New Hope Baptist Church makes history with female deacons

Brenda Thurmond
Barbara James
Brenda Thurmond
Brenda Thurmond

EAST ORANGE, NJ — In the 38-year history of New Hope Baptist Church of East Orange, Barbara James and Brenda Thurmond will become the church’s first female deacons at a formal ordination ceremony on Sunday, Feb. 28, at 4 p.m. at the church, located at 144 Norman St., East Orange.

At New Hope Baptist Church of East Orange, the Biblical role of deacons is to serve the Lord by conducting the caring ministry of the church in doing the benevolence work, visiting the sick, being alert to the spiritual needs of the congregation for the purposes of freeing the pastor to focus on prayer and the ministry of the Word, promoting unity within the church and facilitating the spread of the gospel. They are selected from within the membership of the church and qualifications focus primarily on character and relationships within the church, family and community.  The deacons also have to participate in and successfully complete a training program prior to being considered for ordination.

The church currently has eight male members serving on its board of deacons. “This is an important moment in the history of our church. We are completely filled with joy and welcome and value the exceptional spiritual and leadership gifts Barbara and Brenda will bring to their roles as deacons, said Rev. Dwight D. Gill, pastor of New Hope Baptist Church.

Both James and Thurmond have been long-time, active church members for several years in various roles, ministries and activities. James has been a member for 20 years, joining and being baptized in 1996. She presently serves as superintendent of the Sunday School, chairwoman of the Prison Ministry and Sunday School teacher at Windsor Gardens Health Care Center in East Orange and the Essex County Juvenile Detention Center in Newark.   James also serves as the campaign chairwoman and small groups director for the church’s spiritual growth initiatives. One of her favorite scriptures is Galatians 6:9 — “Let us not grow weary of well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” According to James, she loves this scripture because it encourages you to be faithful and persistent in following the example of Jesus Christ in doing all the good we can. “I am thrilled and grateful to be ordained as a member of the board of deacons and have deep affection for my church family, but it is the word of God that allows my focus to remain on serving and doing good,” explained James. A native of North Carolina, she is also a retired educator with 43 years of service to the Newark, New Jersey Public Schools.  James earned a bachelor’s degree from Winston Salem State University in North Carolina and master’s degree from Kean University in Union. In addition, she has New Jersey certificates for teacher, principal/supervisor and assistant superintendent, with specialization in curriculum development.   

For Thurmond, being a member of the church has been a “family affair.” Her mother was a member of the Missionary Ministry and served on the Ways and Means Committee, and her sister is a member of the Music Ministry. She also has a cousin who is the church’s clerk and a cousin who is a founding member who is a member and former chair of the board of trustees. “I am greatly humbled and honored to become a member of the board of deacons, but I did not make the journey here alone. It has been a family affair with my parents and numerous relatives who have supported me along the way and made sure church was and is an essential part of my life,” said Thurmond. She joined the church in 2006 and has worked mainly with the Sunday School. She has served as a New Members Teacher and worked with the church’s Interfaith Hospitality Network, which houses homeless families who are in need of shelter at churches. Thurmond also serves on the Pastoral Care Team and enjoys serving as a host home for the church’s small group spiritual growth campaigns. Thurmond attended the East Orange school system, graduating from East Orange High School. She received an associate’s degree from Essex County College, bachelor’s degree from Montclair State University and a master’s degree from Walden University. Thurmond has been employed as a first-grade teacher at East Orange Community Charter School for more than 15 years and is planning to retire this June. She has also worked on the curriculum team for several years. Thurmond was previously employed by East Orange Child Development Corp. – Head Start for 11 years.

She is married to Bennie Thurmond Jr. for 42 years and they have three children, James C. Holt, Michelle D. Thurmond and Bennie Thurmond III, and one grandchild, Donyah M. Richardson-Thurmond.