The Rev. Greg Moss, one of Charlotte’s most prominent activist pastors, is stepping down after 17 years at St. Paul’s Baptist Church.
Sunday was his last official day leading the 5,000-member African-American church in the Belmont neighborhood. And Moss, who will turn 60 in January, offered parting words from the pulpit that he has vacated for months because of what he called unspecified “health challenges.”
“Brothers and sisters,” Moss told those crowded into the sanctuary. “Be kind, hold fast to a missional spirit and don’t let anybody take us backwards.”
Then Moss, who has made advocacy for have-nots and minorities the hallmarks at his church, added this with Election Day on the horizon: “And get off your lazy behinds and vote.”
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This was the same Moss who, in 2012, counseled congregants to make up their own minds whom to vote for in the presidential race, then unbuttoned his jacket to reveal his own choice. The front of his T-shirt read “OMG. Obama’s My Guy.” The reaction: Cheers and a standing ovation. After the service, the pastor jumped on a motorcycle and led a caravan to the polls to vote.
“I still support the president,” Moss said during an interview Sunday.
In his time at St. Paul’s, Moss helped lead and make space available in the church for H.E.L.P. – short for Helping Empower Local People. That grassroots group no longer exists, but Moss said he and others are launching a similar effort, called Advance Carolina.
“There’s still much work to be done here in Charlotte,” he said. “We’re probably more segregated that we were in the 1950s, in some ways.”
Moss and some members of his church also recalled Sunday that St. Paul’s started a homeless community on the church lawn that included members of the church volunteering to sleep in boxes on one New Year’s Eve. The church invited homeless women in for manicures and to “buy” wardrobes using church-printed “money.”
Also among the highlights mentioned by the pastor and his flock: Moss’ decision to travel the country visiting college students from members’ families.
“I’d take them to dinner and see how they were doing because a lot of times their parents couldn’t go,” he said. “So I would. It did my heart good and kept me young.”
Moss has had a high profile outside Charlotte, too. He’s past president of the General Baptist State Convention of North Carolina, with a membership of 1,600 African-American churches.
More recently, he’s been the national president of the Lott Carey Foreign Mission Convention, which partners with indigenous communities and leaders around the world.
Perhaps his biggest fan is 99-year-old Gertrude Hamilton, a member at St. Paul’s for 32 years. She said she’d always wanted a son, so Moss “adopted me” as a mom.
“Excellent preacher. And he’s spoken up for civil rights for people in need,” she said Sunday. “He’s just a great guy. You can’t beat Greg Moss.”
Patricia Gilmore, who chairs the Women’s Day Committee at the church, said she and other members are sad at Moss’ departure but are convinced that God has more for him to do in another capacity.
“I understand his reasoning because I am a pastor’s daughter,” she said of Moss’ health concerns. “And my (father) didn’t chose to live when he had health issues. But I am so glad that my pastor now understands that he has to take care of himself first so he can finish God’s work.”
A search committee will soon begin looking for a new pastor. Until then, the Rev. J.D. Ballard, a mentor to Moss, will be the interim.
St. Paul’s will officially say goodbye to Moss on Nov. 13, with a 7 p.m. celebration at Embassy Suites Hotel, 5400 John Q. Hammons Drive NW.
Moss says he’s not sure what his next chapter will be or even whether he will stay in Charlotte.
“I’m waiting on God,” he said. “But I’m excited about the possibilities.”