In 1999, thirteen-year-old QuanTez Pressley heard a powerful sermon that would have a profound impact on his young life. The sermon was titled “Enlarging My Territory” and was preached at Second Timothy Missionary Baptist Church’s revival by Dr. E.L. Branch, senior pastor of Third New Hope Baptist Church on the city’s west side. At the time, Pressley was a junior deacon at Second Timothy, located on Detroit’s east side.
“In the middle part of that sermon,” recalled Pressley. “I was taken aback by Pastor Branch’s ability to interrogate the scripture and make profound truths simply understood. I said at that moment that I wanted to be just like him when I grow up.”
Two decades later, Pressley’s “territory has been enlarged,” after the 34-year-old was recently installed as lead pastor of Third New Hope (TNH), succeeding his boyhood influencer, Dr. Branch, who retired December 31, 2019 after serving 42 years as TNH’s senior pastor.
The installation service was held virtually because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, some TNH leaders, members of the clergy around the city, family and friends of Pressley were in the sanctuary to witness and celebrate the new era of leadership at Third New Hope. However, all who were present practiced strict COVID protocol for the indoor gathering.
Dr. Branch delivered a powerful in-person installation sermon, as Pressley and his wife, First Lady Aishah Pressley, looked on in awe of what the ceremony meant to their lives, the future of Third New Hope, the greater community and beyond.
The live streamed installation service, held the last weekend of October under the spiritual banner theme, “Celebrating What God Has Done!” included a musical celebration, a tag-team pre-installation sermon by J.C. Howard, senior pastor, House of Hope Macon (Macon, Georgia) and Willie D. Francois III, senior pastor, Mount Zion Baptist Church (Pleasantville, New Jersey). The installation weekend also included a personal biographical video profile of Pressley.
While Pressley’s road from junior deacon at Second Timothy Baptist to lead pastor of Third New Hope was 21 years in the making, his steps to ministry began auspiciously as a youngster.
“When I was a young kid, people called me ‘Rev. Wannabe’ and when I preached my first sermon at 14, they called me ‘Rev. Gonnabe,’ ” Pressley said with a laugh. “After preaching that first sermon, I recognized that ministry was indeed a destined call that God had on my life.”
Pressley, who was born and raised in Detroit, learned that even with God’s calling, there are winding roads and barriers that one must navigate and overcome to reach goals. After graduating from Renaissance High School with honors, Pressley attended Morehouse College, where he majored in religion, with a minor in political science. At Morehouse, Pressley was appointed chief of staff for the Student Government Association, appointed student advisor to Morehouse’s president, sang in the college’s storied glee club, and pledged Omega Psi Phi.
As he advanced through his college years, Pressley said his focus in religion shifted.
“Towards my senior year in college, I became a bit disenchanted with church life,” he said. “I found myself trying to find other ways to explore gifts that God had given me. I started to engage in politics. I figured at a certain point that would be the lane that God would place me in.”
After graduating from Morehouse, Pressley returned to Detroit, where he served as chief of staff for the Detroit City Council President. Pressley subsequently worked as state director of Community Schools, overseeing more than 200 community schools in Michigan.
In 2010, Pressley reintroduced himself to Dr. Branch at a fall revival held at Third New Hope on Detroit’s west side. The two men formed a “mentee-mentor” relationship, which led to Pressley becoming TNH’s youth pastor. In 2015, Dr. Branch was influential in Pressley’s decision to attend Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York (Columbia University). After graduating with a master’s degree in divinity and Christian social ethics, Pressley returned to Detroit and was appointed associate pastor of Third New Hope under Dr. Branch.
When Dr. Branch retired on the last day of 2019, Pressley, after a series of church members’ input and votes, became lead pastor on January 1, 2020.
“We had initially planned for the installation to take place on the last Sunday in May of this year,” Pressley said. “But once the COVID pandemic took hold in March and all the experts agreed this pandemic might be with us until the end of 2021, we thought it was no longer reasonable for us to delay the installation.”
Pressley is pleased with how the transition of pastors at Third New Hope has gone.
“Some would presume that to follow someone like Dr. Branch, who has been senior pastor of a church for over four decades, would be intimidating, if not overwhelming,” said Pressley. “But actually the opposite is true in the sense that there is no other person that I could have imagined engaging in this transition with other than Dr. E.L. Branch.”
“There are many things that I see as great attributes in Lead Pastor Pressley,” said Dr. Branch, who is now pastor emeritus at TNH and leads E.L. Branch Ministries based in Chicago. “He has initiative, drive and the ability to take on and overcome challenges. He has done a remarkable job at Third New Hope, especially considering how he has led the church in the COVID-19 pandemic. I prayed about the direction that I wanted to go and sought God’s will as to who would follow me at Third New Hope. Lead Pastor QuanTez Pressley is the one that the Lord had in mind.”