New Opp pastor comes from church in Los Angeles

Published 6:47 pm Thursday, June 11, 2009

The Rev. James Winfrey III and his family will trade bricks and buses for clean air, fishing and a new church home Saturday as they are welcomed into the community by members of St. Stephens African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church in Opp.

Winfrey was assigned to the Hardin Street church as its new pastor by Bishop James L. Davis, presiding prelate of the 9th district (state of Alabama), on March 23 after serving as pastor of a church in Los Angeles, Calif.

“I can’t tell you how much we love it here,” Winfrey said. “I love returning to the South. I love the fact that my children are in walking distance of local stores; that the school bus picks them up at the front door; and the nature, just being able to go fishing and hiking. It’s great here.”

The Winfrey family currently lives in Andalusia but hopes to make Opp their home soon. He and his wife, Kami Thompson-Winfrey, have five children: Kendrick, 17; James IV,13; Zion Rose, 9; Micah, 3, and Malachi, 1.

Originally from St. Louis, Mo., Winfrey started in ministry in 1992. As a bi-vocational pastor, he has also worked in banking for 15 years. He has served as a pastor or youth pastor in the cities of Omaha, Neb.; St. Louis, Mo.; Atlanta, Ga.; and Los Angeles, Calif. During his ministry, he has been involved in faith-based community organizing. It is that focus on community that he plans to bring to Opp.

“Our church family here and the one in California are very similar,” he said. “The congregation is larger, but in terms of environment, it was brick and mortar. No trees. Here, the community is beautiful and that’s what we want to focus on — community.

“There is such a rich heritage here,” he said. “St. Stephens was founded by the children of slaves in 1911 and will celebrate its 100-year anniversary in two years. It is the second oldest African-American congregation in the city.

“We want to build on that legacy,” he said.

“I think that the heart beat of any city or town is its residents,” Winfrey said. “We all have the same needs. It’s important that our young people and elderly are not discounted.”

His work with youth includes puppetry, mime, dance and theatre. While in Atlanta he founded the Sweet Auburn Theatre Company, a community non-profit organization.

Winfrey said he aims to concentrate on the youth of his community.

“Especially, the young boys,” he said. “We want them to have some positive activity in the summer months and after school. I’m hoping to implement a right of passage program called ‘Boys to Men’ that teaches them about citizenship, history, as well as life skills that will benefit them for future employment.”

The pastor’s “welcome service” will be held this Saturday at 6:30 p.m. at 311 Hardin St. in Opp. The Rev. Willie Denson, pastor of Bethel AME Church in Andalusia, will be the speaker.