Pastor Jerry Hatter continues to lead the congregation at Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) in Ypsilanti for two decades
Melanie Maxwell I AnnArbor.com
Reporter's note: The story has been updated to correct information that was obtained from a bio that was provided by the church in regards to the number of years the pastor was married to his first wife.
What is the secret to lasting as a pastor at the same church for 20 years?
“I have not been told to leave,” jokes the Rev. Jerry Hatter, pastor of the Brown Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME) Ypsilanti.
But there is some truth behind the jest. Every year, bishops decide which pastors will preside over which churches. And every year for the past 20, Hatter has received a certificate saying that he will stay at Brown. Hatter keeps every certificate he has received in a picture frame that sits behind his desk.
In that time, Hatter has been recognized by U.S. Rep. John Dingell in the Congressional Record, has helped get a new, larger sanctuary built and also cultivated a devoted following.
Among them is Chana Hawkins. She was one of the first two members baptized by Hatter and is now a steward at the church.
A defining moment for Hawkins was when Pastor Hatter asked, “Who would you rather be, Peter or Judas?” For her, it was a question that has helped her define her faith. “I have been fed here spiritually,” she said.
Another long-time member, Lorenzo Odum, says that Hatter “takes away the complication” of the faith. “He’s not perturbed to explain further. In fact, I think he loves it.”
Hatter and his congregation use their faith to help support their community. They work with such outreach programs as S.O.S. Community Services. They help feed the underprivileged with their Good Samaritan Outreach program and also run a foundation that provides grants to community programs such as Dress for Success and the Dispute Resolution Center.
Born in Haynesville, La., Hatter credits his aunt and uncle for teaching him about the love of Jesus. They raised him after his mother passed away when he was young.
Hatter received his M.B.A. from the University of Detroit in 1976 and worked for 23 years at the Ford Motor Co. He also earned a real estate broker’s license and a CPA certificate. But throughout the years, he remained active with the AME church. In 1992, he graduated from Ashland Theological Seminary. His first appointment as a pastor was for Brown Chapel and has never ministered at any other church.
Hatter has five children with his first wife of 40 years, Mary. He remarried after she passed away, and now he and his wife, Gwendolyn, are grandparents to 21 grandchildren.
While Hatter says he still has much to do at the church, such as reaching out to younger generations, he understands that remaining at the church is not his decision to make.
“If the Lord says so, I’ll go.”