STILL INSPIRING AMERICA:

America’s Chaplain’s Lunch Hour of Power turns 40!

Where do Wall Street execs, mayors, and police brass gather for 30 minutes, returning to their workplaces inspired and refreshed, helping to build and rebuild their city? The Lunch Hour of Power.

40 years ago, the Mariners Temple Baptist Church, a Black church in New York’s Chinatown, elected the first Black, female, senior pastor in its 200-year history. The 26-year-old pastor had a daunting task as the church’s membership had dwindled to 15 in a building built for over 1,100. They prayed for help and found it in Rev. Suzan Johnson Cook.

Cook said she learned about engaging local communities while working on her brother’s campaign for election to the New York State Assembly. She used that experience handing out flyers; meeting people at subway stops; and in their workplaces—on Wall Street, at City Hall, and at Police Headquarters to promote her concept for Mariner Temple. The Lunch Hour of Power and Wonderful Wall Street Wednesday worship services—complete with box lunches—became standing room-only services frequented by participants from throughout the city. I was one of those who trekked downtown weekly to hear her uplifting, hopeful, and inspiring messages.

After her 13-year tenure at Mariner’s Temple, Cook founded and served as senior pastor of the Bronx Fellowship Christian Church. Several career moves and firsts followed. In 1990, David Dinkins appointed her chaplain to the New York Police Department—the first woman; elected president of the Hampton University Ministers’ Conference—the first woman; US Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom in the Obama administration—first faith leader and woman to hold that position; and first cover of The Positive Community magazine in September, 2000.

Pastor Cook taught, ordained, and installed Rev. Herietta Carter as her successor, a capacity in which Rev. Carter still serves.

Cook is CEO of Women on the World stage (WoW) Inc, and the REAL Black Women in Ministry Initiative for The Lilly Endowment. Next month, 30 of the women she mentored (who are now mentoring others) will be inducted into the MLK International Chapel at Morehouse College, and Rev. Johnson Cook’s portrait will be hung alongside the many luminaries represented in the Hall of Portraits at the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel. A well-deserved honor, indeed.

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