By Galen Holley/Daily Journal
TUPELO – The Rev. Bert Harper has stepped down from the pulpit at West Jackson Street Baptist Church in Tupelo in order to take a position with the American Family Association.
Harper will become the first director of family life and pastoral ministries at AFA, the Tupelo-based Christian nonprofit for which he has served as a board member for more than 20 years.
Harper announced his decision to the 1,500-member congregation during services on Sunday.
“This is an opportunity that Jan and I have been praying for, to serve together in this type of ministry,” said the 59-year-old Harper, speaking of his wife of 37 years who will work alongside him in his new endeavor.
Harper initially came on board at West Jackson Street as the youth minister in 1979. After serving briefly at Ingomar Baptist Church he returned as West Jackson Street’s senior pastor in 1983.
“Brother Bert is a man of unquestionable integrity, who’s always had a knack for applying the Bible’s teachings to current situations. I’ve been proud to call him my friend and pastor,” said Phillip Jamieson, a member of West Jackson Street who has known Harper during his entire tenure.
Couples’ ministry has always been a passion of Harper’s, and it will be the basis of his full-time work at AFA. He and his wife will travel to cities where American Family Radio has affiliates and conduct marriage retreats.
Harper described the retreats as affirmations of the holiness of marriage, a message that needs to be heard, he said, in a culture in which traditional marriage and values are under attack.
At tonight’s meeting Harper will step down as chairman of the 12-member AFA board of directors, a position to which he was elected two years ago when AFA founder, the Rev. Don Wildmon, resigned after a prolonged illness.
The board will begin looking for another, non-employee to fill the chair. According to the Rev. Marc Howard, director of missions for the Lee-Itawamba Baptist Association, West Jackson Street will likely fill the pulpit with an interim while a search committee convenes to begin the search for a new pastor.
“My time at West Jackson Street has been a tremendous blessing,” said Harper. He and his wife’s first retreat is scheduled for Pearl in February.