By Steven D. Manning
Special to Frost Illustrated
FORT WAYNE—If Fort Wayne is known as the city of churches, a secondary notoriety should be that it’s also the city of pastors.
Every year for the past six years, the Martin Luther King Jr. Club has selected just one of the numerous pastors in our city to carry the distinct honor of being named Clergy of the Year. This year’s recipient is Pastor Luther Whitfield.
MLK Club Program Director Fran Grant said, “Pastor Whitfield, who was among the 2014 nominees, was an easy choice. His long history of working with our youth exemplifies greatness of service.”
Grant stressed that the Clergy of the Year award is not a popularity contest. Rather, it’s based on the ministry of the church, i.e. Is the church reaching out to the community, including aid to the less fortunate and offering programs for the youth?
Five minutes into the interview with Pastor Whitfield, I clearly understood why he was chosen for the top clergy award. His list of accomplishments reads like a who’s who among great American pastors. And, his vision for his church, for our city’s youth and for this community as a whole, sounds like a continuation of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream.
Whitfield is a Fort Wayne native, who graduated from Concordia High School, He’s the youngest of 11 children.
He gives high regards and respect to Richard, a physically challenged older brother, who led him to the Lord.
“I thought he was the weak link in our family, when he actually was the strong one. I realized that day (that he led Pastor Whitfield to the Lord) that he wasn’t the cripple. He was walking. I was the one that needed the crutch,” explained Pastor Whitfield.
Pastor Whitfield, who recently received his Doctorate of Divinity degree from Huntington University, started out as a youth pastor.
He said,” I use to work with Dr. Oscar Underwood at Bunche Elementary. Oscar was an incredible influence, along with several other brothers in the community, along with my father, David Whitfield. I was invited to do a Vacation Bible School to help out a young church at the time called Calvary Chapel. From there, I developed this incredible passion for young people. It resonated with me. It metamorphed into my DNA.”
After that, Dr. Whitfield spent close to 30 years working with young people. He became Fort Wayne’s first black full-time youth pastor at Calvary Chapel. He says “that ministry grew quite rapidly to about 500 young people.” He proudly stated that “some of those very young people are attending my church today, and now I’m working with their kids.”
Eventually, he was approached by Youth For Christ, who asked him to oversee and develop their Urban Ministry. That resulted in the construction of the Prime Time ministry, which is currently located on Calhoun Street across from South Side High School. Shortly thereafter, Dr. Whitfield was asked by Youth for Christ to take on the position of National Director for Urban Ministries. In that capacity, he traveled across the country. Also, during that time, he said he began to notice kids coming to Youth for Christ activities who weren’t connecting with a church.
“That’s when the Lord really began to battle with me about starting a church. I had no problem being the number two man. I had no problem being the youth pastor. But the senior pastor position… I really tried to run from that.”
The 53-year-old Whitfield said he eventually heeded God’s call for him to be a senior pastor, and on Fathers Day in 2004, his first church, New Covenant, officially began. Now nine years later, Dr. Whitfield pastors a 600-member congregation at New Covenant Worship Center, in a brand new 36,000 square foot facility at 3420 East Paulding Road. The current facility is a gymnasium—and there’s a purpose in that.
“We could have built a sanctuary first. But, I believe our young people are the greatest assets that God has given us, so we chose to build the gymnasium first for them,” said Whitfield.
Dr. Whitfield proudly shared that his congregation is multicultural.
“We knew if we were going to impact our community, we had to reflect our community. Our leadership is made up of white brothers and sisters, Hispanic brothers and sisters and black brothers and sisters,” he said.
One of the two Sunday services at the church is a Spanish speaking service at 1 p.m., headed up by Pastor Abel Moreno. The English speaking service is at 10 a.m.
Dr. Whitfield said, “in this community and across the country, Sunday morning is the most segregated day of the week. I’m grateful that on Sunday morning at New Covenant, I get a taste of what Heaven looks like!”
When asked if he thinks Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s dream has come true, Dr. Whitfield said Dr. King’s dream is continuing to unfold.
“I think to have a black president in the White House, we’re starting to see young black men and women as entrepreneurs, heads of corporations, national leaders, kids going to college. Although we still have a long way to go, I think his dream is truly unfolding,” he said.
Dr. Whitfield said he’s grateful that the MLK Club selected him as Clergy of the Year. He attributes his success to several men who spoke great words of encouragement into his life, men like Dr. Underwood, Pastor Ternae Jordan, Pastor Bill McGill, Pastor Willie Bolden, and also his father, David Whitfield.
“I’m so grateful that I grew up in a household where there was a father. I learned from my father the value of family, hard work, and discipline. He was an incredible example of what a dad was really about,” said Pastor Whitfield.
Dr. Whitfield and his wife Margo are the parents of three children, Tiffany, Mycal and Renata.
Pastor Whitfield encourages all to attend Breakfast with the Clergy on Jan. 20, as well as the MLK Unity Day Celebration later that day from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. at the Grand Wayne Center.
“We should all pause and reflect, and be willing to celebrate the legacy of our predecessors and what they did to help us get to where we are. God forbid that we never forget the sacrifices made by African American men and women who advanced the cause and helped to defined and shaped this great country,” explained Whitfield.
The clergy award will be presented at the breakfast which is scheduled for 8 a.m. at the Courtyard by Marriott. The cost is $20 and you must RSVP by calling Fran Grant at (260) 493-0980. The deadline is Jan.17, 2014.
Steven D. Manning is president and CEO of Manning Video Productions LLC. He can be reached at (260) 247-2517.