Pastor who founded one of the largest African American churches in the state retires


CHICAGO — The founder of one of the largest African American churches in Illinois gave his final sermon.

Rev. James Meeks retired as the pastor of Salem Baptist Church on Sunday.

But the former state senator said he isn’t done working for Chicago.

Sunday was also the 38th anniversary since Meeks founded the church.

“We started our church 38 years ago with about 193 people, now we’re up to about 9,000.” meeks said.

Salem is now one of the largest African American churches in Illinois.

Thousands of members came out to the megachurch in the city’s Pullman neighborhood for their pastor’s last day.

“This is a huge day for me,” Nicole Battle, who has been a member since 1990, said. “I’m super emotional. I’m ok with the tradition to transition, but I’m going to miss my pastor.”

During his time at Salem, Meeks was also a member of the Illinois State Senate from 2003 until retiring in 2013.

He ran for mayor twice and was later appointed chair of the Illinois State Board of Education.

“Politics no more, I hope that I can counsel first off pastors, people who are building churches, sort of give them wisdom that I have gleaned over these years,” Meeks said.

While he will be greatly missed, Henry McGee Jr., who has been a member for 34 years, said he has changed lives and communities.

“He’s just done so much,” McGee said. “Talking about bibles in prisons, bringing live tv into prisons, talking about praying corners, feeding the homeless, drug ministry. There’s just so much he’s done.”

Rev. Meeks said he will continue working for Chicago communities.

“We have here at our church a foundation and we endeavor to build a thousand homes in the Roseland community,” Meeks said. “So I will still be active in the Roseland community, trying to make it a better place, and hopefully somehow making the world a little bit better.”

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