Like many pastors, the Rev. Nicolette Birdsong Wilson wants her St. James AME Church congregation to grow spiritually and numerically. But, numbers play a lesser role than relationship building.
Her focus is on developing better and new relationships with God’s people, both inside and outside of the walls of the church.
“Evangelism was never about just inviting someone to church,” said Wilson, who was appointed in October 2018. “It was and is about building loving and Christ-like relationships with each other.”
This approach is not new for Wilson, who employed a similar strategy while serving as spiritual leader of Johnson Chapel AME Church in El Centro and more recently, as the first woman of Brown Memorial AME Church in Pasadena. After experiencing success with the method at both parishes, she firmly believes that relationship building will also work at St. James and that is what she plans to put her energies into, said Wilson, who insisted, “Once we accomplish this, then people will follow and meet us here.”
Among the individuals that Wilson hopes to attract are more youth and millennials, and working in her favor is the fact that she is a Generation X pastor. In addition, her blended family with her husband, Cedric, is comprised of millennials and Gen Z children.
“Attracting both groups are be a struggle, if there is not an open dialogue with them. The dialogue must go beyond the ‘why are you not in church’ question and get to what their interest and life concerns are and what drives them,” explained Wilson.
“I listen to their music and watch their shows and discuss drugs, sexual identity, cutting, suicide and dysfunctional families. It is not until the church stops turning a blind eye to the real issues of these generations, will they be able to both attract and retain them,” she said.
Wilson’s dedication to Christ and His people has been noticed by others and resulted in her being the recipient of several honors. She received the Southern California Conference Women in Ministry’s (SCCWIM) Jarena Lee scholarship in 2013, and the group’s Rev. Annette Hollins scholarship award in 2014 and 2016. Also, the AME Fifth District Women in Ministry presented Wilson with the Marjorie L. Casson scholarship in 2013, 2014 and 2015.
Her denominational involvement includes being the SCCWIM worship leader for the past six years and serving as an advisor to the AME Fifth District Richard Allen Young Adult Counsel.
Many of her other activities are community-related such as her role as chaplain of both the National Council of Negro Women and the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives in the San Gabriel Valley. Also, Wilson was just appointed to Pasadena’s Ad Hoc Committee on Africa where she will work on developing ties with Dakar Plateau, Senegal, the city’s newest and only African Sister City.
As if her schedule wasn’t already filled, Wilson still finds time to volunteer at the Union Rescue Mission where she teaches a class for homeless women that she describes as revealing “the real ways that God is moving and working in the lives of these women and is still ordering their steps.”
Moving forward in “building loving and Christ-like relationships,” Wilson said she will always depend on God to fulfill her goals.
“I believe an ‘Incredible God Deserves Incredible Praise’ and I praise the Lord for second, third and fourth chances of my life to get it right! I want to do all the good I can, by all the means, the ways, the places, the times and to all the people I can for as long as I can!”
St. James AME Church is located at 655 W. 70th St., in Los Angeles. Sunday worship is at 11 a.m., and Wednesday Bible Study is at 7 p.m. To learn more, call (323) 758-6786.