PORT DEPOSIT — The Rev. Valerie Norris calls her assignment to pastor at Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church “a gift from God.”
She is not yet an elder of the church. That comes in October. She was ordained as an itinerant deacon in 2019. Norris’ first assignment was to co-pastor Mt. Zion AME Church in Glen Arm, Md.
“Normally you do not get a church until you become an elder,” she said.
Being at Mt. Zion, as it turned out, was a homecoming. It was where her grandfather was the preacher so many years ago. Her first time back she said she could feel her grandparents there with her.
Norris preached her first message to the Bethel congregation April 18, even though she has met few of them face-to-face. The leadership still does not allow them to meet in the church on North Main Street Sunday mornings at 11. However Norris is finding ways to connect until then.
“Church will never be the same again. We’ll be back in the building but some will stay online,” she said.
Starting Monday morning at 7 a.m. and every Monday, Wednesday and Friday at that time she invites the members to phone in for a time of collective worship she calls “Prayer Call.”
“We’ll do scripture reading and pray. We’ll start our day with prayer,” Norris said. She said anyone interested can join in with the same number used for Sunday morning worship: 712-770-4970 and the passcode is 9143066.
Soon she’ll be adding “The 21 Minute Bible Study.”
“It’s 7 minutes if prayer, 7 minutes of scripture and 7 minutes of meditation,” she explained.
“A lot of people in the church are afraid of prayer and a lot of people don’t listen after they pray,” she said. “Because we have so much noise in our lives people need to stop and listen for Him to reply. God really does speak to us.”
Norris hopes to encourage as well as educate in every facet of her duties at Bethel AME.
“I preach directly from the word,” she said.
In her Sunday messages she will likely intertwine a familiar situation to the scriptures so it’s better understood.
“The word of God doesn’t need to be added to but I make it applicable to today’s times,” she said.
Norris continues to work full time while getting settled into her new role leading Bethel AME Church. On top of all this she is working on her doctorate in church planting and evangelism.
“Scripture tells us to “go ye therefore and make disciples of all nations,” she said, referring to The Great Commission in Matthew 28:19. Her goal is to maintain the current membership and get each of those members to encourage new membership.
“A lot of the older folks in the congregation stop working. They stop discipling and the church doesn’t grow,” she said. “The existing church needs to plant within the church.”
Norris welcomes all to attend worship.
“Even though the sing read African Methodist Episcopal it’s not just for African Americans,” Norris said. “I want to get that message out.”
The other message is Bethel AME wants to be visible and active
“We want to show who we are, we are not going anywhere and we want to be part of the community,” Norris said. “We have some work to do.”