As the elders of the Myrtle Baptist Church in West Newton looked for a new pastor last year, they went to hear a young divinity student deliver a guest sermon at a church in Mattapan. They didn’t expect much: Brandon T. Crowley was only 23.
“Clearly the folks went out there and thought they were going to hear some whippersnapper, and when they went out and heard him, they were floored,’’ said Thomas Johnson Jr., a deacon and a trustee at Myrtle Baptist. The search committee was so impressed by Crowley’s preaching that they named him one of the finalists for the position. A few weeks later, Myrtle Baptist asked him to be its next pastor.
And so Crowley, just a year after receiving his undergraduate degree, last summer took over the leadership of the historic African-American congregation, founded in 1874 by freed slaves and the sons of former slaves, and housed in a Curve Street building named to the National Register of Historic Places a year ago. Crowley replaced the church’s longtime, and much beloved, pastor, the Rev. Howard M. Haywood, leaving for retirement.
“To be honest, I didn’t think I would get the church because I am 23 and the church is 135,’’ Crowley said, speaking in his office at Myrtle Baptist. Crowley splits his time between the church and Harvard Divinity School, where he is a Presidential Scholar and expects to graduate with a master of divinity degree next year.
Crowley says he is observing Myrtle before making any changes. “I’m doing a Louisiana tradition, and before adding anything to the gumbo I’m going to taste the gumbo,’’ he said.
But already, he is making his mark. He brought back a youth minister to the church, for the first time in at least 15 years, Johnson said. He is attracting more young people and families to the church. And his preaching, eloquent and forthright, is gaining attention.
“He’s a very unique combination of Southern-style preaching, but he brings an element of preaching to his Southern style that is very erudite,’’ said the Rev. John M. Borders III, pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church in Mattapan. “He is a brilliant young man and a brilliant theologian.’’