Full Gospel Assembly with Pastor Bacchus
Pastor Michael Bachus of Full Gospel Assembly
Sunday, April 7 at eight in the morning, I went for a second time to attend the church Full Gospel Assembly on Sullivan Place. I had gone there the week before as a friend of Ronald Despinosse, who is an intern for the Nostrand Avenue Improvement Association. The church periodically asks members to bring friends as a form of outreach. I was delighted to come and was impressed by the pastor, Michael Bacchus, who I think found a good way of tying Biblical exegesis to the concerns of his congregation. His subject was friendship, a complex issue. Friends can be a support – having a reliable friend can be a source of strength. At the same time, it is one's Christian duty to reach out to the vulnerable and suffering who are often people who make bad friends, having weaknesses that pull others down. For young people especially hanging out with the “wrong crowd” can have bad results. Bacchus dealt with the issues carefully and tied them to the Bible well.
So I wanted to hear more and came back the next week. However, Pastor Bacchus was not speaking on the 7th though he did show up at the end of the service. The service I did attend went on for somewhat less then two hours. The first half was made up of song. A minister led us on through several hymns as the congregation stood. There was a only a sparse group at the start, but people kept coming during the singing, so there were people sitting in all the benches at the end of half an hour. When the singing was over Assistant Pastor Persaud led us in a prayer that focused on what people might need, particularly jobs. When she finished another minister made announcements. Among other things, there was an Ice Cream Sunday coming up to finance places for children in summer camp. Pastor Bacchus is to have a birthday party on May 5th, and Assistant Pastor Persaud is to celebrate her 90th birthday on June 1.
After announcements, a special singer came to the podium. Sister Elizabeth is obviously a trained singer and sang a beautiful song. After that there was a prayer particularly for those in need of a job. Those wishing for work were asked to stand and I noticed two young people standing nearby. I later found out they are high school students at Midwood who might be looking for summer employment. I gave them my card as possible interns. After the prayer came another song, “Joy in the Lord.” By this time we were an hour into the service, and that is when the sermon was delivered. Lionel Crawford spoke on the subject of fear, explaining how destructive it can be, paralyzing those experiencing it, making them worry obsessively, depriving them of any pleasure in life. As an antidote, he offered love, saying that love opens one up to experience and pleasure and that complete love will banish fear. There was a last song and the service was over. Ronald and I leafleted people as they left the church informing them about the Trees Proposal for Nostrand Avenue.
Two days later, I came to talk with Pastor Bacchus. He greeted me at the front door of the church and took me upstairs to his office. Bacchus is in his early seventies, his demeanor is calm, he is quite intelligent and he has a good sense of humor. I broke the interview into three parts. First, we talked about his background in Guyana, then his early experiences in coming to the United States, and finally about Full Gospel Assembly – its past, present and future.
Bacchus was born in 1947 into a family that lived in a town outside of Georgetown. His father ran a grocery and a liquor store. His mother had brought two children to the relationship, a boy and a girl, and the couple had three more children together; in addition to Bacchus there is a brother and sister. Bacchus attended elementary school in the town and continued his education through a correspondence courses provided by Wesley Hall and Bernard College. In the early 1960's his parents' relationship came apart; there was a bitter separation. Bacchus was a teenager at the time and very angry with his father. It was a great struggle, but he eventually managed to forgive him for tearing the family apart. After school, Bacchus got a job in telegraph office. Subsequently in 1971 he married, and he and his wife decided to go to the U.S. to get further education to prepare for a career. The plan was to secure a degree and return to Guyana. He wished to take a course in business administration.
The couple settled in Brooklyn and joined a church called God's Battalion. Bacchus was very active in the church and served in various role as other people moved on or stepped down. Thus it came about that he was asked to be pastor in 1975, still in his late twenties. Bacchus had a long struggle before he accepted, and then he had to convince his wife this was a good idea, this as they were having their first children. Eventually they had six, five boys and a girl. All five boys are involved in the church; the girl now lives in Texas. After much discussion, his wife agreed. At this time Bacchus had a job dealing with computers at a financial firm on Wall Street. In addition he had to study to become a pastor; this he did at a place called Community Bible Institute where he got a degree. He worked at this church for three years, but then decided to wanted to work as pastor at Full Gospel Assembly, which met in various locations in Brooklyn – the Y on Farragut and LIU, eventually the church purchased it own building from a church on Ocean Avenue. This was on Franklin Avenue and at the site Full Gospel Assembly established a school for a time, pre-k through 5th grade. The church grew under Bacchus's direction, and he eventually decided to acquire a property and build a new larger building. The church bought a parking lot on Sullivan Place and then, through a long laborious process, financed and built the substantial building it has today. Bacchus said he learned about construction through “ignorance.” He plowed through the process as the work suffered delays, cost overruns, and the need to fire one contractor and hire another. However fraught this process was, Full Gospel Assembly ended up with a large, comfortable building that can seat hundreds.
Once built, the church attracted those hundreds. People kept drifting in and liked what they saw. Bacchus estimates Full Gospel Assembly has about 500 congregants who come to at least three different services in a week, two on Sunday and another during the week. Why they come and stay is pretty clear; the church offers a wide variety of services and activities – a men's group, a women's group, a singles' group, Sunday School, programs for older children and teens. It also offers counseling when the church is equipped to do this and will make referrals for other problems such as mental illness or addiction. I saw people in need of jobs standing, no doubt with the idea that someone in the congregation could provide a referral. When I passed out leaflets for the Trees Proposal, I found the congregation receptive. Several people thanked me. The congregation can get help and also has a lot to give – be it a contribution, time, or energy. The church is very much a part of the community it lives in.
Bacchus does not endorse political candidates but he does make use of the services that politicians provide. His even-handedness is demonstrated by the fact he allowed both Jesse Hamilton and Zellnor Myrie to speak briefly to the congregation before the recent State Senate elections, this despite him having often used Hamilton's nearby office for referrals. He is fairly close with Cumbo and Yvette Clark, perhaps less so with Diana Richardson. The Borough President Eric Adams holds a meeting of clergy which Bacchus has attended in the past. He allows any politician make a brief speech to the congregation, but leaves it up to individual voters to decide how best to vote. In that the church provides a general structure of Christian values, there is no need to tell congregants how to vote.
For the future Bacchus was thinking of retiring, but he has decided to stay on for the foreseeable future. He wonders if maybe one of his sons might want to become pastor, and he would like to establish a new church, maybe in Brooklyn, maybe elsewhere. The church is very engaged in missionary work supporting medical, educational and church planting groups in other parts of the world. If Bacchus were involved in building a new church he would no doubt have a better idea of how to do it. He is someone who thinks carefully and tries to find the right answer; he learns. When he was thinking about becoming a pastor, he reviewed his life and found a pattern in it; his half sister was a big influence on him and forgiving his father was important. Bacchus said he connected the dots and then knew what he should do. The same with convincing his wife to stay in the US. The longer he lives, the more he learns, finding the pattern that leads into the future. It is from doing this perhaps that Bacchus can both convey a sense of someone at peace with himself but who is not at all complacent; he sees the future means change and he is going to do what he can to make that change turn out the right way. He plays the long game, and he seems to play it very well.