WEST PALM BEACH – When it comes to the ministry, the Rev. Henry E. Green III comes with a great pedigree. His father, the Rev. Henry E. Green Jr., pastors the esteemed Mount Hermon African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Fort Lauderdale and his grandfather, Henry E. Green, Sr., was a presiding elder in the AME church.
Now the third-generation Green, at age 30, is leading the congregation of a significant church in Palm Beach County. The 120-year-old Payne Chapel AME in West Palm Beach is known for its older congregation and prestige.
The church is deeply rooted in tradition. But what some thought could’ve been a problem in having such a young pastor has turned out to be quite the opposite. The congregation is excited about the new, young church leader, whose preaching style is fiery, yet personable.
“Reverend Green is on fire!” said Betty Corbett, 82. Payne Chapel was founded in January 1893 on the island of Palm Beach, a very wealthy area, in a section called the “Styx,” a settlement where the blacks who worked for railroad mogul Henry Flagler lived.
The church was known for its elite, well-heeled congregation, with many blacks with money attending the church. It is still regarded as a prestigious place of prayer but as the older members died, many of the younger generation started moving to nondenominational churches that sprang up as more contemporary places of worship.
Corbett has attended the church since 1937, starting when she was 7 years old. She has seen pastors come and go and the changes each new leader has brought. Green, she believes, will bring Payne Chapel back to its glory years.
“We will bring Payne Chapel back to the beacon of light that’s on the highest hill in Palm Beach County,” she said. “The congregation is improving. The spirit is really there. He’s young but he’s full of the [Holy] Spirit.”
Green is gratified that the congregation has embraced him. He learned of his appointment as pastor at the church on Oct. 18 at a conference in Lakeland.
“They’ve welcomed me so far,” he said in an interview. “It’s been an awesome month and a half. And making our worship a little more contemporary – it’s been enjoyable. It’s something different.”
Sanjena Clay, a member of the church since 1981, grew up as friends with Green’s father and has known him since he was born. She believes he will do well at a well-established church such as Payne Chapel, noting he is from a family of church leaders.
“We’re in the honeymoon phase still but I believe he will do well,” she said. Clay, 55, says she is surprised the older congregation has embraced a new generation pastor.
“They’ve surprised me,” she said. “I’m very excited that we’re welcoming a new generation pastor. I think it’s wonderful for the church. A move like Reverend Green coming to such a historic church – I think it will not only keep Payne alive but will attract new people.”
Green has put the church on Facebook, which Corbett thinks is a good thing, even though she is not computer savvy. “Everybody’s going to have to get with it. It’s a future thing for all. This is where the world is headed. It will attract younger people,” Corbett said.
Green says he is not abandoning tradition at Payne Chapel. “I don’t think that tradition is something we have to break from. It’s a great part of our culture. I am a lot younger than the congregation but I love to bring what’s new and mix it with the old,” he said.
Green said that leading two other congregations prepared him for leadership at Payne. He served as pastor of Person Chapel AME Church in Midway, Ala., and at Greater St. Mark AME Church in Columbus, Ga. He said he has also learned from his father, whom he describes as a staunch role model.
“Every step of my life, my father has been there to support me. Him being a pastor has been instrumental in paving the way for me,” he said. “My father has always pastored large congregations, so I’ve seen the level of commitment needed for a large congregation.”
Green’s goal for Payne Chapel is to see the church become a voice in the community.
“I want us to become a voice to help the community meet its needs. I want us to find housing for those that need it. I want us to feed the hungry and clothe those who are naked,” he said.
Green is the son of Henry E. Green Jr. and Jennifer Regina Green, the first family of Mt. Hermon AME Church, Fort Lauderdale. He is a 2001 graduate of Miami Carol City High School and a 2004 graduate of the University of Florida, where he obtained a degree in Sociology. He received his Master of Divinity from the Interdenominational Theological Center (Turner Theological Seminary), in Atlanta.
He and his wife Heather have a 3-year-old son, London.
*Daphne Taylor can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org