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Reverand Barbara GunnReverand Barbara Gunn

JS: We’re here once again for Urban Heroes. The purpose of the Urban Heroes program is to give honor to whom honor is due but to whom honor may not come because the person’s service is day-in-and-day-out and not easily noticed, except by those whose lives are impacted by it. Today, we have Rev. Barbara Gunn with us. And she has been nominated and is without question worthy of the designation of Urban Hero. So Barbara, welcome. It’s good to have you here today.

BG: Thank you so much. It’s a great honor to be recognized like this. Thank you.

JS: Well, thank you. Now tell us a little about what you’re doing right now and how you spend your days.

BG: Well, I pastor Mt. Carmel Baptist Church full time, which is a lot of work as far as dealing with the membership. I’m in the office quite a bit, but a lot of visitation of the sick, mentoring of people, counseling, meetings, and things of that sort. I also serve as the director of evangelism for the Pennsylvania Baptist State Convention. And I set up evangelism programs in the churches of the area. So I’m pretty busy between day and night.

JS: And tell us where’s Mt. Carmel and how long have you been there?

BG: North Versailles, Pennsylvania. I will celebrate ten years in April, 2010.

JS: And how long for the director of evangelism?

BG: Four years, because it’s the term of whatever president is in office at that time.

JS: Now if I’m not mistaken (smile), you’re a woman and you’re in pastoring. Talk to us a little bit about that.

BG: Right. This is my second pastorate. I was the first female to be called to an established Baptist church back in 1989—that was first Baptist church of North Vandergrift. I was there 11 years. Then I was called to Mt. Carmel right after that. It’s very unusual, interesting and rewarding. it’s a blessing. I love it. I can’t even imagine not pastoring at this time.

JS: Have you experienced much push back from people because you are a woman and you’re a pastor?

GB: Personally, I have not. In fact, the men of our denomination, at least in this area, have been wonderful for me; they’ve been supportive. Some have mentored me, the top of the list, of course, has been, my own pastor, Dr. J. Van-alfred Winsett. But when I went to the first church, out in the Kiski Valley, there were two senior pastors, one whom the Lord has called home, Dr. A.L. Wingfield, but Dr. Roberts is still there, Asa Roberts, and both of them, at that time, embraced me beautifully and helped me, out in the valley, to understand the culture and pastors. And I haven’t really experienced what some women say they have. I don’t know how to explain that. But no, I really haven’t.

JS: When did you know you had a call to the ministry?

BG: I knew I had a call to the ministry—I didn’t understand it was a call to the ministry because I wasn’t raised in church so I didn’t know quite what was happening with me until I was mentored toward it.

I was in my second semester at community college, way back when, and felt led, by what I know now to be the Holy Spirit, to just withdraw. I actually went into Harty Bible School and never told my pastor because I didn’t know what was going on. I just knew I needed to be where I needed to know the Bible.

And I was in that school a year before my pastor even knew that I had withdrawn from secular education and gone into spiritual training because I didn’t know the process. I didn’t understand anything, not being a churched person. So I knew God was speaking to me and nurturing me toward doing something biblically. I knew specifically he was calling me to preach about five years later, I knew beyond a shadow of doubt. I couldn’t teach without preaching.

JS: Were you working at that time when you got the call? A family? Tell us about where you were in that point, in your life.

BG: Yes, I was in corporate management for then a Dun and Bradstreet company, called the Donnelly Directory. I was leading people to the Lord and preaching to them in airports, on trains, in restaurants, in hotels, and in meetings.

In fact, this is really funny. In one of our corporate meetings in Philadelphia, the president at that time was a man named, Mr. Gary Reeves. I was giving a report and he had given a great accolade to our division in Pittsburgh that I was running, and I wrote in the report about what Rev. Gary Reeves said, and I put it in quotes. I printed the thing out and I sent it all over the company, never realizing what I did. In the next meeting, everybody was falling out. Finally somebody said, “You do understand that Gary Reeves is not a pastor, he’s our president?” So it was just there.

JS: So what you were seeing is that pastoring was a part of your very being? Now were you married at the time?

BG: Yes, I was married. I had my daughter, who was very little then. We had a wonderful family life. We were all in church at that time, of course, and God was just blessing.

JS: What did your husband think about this call on your life?

