the American Baptist Churches and the United Church of Christ -- is a racially diverse congregation. Controversy is nothing new there.

The previous minister, the Rev. James Forbes, who retired in 2007 at 71, welcomed gays and Buddhists through the doors of the Gothic sanctuary at 120th Street and Riverside Drive in Manhattan.

Braxton was ordained in 1991 at Salem's First Baptist Church, where his father, the late Rev. James Braxton, ministered for more than 30 years before his death in 2004 at 75.

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