The Rev. Anthony Freeman had several hints he wanted to be pastor – some even in his childhood.
But he didn’t recognize the clues and thought he’d like to be a police officer when he grew up. At 16, however, he was called into the ministry.
Freeman is the new pastor at Clinton Tabernacle AME Zion Church in Hickory. The 38-year-old said that before he recognized his calling, he was a high school freshman in Connecticut, playing football and living “a life that didn’t portray the faith of Christ.
“I was a challenging teen,” he said. “When they (people in authority) no longer could contain me, that’s when the Lord put His hand on me.”
Though he wasn’t the best-behaved teenager, young Freeman did go to church, Cross Street AME Zion Church in Middletown, Conn. He recalled going to the altar for prayer when he was 15: “That’s when God began to deal with me. I knew He was but I didn’t really understand it.”
Then the Rev. Moses Harvel arrived at Cross Street and intrigued Freeman. “He was able to encourage the church,” said Freeman. “People left with hope and passion. He created a thirst in me to want to know this God he was preaching about.”
Associate ministers at Cross Street took an interest in Freeman and began instructing him. “Even one-on-one Bible study,” said Freeman. “Understanding began.”
The 16-year-old transformed. During lunch at school, for example, he’d sit alone and read the Bible. Before then, Freeman would have joined his buddies and cut up during lunch.
“I faced the challenge of picking my friends wisely,” said Freeman, “those who’d help and encourage my faith. I had to let go of some friends.”
Next came a desire to know his purpose. He prayed and fasted a week: “A night didn’t go by that I didn’t dream about preaching behind a pulpit.
He said he heard God tell him, “I’ve been calling you since you were 5.” Freeman remembered a family friend who called him “Reverend Ant” when he was a small child. He also recalled a 15-year-old neighborhood boy who was always in trouble.
“In and out of detention centers, parents never around,” said Freeman.
At age 9, while riding bikes around town with the 15-year-old, Freeman detected a deep sadness in the youth and asked him what was wrong. “He shared his pain with me,” said Freeman. The older youth told him, “Wow, you should be a preacher.”
“I was sold that I was called into the preaching ministry (at age 16),” Freeman explained. He shared the realization with his pastor, who asked Freeman to pray about it, to make sure. Then came the Sunday afternoon when Freeman was in charge of prayer during a youth church service. A visiting pastor was at the service, a man who knew nothing about Freeman. “After I prayed, when the visiting pastor got up, he said to the congregation, ‘I want everyone to know here today that this young man has been called to preach.’ ”
Freeman continued meeting with his church’s pastors for individual study. “I preached my trial sermon at age 17,” he said. His topic was Peter stepping out of the boat onto the rough water, having been instructed by Jesus to walk to him. “A step of faith,” said Freeman.
In 1999, at age 22, Freeman was ordained in the AME Zion Church. A few weeks later, he received his first pastoral charge at Ardis Chapel AME Zion Church in Salisbury where he served two years. Freeman has lead at a number of churches including Coulter’s Grove AME Zion Church in Newton.
All the while, Freeman attended school: Briarwood College (now Lincoln College of New England) in Southington, Conn., where he earned an associate’s degree in applied science; Johnson C. Smith University for a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice, because he thought he might become a prison chaplain; and Hood Theological Seminary in Salisbury, where Freeman earned his Master and Doctor of Divinity.
Clinton Tabernacle officially welcomed Freeman on Sept. 27. Member Bari Craig-Tiggett said parishioners are excited to have Freeman “continue the legacy of exceptional leadership at Clinton and the surrounding community.” Clinton’s now got someone who knows exactly how he got to where he is. They’re also under the leadership of a minister who’d be the first to say that when a caring adult takes a young person under his or her wing, including one who’s not making the best choices, amazing things happen.
“The church leaders and members (at Cross Street AME Zion) were extremely excited to see for themselves a young man who was passionate about chasing after God and serious about sharing this same God with others, especially those who were my peers,” said Freeman.
And he’s paying it forward. “Throughout my ministerial journey I have been blessed with the opportunity to give back to other young people what was given to me: a chance. God strategically placed people within my life as constant reminders that no matter how many times you fail and no matter how many times life refuses to unfold the way you desire it to, as long as you possess the creative breath of God we all have a fighting chance.”
Freeman and his wife, Denise, have five children.