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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."
Josh January 24, 2014 at 07:27 AM
I appreciate being able to hear the explanation for the disruption, however, if the meeting was still in progress, getting your "flock" to get up and leave is still rude and disruptive. Also, I understand the perceived problem that the council and mayor are all white, however I cannot comprehend why race even matters. I believe that the best person for the job should be elected, regardless of race. If they are good for the city, they are good for the city. That means it is good for ALL residents, regardless of their race. As soon as we start identifying our residents as just residents and stop specifying if they are white or black, the unity everyone claims they want can begin.
David Brown January 24, 2014 at 08:25 AM
Pastor Collins, thank you for giving your side of the story. I appreciate you and consider you a brother-in-Christ.
Marcia Paben Garrett January 24, 2014 at 08:35 AM
Sarah, thank you for a great article. As long as the hate and rhetoric are being spewed on either side from the community Snellville can't move forward from this. My prayer is that everyone can take a deep breath, put their own agendas aside and do what is best for Snellville.
Mark Pomeroy January 24, 2014 at 08:43 AM
I find it ironic that Pastor Elijah Collins Jr. wants to explain his side of the story and his involvement in Snellville politics but yet in this blog we learn "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)". Additionally we learn that his church members presumably "sat together because they were in a new environment", indicating that none of these individuals have shown any interest in becoming involved in the running of this city in the past. We all "talk" of unification within our city however it seems that the Pastor's "flock" wants very little to become integrated with the other citizens of Snellville in that they wish only to show unity within their own group. If this land is ever to be able to truly united, being known as "the only black church in the city limits......" needs to no longer be a "black church" which gives a feeling of exclusive rather than inclusive. I know that no one would stop a non-black individual from going to New Jerusalem however just the fact it is categorized by everyone as a "black church" automatically makes one feel excluded rather than included. One final comment before I go, if more people can get past their own ethnicity and stop defining themselves by their race, be it Caucasian, African American or whatever other ethnicity they might have, then and only then can we truly unite as one people.
Phillip S Wallace January 24, 2014 at 08:43 AM
I am not aware of any Commandment that says "Thou shalt not stay in the room if thou art not the last speaker", but I admit I never went to divinity school. It might be part of the Extra-Equal Protection Clause of the 14th Amendment, but I somewhat doubt it. I therefore conclude the act of leaving was intended as a sign of defiance and a vote of no-confidence in the newly elected council; as for the defiance towards and vote of no-confidence in the Kautz faction New Jerusalem members seem to be connected to, that was fairly decisively delivered last election. But I forget, that will be claimed as not legitimate, as racist, even as I know in my bones that, *somehow*, if/when county and state one day turn I would be a fool to think slots will be made open for Tea Partiers simply because they exist.
krissj52 January 24, 2014 at 08:46 AM
I am 100% in agreement with what Josh stated. He stated everything that was in my heart. I am so sick and tired of the race card always being played in situations like this. It has NOTHING to do with race, it has to do with protocol, and who is qualified for the job. Snellville is NOT just a city of white and black citizens. There are residents of a lot of races. A candidate can be black, white, hispanic, Asian or whatever. I don't see any other races calling the diversity card. Your congregants should have respected the meeting and WAITED to leave until the mayor called the meeting closed. THAT would ahve been the right thing to do and none of this would have happened. I am still discusted by it all.
Phillip S Wallace January 24, 2014 at 08:47 AM
Left out in the editing process--"one day turn blue"
Ophelia Liburd January 24, 2014 at 09:24 AM
How long ago did the City of Snellville actually recognized MLK's birthday? There's nothing ironic in the fact that the church's involvement spans 3 years - that's how progress starts. People are becoming more aware and are now taking an interest in what is going on in our city. Sometimes one may not pay attention until "something" happens. The whole incident with Mrs. Richardson was an eye opener even though the actions taken to get there may have been wrong. Whatever the reason - know that people are becoming more aware. People seem to have a problem because the people of New Jerusalem followed their Pastor - he is their Leader. Almost everytime I would see the word "flock" - why the word has to be " "? What are people really trying to say? Come on people let's not get ahead of ourselves - if America is sure to point out that President Obama is the first Black or African-American President - why is it so hard to comprehend why a church will be categorized as a "black church?" It is just the way of life here in America. We know who we are and can categorize ourselves as "Black", "Hispanic", "Caucasian", etc, but that should not hinder us from achieving UNITY.
Ophelia Liburd January 24, 2014 at 09:29 AM
Thanks to the Pastor for sharing his side to all that has transpired.
Barbara Bender January 24, 2014 at 09:51 AM
I believe Pastor Collins has learned a lesson about perception and misperception that I had to learn when I was first elected. No matter how honorable the intentions, someone can (and usually will) make up a different story to go with the actions making it sinister. I pray, that now the danger of misperception has been exposed in this way, that everyone will take the time to learn the truth behind the actions and soundbites they hear. One other point, many are looking at the Council dais and claiming I may be a racist because everyone is white. I would remind everyone that the Council only has influence over 2 seats on the dais, the Manager and the Clerk. The other seats are elected by the citizens and I am one of 2,200 votes. I do not determine the outcome of an election.
Brenda Lee January 24, 2014 at 10:14 AM
Kautz is doing her level best to make the issue of the City Clerk a THEM and US issue, when IMHO it's about WE THE PEOPLE of SNELLVILLE against an out of control, unethical elected official abusing her power. I wish I had the ability to convey to Ms. Richardson that IF Kautz can fire or move Ms. Arnold what is to stop her from deciding on a whim, without the consent or knowledge of the other 5 members of council to fire Ms. Richardson? It never ends because the common denominator, Kautz, remains the same.
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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