New Hope Missionary Baptist Church is a true symbol of love, family, and community to me and many others. Located in Edgehill, this was the church where I spent my first childhood years and Reverend James C. Turner Sr., was the first pastor I ever knew. If you wanted to know what true servanthood as a pastor embodied, Pastor Turner was it. He was a pastor who showed up for his members, his community, and the less fortunate, including his chaplain work within the Davidson County Sheriff Department. The Honorable Reverend James C. Turner, Sr. led New Hope Missionary Baptist Church with his wife Mrs. Donzetta Turner by his side for 40 years before his passing in 2013. The torch has stayed in the family with his eldest son, Pastor James C. Turner II as current pastor.
Reverend Turner, Sr. is still highly upheld as a pillar within the Nashville community and his accomplishments were recognized last year in the naming of part of Hawkins St to James C. Turner Sr. Way, where the church has resided since 1885. The significance of this street naming is a beautiful homage to the great work Reverend Turner Sr., has spread throughout this city. It is also a visual standing reminder of an Edgehill (South Nashville) community built on love that was there before gentrification, condos, and AirBnb’s popped up.
I sat down with his son and current pastor, James C. Turner II, to talk about the legacy of his father, South Nashville’s new landscape, and how he is building upon his father’s legacy.
An impact felt from the pulpit to the community
Reverend Turner, Sr. left behind a sense of family and community; a man who carried out servanthood in his everyday living. As Pastor Turner, II shares, “He often visited the sick. He was dedicated to prayer and loved praying for others. He left behind a love for ‘the least of these’.”
Serving as one of the first African American chaplains within Davidson County’s Sheriff’s Department, he helped a lot of young men and women come out of prison. He integrated them into the church and helped them get back on their feet by aiding in finding housing, and vouching for them as a reference for employment opportunities. This is just one of the aspects of his community-oriented life. He was an advocate for the education of the youth, providing scholarships yearly. He also dedicated his work to holding politicians accountable, especially during the Civil Rights Movement. “These are the values New Hope was built on”, James Turner II shares.
He invested in our young people, and we were all made better because of it.
“As I look back on my own childhood,” Pastor Turner II reflects, “I try to carry on the legacy of investment in our young people. New Hope has a track record of graduating students from high school to college and giving them money to attend and complete their studies.”
A servant mentality through a social justice lens
Reverend Turner Sr. grew up in Rome, Georgia, about 60 miles north of Atlanta. When Rev. Turner Sr. father passed away after coming home from the war, his mother moved the family to The Bronx in New York. “I want to believe that his time in the south and being exposed to injustice and the fight for civil rights, then going to the east coast where there were similar problems fueled the work he would do”, James Turner II reflects on.
Reverend Turner would later bump shoulders with the likes of Malcolm X and prominent figures in Harlem who would have a major influence on his life. As James recalls, “He understood the necessity of walking with people. He understood poverty. He understood that education is one of the best ways to get African Americans out of poverty and into a better life.” This understanding would lead him to be the first in his family to go to college. “He was very intentional in his investment in himself and the community. I try to carry that on as his son, to my brothers, and to the church”, Turner II reflects.
The Legacy Continues
Pastor Turner II is seeking to continue the servant ministry both inside the church and outside in the community. “My brothers and I understand the shoulders that we stand on,” as he notes, “We still have an area down the street near Edgehill, so we try to minister there and stay very connected to the people.” As he explains, “with everything that has happened to this date (over the last 4 years), racial profiling, police brutality, and the Black Lives Matter Movement, we have to remain and will always remain a historical Black church.”
Pastor Turner II is set on never allowing the church to lose its identity, even when the community has changed. And, what a change it has been. Edgehill was once a thriving majority African American community situated in South Nashville, steps from the now infamous Gulch area. “Our mission does not change because the community changes,” he goes on to say. “Former slaves built this church in 1885 as a log cabin, and we don’t plan to leave”, he does share, “we welcome everyone to be a part of the church. We have a heart of love and a heart for social justice, and we just want to make the community better. No matter what color you are, if you align with our mission, you are welcome.”
Former slaves built this church in 1885 as a log cabin, and we don’t plan to leave.
The church is continually building on Reverend Turner Sr. and his legacy. They have plans for the land they own next to the church that will help to build wealth within the inner city and Black community. Pastor Turner II expresses, “We are setting the stones for people to continue building upon my father’s legacy even after I retire.”
To get more guides and stories of the people behind the culture and soul of Nashville, subscribe to our weekly newsletter HERE.