By Mary Adelle Spradley, Virginia Bivins, and Fern Gillespie
The Macedonia Baptist Church of Lakewood is literally a church on the move. Founded in 1905 when the Central New Jersey town of Lakewood had a bustling black community, Macedonia worshiped and praised in a small one-room sanctuary. The church expanded significantly through its 115 years and proudly owned five properties on an acre of land. In 2017, under the leadership of their pastor, Dr. Edward D. Harper, Macedonia sold its church building, three houses, and a vacant lot. Macedonia now meets in a temporary church in nearby Lakehurst. By the end of 2020, a 36,000 square foot multi-million-dollar facility on 18 acres of land in Jackson, New Jersey will be the new home of Macedonia Baptist Church.
“We are building a new building from the ground up,” explained Dr. Harper, Macedonia’s pastor for 20 years. “It’s going to be in three phases. The first phase is the sanctuary, bathrooms, and the elevator. Downstairs is going to be the multi-purpose room, kitchen, and offices. The second phase is going to be our educational wing. The third phase will be a recreational area. We are focused on a larger facility than what we had before.”
Dr. Harper and his wife, Virginia Ann Harper, moved to Lakewood in 2000, when he was named the 10th senior pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church of Lakewood. He holds five degrees including a Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary and a Doctorate from Columbia University. He was the former executive assistant to the president of the General Baptist Convention of New Jersey, former Strategic Planning chairman of the General Baptist Convention, former moderator of the Seacoast Missionary Baptist Association, and is presently chairman of the Permanent Council of the Seacoast Missionary Baptist Association. In addition, Dr. Harper was inducted into the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. International Board of Preachers at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia in 2013; is an alumnus of the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention Pastoral Excellence Program; a recipient of the Whitney M. Young, Jr. Service Award; lifetime member of the NAACP; and lifetime member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity.
Times Are Changing
Although Dr. Harper is looking to grow his active 250-person congregation, he is not interested in developing Macedonia into a megachurch. In fact, he doesn’t believe there will be a need for megachurches in the near future. “What’s happening in the world today . . . there might not even be such a thing as a megachurch anymore,” he said. “Think about what we’re going through right now with COVID-19—everybody has to be the social distance of six feet apart. This has affected the whole world. We don’t know whether this will be a virus that comes and goes for the rest of our lives. We don’t know what the future holds.”
However, Dr. Harper focuses on a positive future for his congregation and local communities through several economic and social service programs. Under his leadership, the Macedonia Senior Housing & Development Corporation provides 50 apartments for senior citizens in the Lakewood metro area. The building was named Rev. Albert C. Clayton Senior Housing, to honor the late, former pastor who initiated the housing.
“We built the senior building because black people didn’t have anything like that in Lakewood,” Rev. Harper noted. “At that time, around 20 years ago, Lakewood was probably about 15 percent African American. We can see a trend that now it’s about only 1% African American. Black seniors needed somewhere to go.”
Today, almost 70 percent of Lakewood’s residents are Orthodox Jewish. When the predominately Hassidic community expanded and purchased property en masse in Lakewood, Macedonia’s congregants began moving to the surrounding Ocean County towns like Toms River, Howell, and Jackson. Planting the church in Jackson gives Macedonia the opportunity embrace congregants in surrounding towns, grow the church, and reach out to people in need in local communities.
Dr. Harper is highly respected in Ocean County as a dedicated and hard working community activist. He is the founder, executive director, and CEO of the nonprofit Macedonia Family Life Community Complex, Inc. (MFLCCI) and president of the nonprofit Concerned Citizens in Action (CCA). MFLCCI provides life enrichment skills for the family, individuals, and community at large. CCA is a grassroots organization that helps develop a cohesive and integrated community by helping people with unfair tax issues, homeland security issues, advance planning for funerals, retirement planning, and other concerns. “People look to us to help them out,” said Dr. Harper. “We are helping people do some things they can’t do by themselves.”
Through outreach with other churches, Dr. Harper helped organize Five Dynamic Interfaith Pastors & Churches Worshiping with One Voice of Praise. This group promotes unity, provides opportunities for community churches, and helps pastors lead more faithbased programs that are encouraging and spiritually strengthening.
In 2017, under the leadership of their pastor, Dr. Edward D. Harper, Macedonia sold its church building, three houses, and a vacant lot. Macedonia now meets in a temporary church in nearby Lakehurst.
As head of Concerned Citizens in Action, Dr. Harper is at the forefront of a local movement to put prayer back in schools. “I would like to see people having the right to pray anytime or anywhere they want to—in school or out of school,” he explained. “I’m not talking about proselytizing. I’m not talking about trying to convert a Jew to become a Christian or Muslim to become a Christian. I am just trying to say that everyone should have their freedom to pray to their God wherever and whenever they want to.”