By David Scott
Rev Earl James Ward remembers answering two major calls to service as a Marine and a Minister. He is the new pastor at Star Bethel Baptist Church where he gave the prayer of blessings on his newest neighbor, The Vital Life Services HIV/AIDS Center which now occupies the building formerly owned by Your Black Muslim Bakery.
His church, located at 5800 San Pablo Avenue in Oakland, also owns other parcels along that commercial strip.
Ward answered the call to serve his country as a Marine when he fought in the Vietnam War from 1966-1968. He said, “God saved my life so I could preach the Gospel.”
“I was in enemy fire, when I fell into a Pungee Pit, which is a deep pit with razor sharp bamboo tips at the bottom with a reputation for instant death. I thank God that my rifle jammed in the side of a bamboo stick which saved my life. After spending 3 months in the hospital I had a new outlook on life.”
In 1980 Ward answered another call to preach the gospel from the church where he said many of the charter members of the Black Panther Party had once belonged.
Ward recounted some stories of his service in Prison Ministry where he met a convicted cop killer that he had been avoiding. Then when they finally met he says he was frightened and admitted to the prisoner that he was avoiding him. The inmate reassured Ward that his life had now changed because he had accepted Jesus Christ as his Lord and savior.
He was born in New Orleans in 1946 to mother Hattie Johnson, a gospel singer, musician, and step-father LaSalle Johnson. His family moved to Oakland in 1953 and joined Star Bethel Baptist, which at that time was the fastest growing church in the east bay.
He said the church was first organized in 1938 in the home of Sister Evans with only 10 members. They purchased a building on 7th and Center Streets in the heart of the area that was known as the commerce capital for black owned businesses, and Star Bethel today, as a landlord, is still in the heart of a bustling business area. In 1964 Ward graduated from McClymonds High School where he played in the Band. He majored in Business Administration at the College of Alameda.
He graduated from Sacramento Theological Seminary with his Masters in 2004 and with his Doctor of Theology in 2005. He has 9 brothers and 5 sisters.
In May 14,2008, Ward was voted as the Senior Pastor after serving as Pastor J.L. Hudson’s assistant.
Ward is proud of the Men’s Ministry, The Brotherhood ,which reaches out to young men at risk in the neighborhood. They meet every other Tuesday at 6:00p.m.
Pastor Ward says he has a debt-free church. He said the church will build a gymnasium for the youth of the community.
“ I want to get the youngsters off the street and have a place they can play in peace and also introduce them to Christ at the same time.
Star Bethel Owns Jinny Beauty Supply, an apartment building, and a Karate Studio on San Pablo Ave. My vision is to fill this church up and be relevant to our community.”
Pastor Ward serves as the 3rd Vice President of the Bay Cities Baptist Ministers Union.