Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Phil Cousin departs St. Joseph AME to begin journey back to Durham

He left before the people had a chance to say goodbye. Members at the congregation, where he served as pastor since 1992, are still crying after the decision was made to reassign him to a historic church in San Francisco.  His departure was swift.

Sort of like a thief in the night.

Reverend Philip R. Cousin, Jr. ended his tenure as pastor of St. Joseph AME Church last week.  He immediately took the reign at Bethel AME Church, San Francisco’s oldest black church, founded in 1852.  His departure from Durham ends a long season of faithful service to the church and broader community.

Some will remember Cousin as the son a great bishop.  His father once served as the pastor of the same church.  Many remembered Phil Jr. before he grew up to become a minister.  He was a child of the church he served.  His faith was nurtured within a community raised under the powerful teachings of his father.

“They say a prophet is no honor in his own home,” Cousin says. “I’ve been able to receive honor in my own home.  I received honor as pastor in the church I grew up, and I was able to lead in the city where I grew up.”

Cousin was educated in the Durham Public School System before attending the University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill.  From there, Cousin attended divinity school at Duke – back to Durham.  It always felt like Durham was the place he belonged.

“I will continue to keep my house here,” Cousin says.  “I’m going, but I’m not leaving.”

Cousin wasn’t able to say goodbye to the members at St. Joseph AME before he left.  The church celebrated their annual pastor appreciation before heading to the conference on his first Sunday in San Francisco.  Pastors in the AME tradition never get a chance to say goodbye.  While they celebrated their pastor back in Durham, he was saying hello to his new congregation.

Maybe it helps that Cousin plans to return someday. 

“70 is looking more attractive,” Cousin said when asked when he would retire.  “My wife says I may make it to 75.”

Cousin said he felt like a visitor after preaching his first sermon at Bethel AME.  Time will change all of that.  It always does.  He preached from II Kings 4 about leaving one place to develop new relationships. 

Cousin says San Francisco is Durham on a larger scale.  The area surrounding the church has transformed from a community once populated by mostly blacks to a blend of blacks, Hispanics, Asians and Russians. 

“For the church to survive it must look like the community where it lives,” Cousin says.

Cousin has watched Durham grow and change. He served as a member of the Board of Education and as a member of the Board of County Commissioners.  His departure leaves vacant his position as chairman of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People.  Cousin says the DCABP will be left in good hands.

“The real work of the DCABP is with the subcommittees,” Cousin says. “If the general body will not get in the way and bind down and micromanage the subcommittees, the change will be fine.”

“Durham is the best place to live in the entire world,” Cousin says.  “I’ve watched it grow with the DPAC coming in and the emergence of the Hayti Center.  Durham will continue to grow.”

Phil Cousin, Jr. came to St. Joseph AME as the son of a man who would become a bishop.  He learned to serve without the support of the family that helped him grow up. Along the way, he ran and won seats on both the Board of Education and Board of County Commissioners. 

“The people at St. Joseph allowed me to lead.  The people of Durham allowed me to lead in public office,” Cousin says.  Both are gifts he cherishes.  “I thank everyone for allowing me to lead.”

Cousin wasn’t allowed to say goodbye.  He never has.  Bethel AME is the seventh church he has been called to lead.  He has never said goodbye.  It seems different this time. 

It’s not goodbye. It’s more like we will see you later.  Durham is home.  It always will be.

Cousin has a house in Durham to prove his love for the place that will always be home sweet home.

We’ll see you later Rev.

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