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Preacher to leave W.Va.

January 21, 2001

Preacher to leave W.Va.



By DAVE McMILLION / Staff Writer, Charles Town

photo: RIC DUGAN / staff photographer

Rev. Patrick WalkerMARTINSBURG, W.Va. - He helped in the effort to save Martinsburg's first black school and membership in the local chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People - as well as his church - soared under his leadership.

Rev. Patrick Walker's energy and eagerness to make Berkeley County a better place to live proved to be catchy in the community.

People on numerous boards asked him to serve on their organizations, and his plate became so full that he had to step down from some groups.

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Now Walker's 10 years in the Eastern Panhandle has come to an end.

He is seizing on an golden opportunity to become pastor of a church near his home in Washington, D.C.

On May 1, Walker will begin preaching at the Macedonia Baptist Church, located in southeast Washington, D.C. The church has a congregation of about 1,200, more than double the size of his congregation at Dudley Baptist Church.

But Walker won't soon forget Martinsburg.

Since Walker took over Dudley Baptist Church at 115 N. Raleigh St., the congregation has grown from 15 to 500.

The church was doubled in size through an expansion, and church leaders acquired two nearby houses for offices, the 36-year-old minister said. Walker said he thinks the church grew so rapidly because people are naturally attracted to a minister who they perceive as being active in the community.

It gives them a chance to be a part of it all, Walker said.

"Parting is such a sweet sorrow. It was a very difficult decision to make. I have developed many wonderful relationships with the people of this church and the people of this community," Walker said.

Among the challenges Walker said he is most proud of is helping people restore their lives and make a successful recovery from drug and alcohol abuse.

His work in the community included being a member of City Hospital's board of trustees, on the board of directors for the United Way of Berkeley County and serving as a member of the West Virginia Ethics Commission.

"I was amazed with some of these boards that I was the first minority to be a member," Walker said.

Walker took over the Berkeley County branch of the NAACP in 1994. Walker said the membership in the branch had been as small as 30, and the membership grew to about 100 under his leadership. He brought the state convention of the NAACP to Berkeley County in 1995, which he considers his high point for the organization.

Walker helped in the effort to save Ramer Memorial School on West Martin Street, which was the first black school in Martinsburg. The Berkeley County Board of Education considered selling the school, but a local group of residents, including Walker, succeeded in a plan to turn it into a community center.

Now the school is home to a museum containing photographs, newspaper clippings and artifacts tracing the history of the school and black history in the county, Walker said.

During Walker's leadership at Dudley Baptist, it was able to secure a 32-acre tract along Edwin Miller Boulevard where a new church will be built. The plan is to have a campus-like setting that will offer discipleship training and other programs.

Now the project will become somebody else's dream.

"As they seek leadership, someone else will come and lead them through the development," Walker said.

The future of the church is weighing heavy on a lot of the members of the congregation.

"Of course, there is mixed emotion. Everybody is excited for him," said Delbert Pope, whom Walker recruited from Prince George's County three years ago to take over the music program at Dudley Baptist Church.

"It's not a feeling of despondency, but of anxious anticipation of what's on the horizon," Pope said.

As the 36-year-old minister, his wife Priscella and his two children prepare to leave Martinsburg, he said the community's goal should be to embrace the growth that is coming. The population surge that is expected to stay constant in Berkeley County in coming years give the area a more diverse population, Walker said. And the community should openly accept those people and the different experiences and strengths they can bring to the community, he said.

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