BG: My husband, being twenty years older than me, and coming up in church, in Alabama, was the driving force in helping me understand what God was doing in me. He knew better than I did. He knew before I knew. And he patiently just nurtured me along and was absolutely supportive at all times. He put demands on me, to tell you the truth.

When I really knew what the call was and spoke to my pastor about it, when I was ready to make the announcement to the church, my husband was the one who said to me, “If you want to do this, do it right. You won’t play with this.” He became sort of a watchdog. Saturday nights, he watched me, making sure I wasn’t on the phone, especially after I began to pastor at the first church. He would ask me, “Have you finished your sermon for tomorrow?” If I hadn’t, he would challenge me on that: “You need to be off that phone.”

People would call while I was working on a sermon. I was so angry with him, because he would tell them, “She can’t talk now she’s working on a sermon.” He and I would kind of butt heads on those kinds of things. But I realize now that God absolutely put that man there to guide me and to establish a discipline to be effective in ministry.

JS: Are you a Pittsburgh girl? We’ll come back to your husband in a minute. But are you from this area? Are you a Western Pennsylvania girl?

BG: I am Hill District, bred and born, Pittsburgh girl.

JS: So culturally, talk a little about what it was like growing up in Pittsburgh and being from the Hill. You and I are about the same age, we’re contemporaries. What was your experience?

BG: In the Hill District, at the time that I was growing up, it was an absolutely wonderful place to live. I did not know that there were keys to doors until I was sixteen years old. We did not have keys. We did not lock our doors. Neighbors could go in and out freely, anytime of the day or night. There was not, on Wylie Ave, the area where I lived, a lot of crime. The people really cared for one another. It was a period of time where the neighborhood really did help single parents raise their children.

There were eight of us, with no father in the home. If the boys got out of hand, the men in the neighborhood sort of took them, by cuff, literally by the scruff of their neck and shook them and said, “If I see another tear in your mama’s eye, it’s going to be me and you,” that sort of thing. And so it was a great place to grow up.

A lot of famous people came through there. Lena Horne was raised by her grandmother, in the lower part of the Hill. She would come back to one of the nightclubs in the area and different famous people, the Turrentines, and people like that. So it was an exciting place. In fact, its chronicled in a documentary that has been shown through Pitt and channel WQED called Wylie Avenue Days.

JS: Yes, I’ve seen it.

BG: It was a great place, you know. Then of course, it started transitioning into a lot of crime, like most of our city, unfortunately. But growing up, I just remember having a really great time as a child, running through the streets and up and down those hills in Pittsburgh.

JS: Where did you go to high school?

BG: I went to Schenley High School; I graduated from Schenley High School. That’s my alma mater.

JS: You say you weren’t churched. Did your family go to church at all?

BG: Not at all. Where we lived, we were absolutely surrounded by churches. There was on our left the Monument Baptist Church, further down Central Baptist Church, further down, Ebenezer. One street up or two streets up was Macedonia, on the right going up, there was Calvary Baptist. There was Trinity AME. We were surrounded by, what we call, church people. But we were not churched at all. People didn’t reach out to us because of my mom – the eight kids, no husband.

JS: So what’s your experience with the Lord, what’s your own testimony, not growing up in church and now you’re pastoring a church?

BG: Yes, well the way my pastor’s wife, Mrs. Jacquelyn, explained it to me one time, was that for whatever his purposes, God put a promise in me as a child. I was telling her how I would run through the streets of Pittsburgh at night. If my mom would send me to a store and I was really afraid because where we lived at that time, I had to go through a dark alley. I would recite what I thought was a poem that I wrote. It was, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”

JS: So you could see God’s hand in your life even though you weren’t going to church?

BG: Back then, I could feel the presence of God; I didn’t know it was the presence of God. I knew as I got older and understood what I was experiencing. Eventually I would talk to God. Even as a child I’m sure I heard somebody say something at some point about God. It had to have come from somewhere, I just don’t know where.

But that was my experience, and that was the peace in me. I learned to draw close to that peace, whenever I was in trouble or had a hard time with things at school or people or problems or family issues. I just learned as a child to start calling on God; not Jesus ‘cause I didn’t know anything. But I would just look up to the heaven and call on God. I didn’t call him Father or anything—just God, period. And then eventually it manifested itself.

