Rev. Dr. Frances “Toni” Draper has been pastor of Freedom Temple AME Zion Church in Brooklyn Park, Md. for 10 years and on Sept. 9 the church showed her how much they love her in a 10-year anniversary service for the woman known as Pastor Toni in its sanctuary on the aptly named Church Street.
While the sanctuary was only about 60 percent full, that didn’t damper the spirit of those in attendance as their energy filled the room. There was so much dancing, singing and shouting that Draper, 64, donned a red robe and joined in, downplaying her own celebration saying she was not the reason why everyone was at church.
“We didn’t come for an anniversary,” she said. “We came to celebrate Jesus.”
Since Draper was appointed pastor of the church by Bishop Milton A. Williams, Sr., it has undergone many changes. Under her leadership, the church’s ministry expanded, now offering GED classes, substance abuse counseling, marriage enrichment classes and operating a youth entertainment recording studio.
Then, in 2009, the church changed its name from John Wesley A.M.E. Zion Church and moved from its East Baltimore location to its current sanctuary.
Her leadership was praised by guest preacher Rev. Alyce Walker Johnson who said that Draper has gone beyond just being a minister.
“We started over on Ashland Ave and you all know about Ashland Ave,” Johnson said. “Take a minute and look around this edifice and say ‘Look what the Lord has done.’ Hallelujah.”
The church is located in a middle-class community in northern Anne Arundel County. Its congregation, though small in stature, was big in deeds on the day of the anniversary. Members were greeted with a welcoming handshake or hug upon walking through the doors of the church. Upon venturing inside, they heard a small band and the eight-member praise team bellowing out praise and worship songs.
On this day, the praise team belted out Great is thy Faithfulness, I am a Friend of God, God is Great and Let it Rise as a liturgical dance team, dressed in all white, danced in front of the congregation.
There would later be a youth male liturgical dance team, dressed in white tops and blue jeans. The performance of the six young men, called God’s Warriors Dance Crew, moved the crowd, prompting Draper to say, “They didn’t know what they started.
“Do yall remember that group called Boys II Men?” she asked. “Well this is how you train them up to become men of valor, men of glory, and men who aren’t afraid to worship God. These young men will grow up to be mighty men of God.”
Even the church welcome was done with spirit. Normally, visitors are asked to stand or wave, but on this day the congregation was asked to stand and welcome themselves – which prompted a five-minute praise break.
However, the day was about Draper and Johnson once again spoke to her leadership and asked the congregation to continue to keep Draper uplifted.
“We say to Freedom Temple, ‘We pray that you’ll continue to take good care of our sister. Amen,’ ” Walker said. “For surely you have been blessed with a mighty woman of God.”
The anniversary celebration continues with services on September 16 for which the Bishop Richard K. Thompson, Presiding Prelate Mid-Atlantic II, Episcopal Area, AME Zion Church, will be the guest preacher. For more information call the church at 410-636-4747, or visit the web site at www.freedomtempleamez.com