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HAMPTON — Rev. Michael Golden Jr. remembers some lean times growing up on the Peninsula.
Days when the lights were disconnected and stayed off. Days when there was no running water. Days when he had no backpack for school or only one outfit to wear.
His parents, who started a church in 1996, struggled to make ends meet, Golden recalls. He was grateful, but these experiences also were a catalyst.
“I asked the Lord and I said, ‘If you ever bring me out of this, I will make sure that I touch as many people in my current situation,’” Golden recalled saying when he about 8 or 9 years old.
Golden now leads that church his parents began, the Greater Emmanuel Temple. It has two locations: one on North King Street in Hampton and one in Suffolk that opened in 2019. The churches, with a congregation exceeding 500 members, are among several churches in the region under the Church of God in Christ faith-based organization.
Last month, the 41-year-old pastor was appointed its newest bishop, one of the youngest among 300 bishops in the organization worldwide. The Christian-centered denomination, with a predominantly African American congregation, has some 6.5 million members. He stepped into the role his father Michael Golden, Sr. and his grandfather the late Bishop Samuel L. Green held.
While his day-to-day role won’t change much, Golden sees his appointment as extra responsibility: how best to use his influence to better help his fellow brothers and sisters, to help empower pastors across this region and how he can use this appointment to improve the lives of the emotionally and psychologically distressed.
“It was first an honor. It was a legitimizing of a legacy,” Golden said. “But it was also a burden. It’s a burden that I readily accept and look forward to carrying.”
Golden started early in life on this path receiving his calling midway through adolescence. When his parents started Greater Emmanuel, Golden assisted as needed quickly becoming the organization’s youngest ordained elder. Moving up as co-pastor alongside his dad, the younger Golden lead the Men’s Department and began to build on community engagement.
In 2011, Golden became the senior pastor. Embracing his service, Golden turned his passion into action to help the less fortunate in his community. He ultimately started a nonprofit, creating a food pantry, hosting turkey giveaways and organized backpack giveaways for school children at Boo Williams Sportsplex, things that caught the eye of pastoral leadership within the organization.
“(Michael) has worked tirelessly and has done a tremendous job of being a leafiest in the Church of God in Christ,” said the organization’s presiding bishop, Rev. J. Drew Sheard in an email. “He is one of our most valuable assets to our entire denomination. We have high hopes for (him) as this is just the beginning.”
Sheard added thathe is happy to see Golden continue to add positive programs like his grandfather did. Former presiding bishop Rev. Charles Blake said he appointed Golden because of his community work and bridging the generations to keep the organization on the forefront of technology.
Greater Emmanuel Temple has been a fixture in Hampton for 25 years. The church’s has dozens of ministries and auxiliaries, some bundled under the “Urban Initiative.” The work focuses on outreach efforts for financial literacy, social services, family improvement and development and looking at how to stop incarceration rates, he said. Under his watch, his church started the GET Empowered Community Development Corporation, a registered nonprofit, which has made strides toward building more affordable housing in the region.
Hampton’s housing & neighborhood services manager Jonathan McBride said in an email Golden has been a “valuable community partner,” and has worked with Hampton in the Tyler-Seldendale and Old Hampton sections, supporting the city’s home repair blitz programs and other community work with Tyler Elementary School.
“I wish him all the best in his new role,” said McBride.
Golden has a family, including wife Trina and three children, Michael, 17, Malaya, 14 and Samuel, 4. His demanding schedule, he often finds himself up until the wee hours of the morning in front of his computer. Among projects on the burner is finding a larger space for the Hampton church and finishing his graduate degree in divinity at Virginia Union University. Golden also has a bachelor’s degree in theology from the Norfolk Seminary and College.
The church’s ministry, some born from Golden’s experiences, will be built on excellence, especially that African American men can be excellent, “that we care about our families, and that we care about the greater good.”
The bishop added, the community doesn’t want a handout but a level playing field. With respect to the turmoil happening in many communities, the challenge is not to only tell youth what not to do, but to inform them of what they are capable of, he said.
“This is decades and decades of unfair treatment and posturing,” he said. " If we want to change it, we’re going to have to coalesce, we’re going to have to collaborate, the church, the community and legislators, and we’re going to have to come up with a plan we take to the urban centers, the inner city, and we have to put it in their language.”
Lisa Vernon Sparks covers Hampton for the Daily Press. Originally from New York, she has held staff writer stints at Providence Journal and Newark Star-Ledger covering local government, education, business and features. She holds writing awards from the Rhode Island and Virginia press associations as well as the Society of Professional Journalists.
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