By K. Levek
There are many community churches in Washington, D.C., but there’s one that strives to be a cut above the rest. With two locations, but one body, Brighter Day Ministries is ready to serve the Ward 8 community.
Ernest D. Lyles, Sr. heads serves as their Senior Pastor/Overseer of one church in two locations. The church’s two locations are the A.P. Shaw campus at 2525 12th St. SE. the Congress Heights campus located at 421 Alabama Ave. SE. Having grown up in Ward 8, Pastor Lyles is familiar with the community he serves.
Lyles was born in SW, but as a baby his family relocated to southeast’s Stanton Dwellings and he went on to attend Turner, Greene and Moten Elementary Schools. Lyles recalls his principal at Johnson Jr. High, Greta Mercherson Shepard, creating a lasting impact on his life and would later on name one of his projects after her.
As a young man Lyles began attending A.P. Shaw United Methodist Church and became involved in many church activities where he was elected as chairperson to the church’s administrative board. Later he was selected as an assistant pastor of the church while he was attending Howard University’s School of Divinity.
In 1984 Pastor Lyles was appointed by Bishop Wertz to serve as the senior pastor of Asbury and Mt. Zion United Methodist Church’s in Jefferson County, West Virginia (near Harper’s Ferry). From 1984 until 2004 Lyles served those churches as their pastor.
In 2004 Lyles was asked to return to his home church of A.P. Shaw to serve as their senior pastor and in 2006 he was asked to take over as senior pastor of the then-separate Congress Heights United Methodist Church. He served as senior pastor of both churches for the next three years and in 2009 they merged as one.
In 2010 Pastor Lyles renamed the churches Brighter Day United Methodist Church, also known as Brighter Day Ministries. Pastor Lyles said the churches merged to build the congregation that had dwindled while he was away in West Virginia. He said he received a vision from God one Sunday as he sat in church. The choir was singing a song “There is a Brighter Day Ahead” and there the vision for his new church’s name was birthed.
Pastor Llyes said, “It doesn’t matter how bad your current situation may be, there is a brighter day ahead.” With that vision in mind Lyles new ministries began to grow out of the church like the establishment of the Back to School Community Festival, summer academic camp, food bank and clothing drive and the advocating for affordable housing and supporting the homeless.
Since the merge the church has seen exponential growth and has been heavily involved in the local community. 30-year member of the church Nate Howard said, “We look at our church as agents in the community. We are effective because so many people are in our weekly bible studies. We remain a vital, vibrant and visible congregation.” Howard is just one of many of the church’s members who echo that sentiment about the great work the church does in the community.
The church’s weekly food bank and clothing drive serves on average 80 local residents weekly. People can donate slightly used clothing to the clothing drive and bring food for the for the residents in need. Their summer academic camp hosts an average of 100 students during the summer and their summer back to school community festival has grown every year, last year drawing nearly 400 residents out to the parking lot of Giant, where it is held. The church also gives away book bags during their summer festival, last year giving 1,000 away loaded with school supplies for elementary and middle school students.
Helping those in need is nothing new to Brighter Day Ministries. Every Thursday the church hosts a Life Recovery Group for people who need assistance with recovery issues like substance abuse. More than that the church has made itself available to be a refuge to those in need.
Michael Walker is a member of the church and said that Brighter Day was his first stop when he got out of jail. “I was incarcerated for 15 years and when I came home this was my first stop. I want people to know that this is a church that is open and people have a place to go.” Walker is a originally from Memphis, TN, but has called D.C. his home since 1980 and credits not leaving the area due to his active church life with Brighter Day Ministries.
Pastor Lyles has said that the church is focused on training up its members to be the change the community needs. During a recent service at the church three members were recognized for becoming certified Lay Ministers and a consecration service will be held to formally welcome them. Wesley Jackson is one of the three members who will be consecrated as a Lay Minister. He said he is excited about this “next step in my journey.” Originally from the Caribbean Island of St. Vincent, he moved to Washington, D.C. 18 years ago and has been a member of the church for the last 16 years.
Jackson has been involved in many of the churches activities from, Sunday school teacher, church treasurer, chairing the financial management committee and bible study teaching. However he said he always sought more. “I opened up myself to the Lord and asked him to direct me and this is the way he lead me,” said Jackson about joining the ministry.
Jackson said the process to become a Lay Minister was a two-year process, whereby he went through a formal discipleship academy under the United Methodist Church conference. Through the academy he learned about the “life” of the church, history of the Methodist church, order of services and other intense training that would prepare him to lead. As a Lay Minister he will now assist Pastor Lyles with visiting sick members, preaching and teaching and any other assistance the pastor may need.
Another initiative Pastor Lyles has instituted is an annual Contributors Appreciation Fellowship. This fellowship allows the church to celebrate those members (and non-members) who have tithed significant amounts into the church and their ministries. This year the church celebrated its second annual fellowship with the Jazz in the Sanctuary Band, with the event held at the Congress Heights Campus. Over 115 members of the church were honored with contributing between $1,000 and over $15,000 to the church in the 2012 year. Pastor Lyles said the ceremony is done to help celebrate giving and inspire members to continue to give.
Not only is the church focused on training and honoring its current membership, but they are also invested in two global ministry projects that are helping people abroad. There is the El Shaddai International non-profit, where Pastor Lyles is the President/Executive Director that has two ongoing projects in Ghana and Senegal of West Africa. The Ghanaian project is building an elementary school near the capital of Accra and the Senegalese project is building a women’s skill center, where local women can come to get training on skills needed to be self-sufficient. Their Senegal project also hosts a micro-credit program so that entrepreneurs can get financing to build their own businesses.
With so many ongoing church activities, it may be hard to imagine any new ventures that Pastor Lyles may want to venture into. However he is always looking forward. Pastor Lyles said that he envisions his church having a Mission Center at one of the two campuses where he can have an expanded food pantry and clothing bank. The mission center will be open daily and provide a hot free meal to those in need, offer emergency housing assistance, a mentoring program, help provide housing for veterans and expand the summer academic camp from six to eight weeks long.
Lyles said what he enjoys most are the members who share and support his vision. “We are not a mega church, but we have people here with a mega heart and we have a mega impact on the Ward 8 community.”