Lonnie Mitchell retires as pastor of Bethel AME
Lonnie Mitchell, Sr., who was first appointed as pastor of Bethel African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Spokane 29 years ago, has stepped aside, so a new leader can be appointed to "take the church to the next level."
He will continue involvement in community service and have an office at the Emmanuel Family Life Center next to the church.
"I started my ministry here to help people grow and improve their quality of life by being part of the solutions," he said.
Over the years, he has worked with parishioners, politicians and community members to make Spokane a better place to live by creating solutions to poverty, homelessness, affordable housing, racism and police accountability.
Some of his efforts include:
• In 1994, he led an effort to rename the Laura St. cul de sac by the church "Richard Allen Ct.," after the first AME bishop. Then New Bryan Arms Apartments were renamed Richard Allen Apartments and Richard Allen Enterprises formed to offer programs for low-income families.
• In 1995, he helped organize Unity in the Community. The first gathering 25 years ago in Liberty Park brought together people from all walks of life to showcase Spokane's diverse cultures.
• In 1996, the Richard Allen Youth Academy, a preschool for infants to age four, formed when Community Colleges of Spokane closed its Head Start program in the church basement. When it disbanded in 2012, children went to the Martin Luther King Jr. Family Outreach Center and Liberty Park Child Development Center.
• In 1997, Lonnie, Ben Cabildo, Nate Greene and others established AHANA, the African, Hispanic, Asian and Native American business and professional association to support people of color in business.
Lonnie then shifted from managing programs to housing programs that move people from dependence to independence.
He and the church envisioned a community center in the Perry District. In 2005, the church broke ground for the Emmanuel Family Life Center. It was dedicated in 2010. The hope was for the ground floor to be a child care-preschool, but the building had no sprinklers, so the Richard Allen Youth Academy disbanded.
When Emmanuel Family Life Center opened, it housed the South Perry Learning Center after-school program, and a gym used by several basketball coaches to help youth to build skills.
Other tenants are Operation Healthy Family and The Fig Tree.
For several years, the Family Promise Open Doors day program for families was there. It moved last year to 2002 E. Mission.
Lonnie will continue to address homelessness, affordable housing and police and city policies, and work with the Spokane Ministers Fellowship, the Spokane Coalition Against Racism, the United Way Board and the Hospice of Spokane Board.
"When I came in 1991, I believed my mission was to love people, to have had a ministry of love, instilling the idea of loving one another as Christ loves us," he said.
Lonnie, who grew up in Franklin, La., went to Seattle after high school in 1973, joined the Army and served six years in Missouri, South Carolina and Germany, returning to Seattle. He worked 17 years with Pacific Northwest Bell and married Gospel singer Elisha in 1984. Through the AME church there, he began in ministry in 1985, was ordained a deacon in 1989 and an elder in 1991. His first church was Bethel AME. It had 13 members and now has more than 200.
"Ministry is about allowing God to shape our lives to love, not hate," which he said has been important in challenging white supremacy and hate in the region.
"I have seen changes and progress, but there is still work to be done. Spokane is a predominantly privileged area, lacking awareness of its diversity," Lonnie said. "Over the years, I have seen leaders come to understand challenges faced by communities of color as we become a more diverse city.
Since the pandemic hit, he has urged people to move from doing what they have always done, to doing what they can to move forward and make improvements.
In early August, the church started in person worship services with distancing. Before that, he recorded sermons and posted them on YouTube. Meetings continue with social distancing in person.
"Despite COVID-19, the church and its financial support have grown," he said.
In the midst of protests against police brutality after George Floyd's death, he has been among leaders of the African-American community to help encourage the people to gather peacefully and seek solutions to systemic racism.
Lonnie and Elisha, who has just released a gospel album, "You Turn," plan to visit their four children and 11 grandchildren in Texas, Colorado, Nevada and Seattle.
For information, call 389-6918 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Copyright@ The Fig Tree, September, 2020