JS: So you went to community college and you eventually went into the corporate world. Talk about the transition from corporate world to the church. How tough was that? Or was it a difficult decision?

BG: It was not difficult. In fact, I begged for it. Because in my travels for that company, I got to the point where I would ask God to send me a witness—I still do that. I pray, “Send me a witness today. It’s not worth it for me to go to Chicago and do this training; it’s not worth it to go to Florida if you don’t send me a witness. There’s got to be some unsaved person that you can let me touch today.” And God was doing that like you would not believe.

It came to a head for me in Florida, as I sat and watched what looked to me a very wealthy man. You could just see the wealth. And he was weeping openly. And businessmen were moving themselves away from him. They were looking at him in disdain. And when I found an open seat, I just said to him, “May I help you? Can I get you some water? Are you ok?”

And he began to share with me that he owned dealerships in Florida. And that he had just finalized a divorce, that morning. He had married a young woman, younger than him, and it became clear that she wanted him for his money. And he made the statement that gave me my opening. He said, “I worshipped her.” And I began to share with him about worship and idol worship.

When I left that Florida experience, that’s when I prayed and I asked God to make a way for me to work for Him. “I don’t want to do this, like this anymore.” And within a month my company called me from Philadelphia and said they were phasing out the Pittsburgh operation. They offered me Philadelphia, Terra Haute, Indiana, or Las Vegas. I knew my husband wasn’t going to do any of that and I didn’t want to. And he gave me permission. I was pastor at First Baptist at that time. He gave me permission not to go back to work but to nurture that church. And it was just happiness for me.

JS: So it wasn’t a difficult transition at all?

BG: Not at all.

JS: So you had education, I assume, in business?

BG: Only through Dun and Bradstreet. That was a miracle for me, John, because the position they gave me called for a degree in business. I had no such thing. I was going through my training at community college. I had not even gone into any other formal education. I was an exception to their rule. And the reason, they told me, was because people responded to me.

Their definition of management was not [about] management, at all. It was leadership. They wanted people who could lead other people to willingly work. And they saw, as a worker, that people, for some reason, were drawn to me. So I was an exception to the rule. At that point, in line for the position was a girl who already had a master’s in business and some other things. I never expected at all for them to consider me. I never applied for it. It was just another move of God for me.

JS: Once you got in the ministry, you did begin to pay more attention to education and training. So, you said you went to Harty Bible School?

BG: I went to Harty Bible School. I always wanted extra schooling. I went to Duff’s Business School. My mom wouldn’t let me stay. She was of that mindset—especially having a lot of kids – that you needed to go to work and contribute to the house. So I had to drop out of there.

I did a little bit of time at Mercy Nursing School, because I really thought I wanted to be a pediatric nurse. But I had to drop out of there. It wasn’t really until I got married that I was able to be consistent in going to school. I did go through the whole childcare program eventually at community college. But then it was really through this company that I got some form of formal education because of what I had to do for them.

They sent me to the University of Pittsburgh, a school for computers programming, because they were going into computers. Everything at that point was still by hand and they were going into this wonderful world of computers. And I needed to know it.

JS: Now you’ve attended here, the Reformed Presbyterian Seminary?

BG: Yes, I started out here, at the Geneva College CUBM program, to tell you the truth. And then because of family and travel with this company I couldn’t keep up with the studies. So, I did, I think, two years at CUBM. And when I came back into this wonderful building, it was as a student in the Masters in Theological Studies program at Reformed Presbyterian Seminary.

JS: And you finished that program?

BG: I finished that program.

JS: Congratulations.

BG: After 10 years. I used to joke and say that I was going to get my degree from Jesus. Jerry O’Neil would be long gone by the time.

JS: But you did get it. So talk to us about being a pastor. You’re out in North Versailles. What are some of the challenges you’re facing? What’s been some of the emphasis in the ten years that you’ve been at the church? And I’ve been to your church. It’s a wonderful congregation. Everybody I’ve ever talked to that’s sat under your pastorate has been so blessed and has nothing but great things to say about you. But what’s it been like? What’s emerged?

BG: It’s been wonderful. It has been absolutely wonderful. It was an unexpected blessing. My husband passed away six years into my first pastorate. So everything became a faith walk for me, financially especially because he was twenty years older than I and I was not able to get widow’s benefits—still am not able to get widow’s benefits.

