It wouldn’t be blasphemy to say that Austin’s Greater St. John Bible Church was “rocking” on Sunday. The church, 1256 N. Waller, celebrated its 21st anniversary, and also Ira Acree’s 17 years as church pastor.
Three morning-to-afternoon services took place. Though temperatures reached into the upper 80s both outside and inside the church, the last service at noon had a standing room only crowd.
Rev. Cornelius Parks, one of the community’s young ministers, emceed the event. Guest minister Rev. Johnny Miller of Mt. Vernon Baptist Church literally brought down the house with his stirring sermon and tribute to Acree, who he also mentored when Acree was a member of Mt. Vernon during his early years.
Rev. Miller’s sermon was about the Pentecost, or the seventh Sunday after Easter, commemorating the descent of the Holy Spirit upon the disciples, also called Whitsunday.
Many of the ministers who spoke mentioned Acree’s service and dedication to various organizations to help children. In his own words, Acree remarked, “I just wanted to do something radical. I was trying to show the young people how much we value education. Sometimes it’s a battle and we worry, so I thought me and my wife would become the sacrificial lambs.
“We’ve done this for the last five years,” Acree added. “It’s been beautiful seeing our kids giving their best at St. John’s Church. One of the most hurtful things is when people take these gifts and won’t say thank you, that’s kind of painful.”
Acree also spoke of a church member who recently died.
“My mind was in and out today because we lost a warrior of the church: sister Lizze Marshall who made her transition this week at the age of 93, he said of Marshall, also the great aunt of actor Steve “The Practice” Harris, whose mother Mattie Harris is also a member of Greater St. John Church.
“In many ways,” Acree said, “she was a mother to us all; the oldest member I’ve ever been pastor to.”
Acree also acknowledged his own mother, Alberteen Acree Brown, who is a member of his church, and reflected on how being brought up on the West Side was a great learning experience. He thanked his son, daughter and wife, Margaret.
“I love my wife so much; she has been a great supporter of my ministry. She has been great for me and my children and certainly I don’t know what I would do if I had a wife by my side who would complain about me being gone as much as I do,” Acree said. “I’m thankful for her understanding heart.”
On Acree’s years of service to Greater St. John, his wife Margaret said, “What it meant to me as a wife is the support, the growth of the ministry, the awesome job he’s doing in the community, the father that he is for my two children, and loving God’s people…truly he is a man of God that I love, and I support him in everything that he does.”
His mother added, “I’d like to say he’s a great son first of all. He’s a mighty man of God that is doing great work…He’s doing great work here in the community. Wherever something is going on he’s there to see if he can be a helping hand. I’m just grateful to God for him and I’m proud of him. He is my only child and I recognized his ministry calling as a young child. I would say at the age of five he was preaching the word of God.
Acree summed up the celebration saying, “I’m very excited about our church. I feel that we are making a great impact in this community, and I think it was a great time to celebrate and encourage the members, because when people celebrate a leader, you can’t celebrate a leader without celebrating the people.
“A minister by himself can’t do nothing but a motivational speech, but when you have people you can move mountains,” Acree said. “I think it is a sign of the great things God has in store for us. We’re growing by leaps and bounds. Nobody had even heard of Greater St. John maybe a year ago and we just came out of nowhere, and I give God the glory for that.”
Acree said what prompted him to “give away his pastoral gift?” was the urge to “shake up some stuff.”
“First of all, I didn’t have the capacity to shake things up the way Rev. [James] Meeks did across the state, so I thought I could at least do some things in Austin. Since I was two years old I’ve been in Austin,” he said. “Austin is my heart, and I just want people to see me as a caring person. When these youth go away I want them to know that their church cares.”