Rev. Dr. LesterTaylor:

A Three-Decade Journey of Faith and Leadership

Rev. Dr. Lester W. Taylor Jr. began his pastorage at Community Baptist Church (CBC) in Englewood, NJ 30 years ago in May, 1993. “I never thought I’d ever utter the words ‘30 years at one particular church,’ Dr Taylor reflected. “And not only at one church, but this is my only church—I’ve never pastored anywhere else. This is the first church, and I assume the only church that I will pastor. But 30 years, three decades is a very long time.”

Dr. Taylor arrived at CBC that spring from Cumberland County in South Jersey as a new, young pastor in Bergen County. Things were very different then. “Well, 30 years ago, we were in a smaller church. They could seat 300 people at max. Fifteen to 18 years into the ministry, we were able to build this facility. So that’s an obvious change in terms of facility,” he said. In 2011, Taylor and his congregants dedicated a new, state-of-the-art building for their nearly 5,000-member church. “But what I’ve also experienced is the change in culture, the change in society, when you’re at a particular congregation for that, for that longer period of time, you see the changes in your community.”

I asked Dr. Taylor for one piece of advice he would go back to give himself 30 years ago. “The warning I think I would give my younger self is this,” he said. “Anticipate change and embrace it graciously. That is a part of the growth dynamic.” Major changes occurred worldwide and at CBC in March 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic hit, and Bergen County was one of the early epicenters on the east coast. “The second Sunday of March 2020, I had two full services—the sanctuary was packed at eight o’clock packed at 11 o’clock. We seated 1,200 packed, and that’s pews and chairs down the wall. We were at capacity, both services; baby dedications, the whole nine yards. The next Sunday, we were closed.”

When I spoke with Dr. Taylor in summer 2020, he was exhausted physically and emotionally. He had lost congregants, family members, and friends; but there was no time for him to grieve. “I don’t know if we will ever fully recover from that,” he said solemnly. “We’ve learned how to cope. We’ve learned how to move forward; the congregation is rebounding.” And in the midst of his grief and exhaustion, he still had a flock to shepherd. People were frightened, isolated, confused, and sick. He embraced change quickly, effectively, and graciously. “I don’t know if it’s the ‘Cha-Cha Slide’ or one of those other slides we do on the dance floor—and the guy who’s narrating tells you to ‘Slide to the right, slide to the left,” he chuckled. “We had to slide to the right. Thank God we already had an online presence, already had the infrastructure. We were already streaming our services, things like that. Immediately, we had to put everything online.” But it wasn’t enough to put services online; the church needed to teach and help people access the online portals and content. So, they did. “We had to teach them how to work their telephones their computers,” he said. And in the process, congregants were able to keep in touch with the church, each other, and even friends and family as a result of their new skills.

“I think the greatest success I’ve had over the years, it’s not necessarily building the church, but building relationships with the people and the community,” Taylor reflected. “I’ve seen a whole generation grow up before me and it’s amazing to see. Just about a month ago, I had the privilege of dedicating some children and the fathers of these children are brothers; I still remember them doing Sunday School speeches on Easter and Christmas. And now these guys are grown, married, and bringing their children to me to dedicate and they don’t even live in the area.” He continued, “They’ve moved to different parts of the area but they were insistent on bringing their babies back here. I am marrying the children, dedicating their children now. The babies who were on their parents’ laps when I arrived are now 30, 31, or 32 depending on the age they were when I arrived and that’s surreal to see a generation grew up before me and now see their children begin to grow up.”

That personal connection is not only important to Dr. Taylor, but it is appreciated by his congregants. “Most people who join this church marvel that they get a chance to speak to me, to shake my hand, and that I’m available full-time. Most pastors with churches this size don’t do funerals, weddings, baby dedications, or baptisms. They delegate that to other people. I think that as a senior pastor who walks through life with people, you engage them in all facets of life. And so, for me, it’s a blessing to eulogize someone, and to be able to reference generations of people in that family because I knew them.”

Currently, Taylor and CBC are preparing to celebrate! On January 6, 2024, CBC and the people of Bergen County will pay tribute to Taylor’s 30 years of service in the community with “A Joyful Celebration” at Bergen PAC. “It’s a joy for people outside of the church to decide they want to do something to commemorate 30 years in a particular town,” he said. “Bergen PAC was our home when we were in the process of building this church; we met there for two and a half years. And it came at a wonderful time when they were experiencing some financial difficulties. They needed us and we needed them at the same time. God opened that door, but since then there’s been ongoing appreciation and relationship.”

On a personal note, Dr. Taylor and his wife, Gayle, are celebrating 29 years of marriage this year. “You know, balance is not easy for clergy. And if you don’t have a great support system at home, you’ll never make it,” he explained. “My wife provided the stability for our daughter. I was able to do things because my wife did what she did to support. If I could do anything over again it would really be to spend more time at home. Lady Gayle Taylor has made the difference in this life and in this ministry and continues to do so in the ministry right now.”

When asked about the next 30 years, Taylor shared a pragmatic and diplomatic view. “I think we’re called to serve our age,” he said. “I’m called to serve this generation. I can’t serve the next generation, but I can leave something behind so that the next generation can have tools to work with and a facility.”

Thinking about his legacy, Taylor looks to the example of Jesus. “I feel that most of the miracles Jesus did, He did them because He was moving among the people. Scripture often says, ‘as He was passing by,’ and had He never passed by, maybe some of those people would not have gotten the opportunity to touch the hem of His garment or ask Him for mercy. But all of those things happened because he was passing by.” Taylor paused for a moment before concluding, “And that says to me, remain accessible for the people and in touch with the common person—not to allow the pulpit to dictate my status, but allow the touch of people to dictate my status. I want to be known as the people’s pastor, and I think that’s the best legacy I have.”