On a warm Friday evening in June, a pastor and his family stood on the sidelines of a community movie event and handed out free popcorn and water to those who came for the taking.
It’s one of the missions Pastor Frederick Gillam has offered since starting Life of Purpose Ministries in Bartlett. He hopes not only to reach others in the spirit of giving, but also to reach those unchurched who need a place to worship.
“If we have the opportunity to get exposure, people will know what we’re about,” said Gillam.
What that is in itself is a bit of a mixed bag of experiences and opportunities that led to Gillam forming the ministry in 2007. Born and raised a black Roman Catholic in New Orleans, he and his wife, Trina, began attending an Apostolic church in San Diego when Gillam was in the U.S. Navy. The Navy brought him to Millington, and to New Dimensions church in Memphis.
It was through New Dimensions that Gillam found his calling for something more.
“I knew God was calling me to a higher calling,” said Gillam, who was ordained while at New Dimensions during the mid 2000s.
By that time, Gillam, who has several bachelors, associates and graduate degrees, had retired from the Navy and was working as a civilian X-Ray technician. He, his wife and their two children left with only a few others to form Life of Purpose Ministries.
The church’s mission: To Glorify God helping individuals and families of all walks of life discover their God given purpose in life.
That, to Gillam, means a multicultural approach. So far, it’s proven to be a difficult task.
“We connected at first with a lot from the inner city,” said Gillam. “Many of theses people were unchurched, and that’s who we were trying to reach.”
At first, it was a success, with a growing congregation of racially and sociologically mixed followers to what Gillam describes as more of a Pentecostal tradition. But now, the church has only 14 members – including Gillam and his family – and has had to make some difficult decisions about where they might meet.
Gillam doesn’t collect a salary for his duties as pastor. He works full-time at the Navy base in Millington as a domestic abuse victim advocate for those in the Navy, but as a civilian contractor. The preacher achieved that dream job after graduating a couple of years ago from Harding University School of Theology in Searcy, Ark., with a Master of Art in Counseling.
It’s no accident that Gillam, whose undergraduate studies were in organizational management, was led to counseling, he said.
“It’s so divinely orchestrated,” said Gillam of his path. “All of my experiences have helped shape who I am.”
Gillam grew up in the east side of New Orleans, where he said the Vietnamese people, their culture and their language were a big part of his early life. The grandson of a Creole, he married a Baptist in a civil ceremony and then searched for church where both could attend comfortably.
That’s how he was led to the Apostolic tradition. Gillam said he already was familiar with the church because his father was Apostolic. What he didn’t know was that coming to this tradition as a man in his 20s would change his outlook on God and life.
“I received baptism and the holy ghost in May 1996,” at the Apostolic church, which, like many non-Catholic denominations, believes in fully emerged baptisms,” said Gillam. “From that point forward, my Christian walk changed.”
Now that the walk has led him to Life of Purpose Ministries, he’s realized how hard some of the real life decisions are to make. The group already has had to practice its faith at his home during a time in building transitions. Once, it had a praise team, and instruments are still prominent at the front of the church’s storefront sanctuary. But those members have left. With only tithes and offerings – much of it coming from Gillam’s own pocket – he said the church has and will continue to have to make tough decisions about its future.
That includes what it might be able to give back to the community, such as the recent times it offered the free concessions during Bartlett Movies in the Park and the occasional barbecue in the parking lot of its 5846 Stage Road location.
Gillam said some of the difficulties are not just in the mission, but also in where they have chosen to carry out that mission.
“Bartlett is an integrated city, but not necessarily in its spiritual component,” said Gillam. “What I want to see is black, white, Hispanic, Asian all coming together under one roof to worship.”