So the Lord had opened doors for revivals. And I thought I was to leave that church and just do revivals and workshops. And then Mt. Carmel reached out to me to come and be their pastor. It’s been an amazing walk; they’re a wonderful people. A lot of, I feel, necessary and relevant ministry is going on to help nurture people and build people.

The church has grown. They had a brand new building when I went into it. I’m living in a house I didn’t build. It was the vision of a wonderful, former pastor. I don’t know how much of the building he got to enjoy before the Lord called him home. I don’t know if he got to enjoy it at all because there was a pastor after him—between him and I. But it opened the door for me to do ministry and not worry about housekeeping things. But the one thing the Lord blessed us to do under my watch was to pay that building off six years early. And we did some other renovations. We now have an elevator, new office, pastor’s bathroom and study and all that. And dealing with the people, the building of lives, is very important to me. I love it.

JS: What’s your favorite part of being a pastor? Is it Sunday? Is it preaching? Is it counseling? Is it seeing changed lives? What’s number one for you?

BG: It is counseling and seeing changed lives. If all a pastor had to do was preach, you know, you could probably just do that and go on. But that is not pastoring. Preaching is not pastoring. It’s literally dealing with the people on a day-to-day basis—the issues of their lives, mentoring them, showing them how to deal with family problems, rebellious children, broken marriages, homelessness sometimes.

And in this economy I’m facing what probable a lot of pastors face in a general populated church. I’m not talking about a megachurch, where they got it like that. But we’re just a generally populated church. Some of my people have been affected by the economy. There have been lay-offs. They’re facing issues. And I’ve still got to keep their faith built. But then you’ve got that other side. You’re the pastor; you live off of what the people contribute. So if they don’t have work and can’t contribute, there’s your faith again, having to keep pushing forward. So, it’s really interesting. But I love the way it pushes you to always remember from where your help comes from. You have to live it out and teach them.

JS: Talk to us about the evangelism position, director of evangelism, for the National Baptists, Pennsylvania Baptist State convention. What does that involve? What do you do there?

BG: Well, one of the main gifts God has given me, aside from preaching, is evangelism. That is really my heart. This is not the first position of evangelism I have had. I used to be the director of evangelism at Allegheny Union Baptist Association years ago. It’s my heart. It’s my passion. It comes from the fact that I lived in a situation where the churches around me did not come to our home to evangelize us.

And I didn’t understand the seriousness of that until I got saved, and the position affords me the opportunity to really teach churches and pastors [to be} obedient to the work of the Great Commission. That’s how I teach it. I teach it from the standpoint of the obedient work. It’s not a ministry to have to say, “This is on my list of ministries.” This, in my mind, is what gives a church its right to exist. You earn the right to exist when you do the obedient work of God, which is missions and evangelism.

JS: Any role models you followed in ministry? I know you mentioned some of your early pastors, but even historical figures that have really spoken to you , that have really impacted your life?

BG: As I have began to study and know some historical figures, two men really come to mind. And one is Gardner Taylor, who is one of the senior patriarchs of our denomination, just an amazing man. If you were to compare him with… if you were to look at the two that I’m going to mention, Gardner Taylor and [Charles] Spurgeon, Gardner Taylor would be the African- American prince of preachers.

JS: Wow that’s pretty heavy company!

BG: I just love the both of them, as far as historical figures. And I have a lot of their writings. I kind of look at the way they view life, ministry, people, and all of that.

JS: How about a verse or a book or a quote or anything that continually impacts and speaks in your life?

BG: One is from Spurgeon is from one of his writings. And he quotes from Genesis. Am I my brother’s keeper? And he says, “Do not ask me Cain, am I my brother’s keeper because I shall give you a terrible answer and yes you are your brother’s keeper.” I’m going to paraphrase it. He says, “if by your neglect, you have not built up this man, then you have not been my brother’s keeper.” I want you to know that I’m not getting it right. But it is an amazing quote. And it just always keeps my focus on how to look at people.

JS: You are your brother’s keeper. You need to build a relationship so that that kind of impact can be made.

BG: Absolutely. And a verse I apply to that is Romans 15:1: “We who are strong ought bear the infirmity of they who are weak. And not just to please ourselves.”

JS: How about a book or a movie or anything impact your life?

