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Pastor Responds to Backlash From Snellville Council Meeting, City Clerk Issue

Pastor Elijah Collins Jr. of New Jerusalem Baptist Church talks about how his actions were misunderstood and how Snellville needs more racial diversity represented.

Pastor Elijah Collins Jr. of New Jerusalem Baptist Church
Pastor Elijah Collins Jr. of New Jerusalem Baptist Church
In light of the city clerk controversy at the last Snellville Council meeting, Pastor Elijah Collins Jr. wants to explain his side of the story and his involvement in Snellville politics.

Specifically, the pastor of New Jerusalem Baptist Church spoke about his speech during the public comment portion of the Jan. 13th meeting. Many people have voiced how "rude" and "disrespectful" Collins was to speak a few minutes and then raise his hand to signal for his church, which consisted of nearly half the room, to leave when other citizens still wanted to express themselves.

During a meeting with the press at his church Thursday (Jan. 23), Collins said he thought he was speaking last since there were no other citizens lining up for the podium. Going last was important because, "To me, I didn't want to say what I had to say and then leave my church members there," he said. 

Him raising his hand comes from a custom in the black Baptist church during devotion, he continued. The deacons will lift their hands to signal that it's time to stand, and lowering their hands means to sit down. 

"I did not know Melvin Everson was coming up behind me," he continued, adding that he worked with the former Snellville councilman while being a youth minister at Salem Missionary Baptist Church in Lilburn. "It was not my intention to be disrespectful. I was trying to be the last one and to take my people out before anything else happened. That's the truth." 

But when the church left, it caused a loud, boisterous disruption and negative comments were thrown from both sides of the room. Collins said he was disappointed in what he heard and has reprimanded his church members who took part in it during Sunday worship. 

So does he regret what happened?

"I didn't regret it," he said. "I regret the fact that it wasn't received the way I meant for it to be received. I talked about the power, the strength of the black church and the black community. I did that as a show of, 'This is what I mean. We have this unity already.'"

That unity also was evident when his church members sat on the same side of the council chambers, even though the pastor didn't ask for them to sit together. He explained that they sat together because they were in a new environment and it's common to cling to those one knows, but another reason may be because racism can still be seen in Snellville. From personal experience, Collins recalled four separate times when people driving by his church have yelled the N-word.

"They remember what happens on our property," he said. "They're seeing this [situation at the council meeting], so it kind of takes on a certain look."

Collins has been living in the Snellville area since 1999. In addition to being the pastor of New Jerusalem, he also founded it in 2002. With 340 members, the congregation on Dogwood Road is the only black church in the city limits that owns the property it sits on.

While the church has had picnics, barbecues and other community outreach events, the only city involvement New Jerusalem has had is the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day March and Celebration, which was held for the third year Monday (Jan. 20).

"My calling is to preach and to pastor, to preach the gospel Jesus Christ, to lead people to salvation in Jesus Christ," he said. "In doing so, the role of the pastor, which resembles the role of a shepherd, is to take care for the flock." 

Since Phyllis Richardson, the African-American woman whom Mayor Kelly Kautz attempted to place in the city clerk's seat, is a member of his church, he felt the need to step in when that position was being debated at the council meeting. 

While he attended the meeting to support her, Collins admitted that he does not intend on being involved further in her situation involving the city charter and the city clerk position, which the council voted to be filled by the original administrator, Melisa Arnold.

Instead, he is working with the city staff to bring more diversity since the mayor, council and a majority of the city staff are caucasian. He's also encouraged his church to attend more council meetings to educate themselves locally and to vote when the time comes. 

Collins claims that he does not have a "side" when it comes to Snellville politics, though. 

"I'm on the Lord's side. I'm on the side that speaks to edify people, encourage people," he said. "I believe there are a lot of discrepancies in the charter that needs to be cleared up. I believe that Mayor Kelly [Kautz] is doing what she thinks is right, and I believe the councilmembers are doing what they think is right. What has to happen at some point is everybody has to come together and lay it on the table and truly discuss it and figure it out."

Collins is hopeful the city is heading in the right direction. He's met and spoke with City Manager Butch Sanders, who has asked the staff how they could diversify, and he also attended worship last Sunday at New Jerusalem. In the next couple of weeks, Collins wants to get the mayor, council, himself and other ministers in the area to try to come to an "amicable solution" to bring diversity to the city staff.  

"Snellville is going to grow on it's own," he said. "The city leaders can be a part of that growth, or that they can be the stagnant force in the growth. I think we're at the cutting edge where we can put some things in effect to where everybody is pleased with what's going on in the city."
Michelle McGill Couch January 24, 2014 at 10:48 AM
I appreciate this article and the comments contained herein. For the love of Snellville, let's put this behind us and move forward in peace!
Ned Lane January 24, 2014 at 11:11 AM
If I were a citizen of Snellville who had thoughts of becoming involved in the city and perhaps running for office one day, I would get involved now. I would distance myself from Kelly Kautz. She is clearly troubled and making poor decisions. She has no authority to hire and/or fire any employee of the city. The courts have ruled against her position with regards to the mayors powers. The portions of the city charter that she reads, which she claims justify her actions, have been repealed, and thus, are no longer in effect. I would never vote for any candidate, black or white, who supported, or was supported by, Kautz. I applaud Pastor Collins for explaining his actions. I was present at the council meeting, and felt strongly that explanations, or apologies, were needed. My heart broke when I heard of bigots driving by, yelling slurs at the church members. I will work to help Snellville become Gwinnett's most prosperous city, by becoming Gwinnett's most inclusive, diverse, and unified city.
Arnold Darsey January 24, 2014 at 11:43 AM
Is it possible Reverend, that you at one time in your life sold vacuum cleaners or used cars? I think that a personal appearance at the very next council meeting with a handful of your followers is in order to extend an apology to the members of council and the Snellville residents who loyally attend these meetings.
Matt Czarick January 24, 2014 at 11:47 AM
Very well said Ned Lane! I couldn't agree more.
Trish Gates January 26, 2014 at 02:56 PM
I think the pastor was very rude and them attending the meeting as a "flock" of black people is absurd is this day and age. This is not a race issue and why is a pastor and/or a church trying to make it such. This is WHO is qualified, who can pass the drug test, who can pass the background test and who has experience. Wow, wouldn't it be interesting if it is an Asian? Do we have an Asian only church in Snellville? Do they send in "flocks" of members to city council meetings. This is like 1945 overload. That Reverend needs to re-examine his purpose and his actions.

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