Rev. Stewart: From Death Row to Pulpit

By Tasion
Kwamilele

“Preach the Word” - II Timothy 4: 1-4 “God has placed me in a position of uncharted territory. He has also revealed his abiding presence, his unfailing power and his unsearchable wisdom to accomplish the work that he has ordained’ said Rev. Charles J. Stewart, who was recently installed as pastor of St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church by Rev. John H. Green. Photos by Joe Fisher and graphic by Adam L. Turner.

Many adults would say that one of the biggest obstacles in bringing about change is connecting to today’s generation.  Rev. Charles Stewart, newly installed pastor of St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church, believes he is able to overcome the hurdle.
After serving as a Navy officer for six years and more than 20 years as a correctional officer, he says he knows the system and how to truly touch the lives of ordinary people.
A native of Albany, Georgia, Rev. Stewart lost his father at a very young age. His great-grandmother helped to fill that void as she instilled knowledge and wisdom that has stuck with him for his entire life.
“I always had this appreciation for a higher being and always acknowledged God no matter where I went,” he said.
Rev. Stewart relocated to the Bay Area in 1976 after an honorable discharge from the Navy. Two years later, he joined St. Luke MBC. Rev. Stewart did not immediately jump into the ministry of preaching. For 23 years, he served as a correctional officer in the California prison system, working primarily at San Quentin Penitentiary.
While he worked in many capacities at the prison, he especially recalls working with prisoners on “Condemned Row,” more widely known as Death Row.
“I always presented myself in a manner where I gave respect to the prisoners, and they would give it to me in return. I would transport the late Stanley Tookie Williams, and I remember he talked about making a difference in the lives of young men that would help them make positive choices,” Rev. Stewart said.  “I always could detect a sense of remorse, but he never seemed to worry about what he couldn’t change; he was worried about making a positive contribution for the future”.
Soon after that conversation, Rev. Stewart began feeling the call, and in December 1995, he preached his first sermon.  Now, 15 years later, he is the pastor of the church that has played an integral role in his personal spiritual life.
“I have been to a lot of churches but St. Luke, by far, is the most loving church I have encountered in my life,” he said.
The strong leadership of the former pastor provided St. Luke and Rev. Stewart with a solid foundation to work from and make changes according to God’s will. “I am working with a mission that motivates people to pray in the heart, study in the mind and work with the hands,” he said.
While the teaching of God’s words is the most important, Rev. Stewart is a believer that it must be applied, and the real change starts beyond the four walls of the church and inside of homes. He notes that while many issues are picked up in the streets, they continue to grow if the homes are not strong enough to push the negativity away.
He also has a special place in his heart for the youth, and St. Luke is developing more programs to target young people in the surrounding communities.
“I like to be around the youth, feel their heart beat,” he said. “We do not need them to understand us. We need to understand them. Then, we can build them stronger and make them competitive in the world that we are living in.”
For information about St. Luke Missionary Baptist Church, call (510) 234-7972 or visit a Sunday service at 165 South 7th St. in Richmond.