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The top leadership position of the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit & Vicinity (COBAP) has changed, as former President Rev. Dr. Steve Bland Jr. recently passed the torch to Rev. Richard R. White III. In doing so, Bland completed his three-year “term-limited” presidency that began in January 2020.
“It is with great honor and deep humility that I come to the close of my administration, having led you as President of the Council of Baptist Pastors of Detroit & Vicinity,” Bland told COBAP members in his final address as president. “I pause to thank each of you who supported and embraced the leadership our God allowed me to provide this esteemed body and our greater Detroit community and beyond.”
Bland’s leadership came at a critical time in the organization’s five-plus decade history. Less than two months after Bland’s January 2020 installation, the COVID-19 pandemic was declared nationally, disrupting every aspect of society. With the pandemic disproportionately affecting African Americans, Detroit, an overwhelmingly Black city with more than 4,000 Black churches, was negatively impacted by the deadly virus. In essence, COVID-19 wreaked havoc in Detroit’s African American communities, and Black churches were not immune. In-person church worship services, events, and other faith-based activities were halted amid church closures either temporarily or permanently.
“The pandemic showed that many preachers were more theology than technology,” Bland told the Chronicle. “When the pandemic hit, many churches suddenly couldn’t engage person-to-person. The Council worked hard to get pastors engaged in embracing new methods and technology to communicate with their congregations.”
According to a COBAP report listing many of Bland’s accomplishments as president, his leadership was lauded for helping the Council’s actionable approach to combatting the pandemic in the Black community. Bland and COBAP facilitated ways to provide and distribute free COVID test kits and PPE equipment such as masks, gloves, and hand sanitizer to COBAP pastors and churches; created ongoing partnerships in the Black community urging residents to get the vaccine; started a daily weekday radio program addressing COVID-only issues; and established church food distribution sites in partnership with Forgotten Harvest.
“I don’t think anyone was prepared for COVID…we didn’t see it coming,” said Rev. Dr. Genetta Y. Hatcher, COBAP’s Economic Development Committee co-chair and Senior Pastor of The Room Church in Detroit. “ I believe Dr. Bland was sent to this Council for such a time as this. His leadership was impeccable, and he had the passion for getting things done during this pandemic. He cared about the people in communities across the city.”
Comprised of more than 300 members – pastors, assistant pastors, ministers, Christian educators, and evangelists – COBAP, a non-profit organization, has often been “the definitive answer” to the proverbial question in times of crisis for disenfranchised people: Where is the Church?
“One of the things that I sought to do as president was to lift the banner and standard of the Council’s image in our community to a higher level,” Bland said. “The agenda I set was for the Council to be ‘the salt of the earth and the light of the world’ that the Bible talks about. As the voice of the Black Church corporately in the Black community, we are instrumental in helping resolve and deal with many issues that affect people.”
Beyond the four walls of the Baptist church, Bland is credited with rendering stellar leadership to COBAP to tackle issues centered on voting rights and empowerment, legal challenges to redistricting, civil and human rights, and the social justice movement, which included working with the Detroit NAACP for a criminal justice reform response to George Floyd’s murder.
“Dr. Bland did an outstanding job as our president,” said Rev. Dr. James C. Perkins, Chair of the Council’s Social Justice Commission under Bland, and recently retired as Senior Pastor of Greater Christ Baptist Church in Detroit after 42 years. “He kept us together during the pandemic, brought in younger pastors, left us in the black financially, and greatly improved the influence of the Council politically and involving social justice matters.”
“My theme as Council president was, ‘Looking forward, going further, climbing higher,’ ” said Bland. “From that, I began visualizing ways that I could be the leader to move the Council’s mission forward to become more community-engaged, even though historically, the Council has had a sustained presence in the community and has been a voice for the voiceless on a myriad of issues impacting folk socially, politically, economically, educationally and in areas of health and wellness.”
While Bland’s tenure as COBAP’s president has ended, he will now serve as senior advisor to newly installed President Richard R. White III, senior pastor of Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Detroit.
“Rev. White is not new to the Council, and he’s not new to the work,” Hatcher said. “He has watched and served well as the Council’s First Vice President under Dr. Bland, whose leadership took things to another level. I believe Rev. White is poised to lead us to the next place where we need to be.”