Where Joy and Sorrow Meet: Texas Church Remembers Former Pastor, Welcomes New
By Carl Stagner
The end of 2020 also brought the untimely end of the earthly journey for Rev. James Daniels. COVID-19 claimed the life of one hero of the faith whose impact at New Beginnings Ministries Church of God in San Antonio, Texas, will never be forgotten. Since then, and just in time for Easter 2022, the congregation welcomed a new pastor. Scars from the sting of loss may never be erased, but the dawning of a new day for the church and community signal the sovereignty of God at the intersection of joy and sorrow.
Where joy and sorrow meet, the God who sees, hears, and cares is present in near-tangible fashion. Throughout the course of the church’s interim season, amid the searching, advertising, interviewing, and praying, New Beginnings Ministries Church of God recognized the diligent work of God’s hands. By February 2021, a five-person pulpit committee was formed, and outside insight was offered from tested sources of wisdom, such as Dr. James Lewis, Bishop Tyrone Cushman, Texas State Association president Albert Wright, and the church’s local elder Edd White Sr. The work involved was rigorous and thorough, but the Holy Spirit was all the while orchestrating results that would bring glory to God and victory for the congregation.
Dr. Deneese Jones, member of the pulpit committee and a retired vice president for academic affairs and emeritus professor for Trinity University in San Antonio, was instrumental in the effort. She understands the tension of seemingly contrasting feelings the church has experienced in this time of transition. But thanking God for the ministry of the late Pastor James Daniels is one way she and other congregants are choosing to respond to the pain.
“Pastor Daniels will surely be remembered for his vision,” she reflects, “which ultimately led to the recently renamed church and transformation to the New Beginnings Ministries Church of God in San Antonio, Texas, occurring shortly before his death. He was certainly a man known for his love of the Lord demonstrated by his passionate and challenging preached sermons.”
“Pastor Daniels,” she continues, “also, had a love for young children who could typically be found in his office laughing with him and receiving candy peppermints, much to the surprise of their parents. It was most common to often hear him break out in song, either during his messages or following them, with the traditional Church of God hymns, as well as some more contemporary music. His hearty laughter, explosive ‘hallelujah’s,’ and love for cooking good food is sorely missed by so many.”
Of course, change is rarely easy, and few are ever comfortable in the midst of it. But Dr. Jones recognizes where and how God was moving as she looks back over the transition period.
“As a congregation we have learned the authentic power of prayer and the tremendous role of unity in the spirit,” she explains. “While many congregations struggled through the pandemic, we thrived as we learned better ways to use the technology to stay connected. We persevered in several prayer group settings daily (8 AM and noon), and created concentric circles that still exist today as we continue in daily prayers. While the pulpit committee, appointed by the church council, set about establishing an equitable process for a pastoral search along with committee fasting and praying, the congregation was kept up-to-date on the committee activities and given opportunities to complete surveys relating their desires for a new shepherd.”
“The collective unity was on display even as our associate ministers and other lay persons delivered weekly sermons and mid-week Bible studies,” she continues. “We never missed a beat! It has been two years of spiritual growth for individuals and corporate growth for the congregation. Without a doubt, we learned that ‘teamwork makes the dream work’ that began with the vision of our late Pastor Daniels.”
Enter Jonathan Mitchell
After seven years of shepherding Kirby Avenue Church of God in Muncie, Indiana, Jonathan Mitchell accepted the call to succeed the late Pastor James Daniels in San Antonio. His background in the Hoosier State not only prepared him for the role in Texas, but also left a legacy upon which others can build in Muncie. Community involvement will be paramount to Pastor Jonathan’s ministry in Texas, as in Muncie this reality was abundantly clear. Six years on the board of directors (one as president and one as vice president) for Christian Ministries of Delaware County, he helped bring temporary shelter, energy and food assistance, and more to “reach the needy in their time of need.”
Other roles in neighborhood associations, charities, clergy groups, and civic groups—like Muncie’s transportation system—resulted in more efficient processes and specific and visible improvements to local society. Even government and local agencies weren’t immune to the influence of Pastor Mitchell’s leadership; when city government, including the police department, came under tremendous scrutiny (leading ultimately to indictments and convictions), Pastor Mitchell helped bring real stability.
“The resulting turmoil left us under a cloud,” Jonathan recounts, “as we dealt with manpower issues and diversity matters. I thank God that we as a commission were able to work with the incoming chief to help stabilize the department, implement reforms, and prioritize diversity. So, leaving Muncie was very difficult for me. The term bittersweet never meant so much as it did when I began this process of transferring to San Antonio. Kirby Avenue is home to some of the sweetest saints I know of. I do miss them terribly. I also know that my commitment to God also includes being obedient to his will for my life; and that includes going where and when he calls.”
Thankfully, San Antonio also has an element of home to it. Jonathan Mitchell is grateful for family members who live in the area, including some who attend New Beginnings. He even preached at the church upon the late former pastor’s invitation in 2015, and enjoys the memories of a forty-plus-year history with Pastor Daniels.
“When I was asked to come to San Antonio, I was very mindful of legacy,” Pastor Jonathan explains. “Dr. Daniels left an indelible legacy at New Beginnings. His emphasis on prayer and family are palpable in the spirit of the congregation…. As the new pastor, I will continue to emphasize the power of prayer. And for those ministries that find themselves in similar circumstances, I would say based on the example of this ministry, trust God, pray often, and regularly, and don’t rush your process!”
Church of God Ministries extends condolences to those congregations and families who lost pastors to the pandemic. Sadly, in the midst of the COVID-19 crisis, other headlines overshadowed the loss of leaders leaving behind laudable legacies—and grieving congregations. May God grant each of you peace and spiritual prosperity in the days, weeks, months, and years to come!
Learn more about the Church of God movement at www.JesusIsTheSubject.org.
Feature (top) photo: Leaders gather to anoint and pray for Jonathan Mitchell at his installation service (and church relaunch) on May 15, 2022.