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Pastor returned to home church, town

February 25, 2002|By MARLO BARNHART

Editor's Note: This is the sixth in a weeklong series during National Black History Month recognizing blacks in the area who make a difference in their communities.

By MARLO BARNHART
marlob@herald-mail.com

Born in Hagerstown in the 1950s, Derek Kee remembers a happy and carefree childhood. That was before the "virus" infected his neighborhood.

The virus is drugs, and Kee said a way of life has disappeared because of the effects of drugs, easy money and crime on the Jonathan Street neighborhood and beyond.

"Life was more family-oriented then; people cared about their neighbors," Kee said. "You knew everybody and there was no fear."

Now, many people stay in their homes and don't even know their neighbors because they are afraid, Kee said.

"You have to watch your back now."

Changing all that won't be easy and it won't happen overnight but Kee, the full-time pastor of the W.E. Campher Memorial King's Apostle Holiness Church of God, feels compelled to do what he can.

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Proud to be the only homegrown full-time black pastor in Hagerstown, Kee said he wants to help extend his congregation's reach far beyond the walls of the church at 125 W. Bethel St.

"We want to extend the kingdom of God beyond our racial barriers," Kee said. "My goal as pastor is to meet the needs of the total man, meaning mankind."

Part of that calling means welcoming people into the church whom other churches might not accept, including "street people" and those who need support both physically and spiritually.

"We let people know here that everyone is a child of God and there is a purpose for all of us," Kee said.

Kee's church, in the middle of the HotSpots neighborhood, recently underwent a major expansion so more services could be offered to the community.

"A fellowship breakfast program is being held one Saturday a month," Kee said.

Plans are under way to address problems of drugs, teenage pregnancies and broken homes through the church.

Kee said he has utilized a number of grants to help with these programs.

After living in the Washington area for 16 years Kee, now 46, returned to Hagerstown in 1998 and was surprised to learn how many homeless and hungry people there were in his hometown.

"In D.C., you see these people out in the open, but here they are kind of invisible," Kee said. "But they are there if you look."

Kee is a graduate of South Hagerstown High School. He also studied at Mercersburg Academy and the Washington Bible College.

After living in the Washington metropolitan area for 16 years, Kee was asked to assume the duties of pastor of the church following the sudden death of Elder Beulah Conwell.

"It was that call that brought me back, first to help her and then to assume the duties when she died," Kee said. "It's special because King's Apostle Holiness is my home church."

On his first anniversary as pastor, a member gave Kee a photograph from a long-ago Harvest Home celebration.

"There I was in the picture," Kee said. "I was about 8 years old."

Kee's family in Hagerstown includes a sister, Darlene Cooper.

He is the fourth pastor in the 70-year-plus history of the Pentecostal church, which was established by the late Bishop Walter Edward Campher.

Only part time at first, Kee worked at First Data and then Nationwide Insurance to support himself.

"You have to have the heart of a servant to be a pastor," Kee said. "The rewards certainly aren't worldly."

But there are rewards. Last summer, Kee was consecrated bishop of the denomination's Third Episcopal Diocese.

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