By K. Levek
Israel Baptist Church in NE Washington, DC, is led by Reverend Doctor Morris Lee Shearin, Sr. The church, which sits on the hill of Saratoga Ave. NE, is just off of Rhode Island Ave. in the Brentwood neighborhood. In the community since 1880, the Israel Baptist Church provides a place for Christian worship that embodies compassion and community partnering. It is a place flourishing with activity that celebrates the strength of family and the advantages of social and restorative justice in our community. On November 14, 2010 the church celebrated its 130th church anniversary and the 22nd pastoral anniversary of Rev. Dr. Shearin, Sr.
Dr. Shearin is from North Carolina from the Gaston Township in the county of North Hampton. He grew up there and was called to the ministry in his adolescent years. He attended Shaw University earning his Bachelors degree in Philosophy and later went on to obtain a Master’s in Divinity in North Carolina and a Doctorate of Divinity from Howard University.
On a trip up to D.C. from North Carolina for the annual Howard University convocation, a friend of Dr. Shearin’s, Willie Adams told him about Israel Baptist Church, a brand new church that was recently built. The former pastor, Raymond R. Robinson, spent 15 years building the brand new facility on Saratoga Ave. NE, but passed two months after the congregation moved into the church; so the church was in search for a new head pastor. Dr. Shearin told his friend “aint no way a church like this would call a country boy from North Carolina to be the pastor.” Out of 88 applicants four were shortlisted and the Dr. Shearin was one of them. He said, “I don’t know how that happened! I had not planned on even being considered out of all the applicants.” He went to the church to give his trial sermon and out of the four short-listed candidates he was selected.
In 1988 Dr. Shearin took over as senior pastor of the church. “When I got here the church was up to a million dollars in debt trying to pay off the mortgage,” he said. Under his leadership the church paid off its mortgage and accumulating debt in 1994, in four years and six months. “We have certainly made strides over the years and want to continue making more,” Dr. Shearin said. Immediately thereafter the church began looking for property around the ward that the church could develop, seeing a need for various services in the community.
In 1996 Dr. Shearin created Israel Manor, Inc. a non-profit faith-based organization, to expand the mission of Israel Baptist Church. One thing that immediately stuck out to Dr. Shearin was the number of health care professionals that were members of his congregation. “We have retired doctors, nurses and others healthcare members in our church. We have been able to serve as a source for healthcare advocacy based upon our membership.”
Israel Baptist soon began vaccinating people in the community and people from all over the world. Through the church, the congregation has been able to vaccinate people from more than 58 countries around the world. Along with the vaccinations the church began educating the community on health prevention and awareness.
Dr. Shearin noted how heath education and awareness were keen to him because of his own health scare. He was diagnosed with prostate cancer and went to Houston, TX for eight weeks of treatment. Attending the Anderson Cancer Research Center, he became close with the chaplain and began to pray for others who were there receiving cancer treatment. “I met a lot of people while I was there and I became an advocate for health,” he said.
Meeting people from around the world with different types of cancers had a lasting impression on Dr. Shearin. Moreover, his cancer had gone into remission so he also became a strong advocate for the center, often recommending the facility to friends who suffered from prostate cancer. “I told everyone I knew who had any form of cancer about the Anderson facility and those who went survived,” he said. One of the largest cancer research facilities in the country, he knew first-hand the quality of service the center could provide and was grateful for the time he spent there. “That experience was a tipping point for me in my life and has shaped the way I view health education today.”
Dr. Shearin said he has more to do with healthcare awareness. “It’s not over. There is more work that we can and will do with God’s help,” he said. Partnering with other healthcare-based community organizations, the church plans to continue its legacy of healthcare awareness. Serving Israel Baptist for over 20 years, Dr. Shearin is excited about the future of the church and the blessings God has in store for the church and the greater community.