BG: This might sound strange. It has nothing to do with religion. But one of my favorite books is... and the movie lead me to search out the book, many, many years ago. But it’s called the Rape of the Fair Country by Alexander Cordell. And it’s about life in Wales. And I don’t know if it’s because a country like that—that country-side living, that type of life—is so opposite of what I grew up with that draws me to that. But I absolutely love those types of books and that type of lifestyle and living. I love reading about it. I really do, books like How Green Was My Valley. I love those books.

JS: What are you plans for the future? What do you see Lord willing and if He tarries, what do you see in the next five or ten years? What do you see Rev. Gunn giving herself to?

BG: Primarily, to evangelism and missions, pastoring, as long as the Lord says so. If I ever come out of pastoring, for some reason, and am healthy enough and still have my right mind. I would love… the evangelism piece is just awesome. I’m getting a lot of response. A lot of churches are… the word is going around and they’re wanting it now. And I just love teaching people how to share Christ with others for salvation. I think its just essential now.

JS: You mentioned missions. Have you been out of the country? Where have you gone?

BG: Many times. Because I have come out of a church that pushes missions to the highest, which is Ebenezer Baptist Church, I got my experience out of that church. Haiti, West Indies, I went there—back and forth for about three or four years. I went on a missionary venture to Russia in 1993. I will be going to Germany in August. [I’ve been to] parts of Africa, Egypt because our pastor is a serious missionary, serious missionary. When you come up under a pastor who has a heart for missions, it’s a blessing because you get introduced to those kinds of things that you wouldn’t normally be introduced to. I love it. I absolutely love it.

JS: Barbara, It just seems like there are no limitations in your life. It just seems like there are no barriers. Is that a fair statement?

BG: I think it is fair. If there are any barriers it would be family. There are still family members I am responsible for. I have a daughter who has MS. And thank God, it hasn’t stopped her. It’s slowed her down but it hasn’t stopped her. So that’s a concern always, as far as my future. How far away can I go to do things because I’m always mindful that she needs me. [I have] two lovely granddaughters, one in college, one five years old, and they are absolutely, in my mind, wonderful. But, as far as ministry barriers, absolutely not.

JS: You’re impacting and have impacted the community and the lives of people. What advice would you give to those coming along who would like to follow in your footsteps—or make their own impact, leave their mark on their generation like you have on yours?

BG: It would be straight from the Bible: “Trust in the lord with all your heart. Lean not to your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him and he will direct your path” (Proverbs 3:5-6). I wish someone had taught me that many years ago before I made some wrong moves and many mistakes. But that is what I would always say to anyone. You know, look to Jesus, look to Jesus, the Author and Finisher of our faith for all things.

JS: Any writing plans in your future? Have any plans for books or other publications?

BG: I’m actually writing. I’ve been writing for about seven or eight years. I get that block they talk about. I get spurts where I’m really inspired, and I can do pages and pages. And then it’s like dead zone and nothing. And then I get spurts again. But it’s not theological. It’s really life experience because of two brothers of mine that passed away nine days apart. I don’t understand it, but it’s God. Out of eight children, two of us escaped alcohol and drug addiction situations. And when those two brothers passed away, brothers whom I had taken care of, really pretty much in their situations for well over 20 years, it led me to write that it was never burdensome. In fact, the verse I quoted, Romans 15:1, is the basis of the writing and the title of it is He’s Not Heavy. I believe it’s a call in life, literally, for some people to care for people who seem like things always go backwards and not forwards. But the beauty is both of them did, three years or so before they died, accept the Lord. They were baptized. They were in the church, but the addiction had taken its toll on their bodies. And they did not recover. I write about that.

JS: Well, keep us posted as you publish and write and all your progress in life and ministry. We want to keep our Urban Heroes audience informed. We want to thank you for all that you do, Rev. Gunn, for those things we know about and for those things only God knows about. Our prayer is that He will reward you accordingly. And our prayer also is that He will multiply your effectiveness in your ministry and work that you do. Even through this interview, those who hear it and need to hear it will be impacted and God will use it for His glory and His purposes. Thank you for making the time. And we are honored to have you as an Urban Hero. And I know this interview will prove to everyone why you were nominated and why you were accepted.

BG: Thank you, thank you

JS: Keep up the good work.

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