The members of New Life Community Church on Poplar Street have scheduled a special service for their one-year anniversary. The Rev. John Elston, Jr. said the day would be a celebration of what God can do.
“So many people have been an inspiration to me in starting this,” Elston said. “We have had countless numbers of people come by just to support us. We want to recognize that and just be invested in the community.”
Elston said his journey to become the pastor at New Life began about seven years ago. He began his career following in the footsteps of his father, John, Sr., who spent a career in law enforcement.
Elston worked as a corrections officer at the Talladega County Jail. There he began to minister to inmates as he worked there.
He became assistant pastor at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church before becoming ordained and taking on the task of spiritual leader at New Life.
“Eventually I decided to give in to God and see what he had for me to do,” he said. “Every step and every job I have had along my way has prepared me for this. Everything that I went through and had to deal with and suffer through has brought me to this point right here.”
Elston has continued to help incarcerated people through his jail ministry every Wednesday where he used to work. He also works as an investigator for the Department of Human Resources.
He said he believed his experiences dealing with people from all walks of life allow him to reach out to more people. He used his jail ministry as an example.
“A lot of people have done some things where their families have thrown them away, their friends and loved ones, because of the stuff they have done,” Elston said. “But it gives you a great chance to positively affect someone’s life. Because they need something, they want something, they need to hear something.”
His congregation started with only five people, but has increased to more than 25 in the first year. Elston said the intimate setting has allowed him to know his entire congregation on an individual level.
“Oftentimes, you are not just a pastor,” he said. “You are a mentor, a counselor, a friend, a teacher and a spiritual adviser. In that sense, you really get a feel of what it means to pastor someone.”
Elston said his endeavor could not have been done without the help of his family. He credited his wife Shelia and children Autumn, P.J. and Trinity, as well as his mother Phyllis for their support.
Shelia Elston said she has enjoyed the experience and been optimistic from the start.
“We have always given reverence to the Lord and been in church,” she said. “It was just different to say ‘Ok, now he’s the pastor and I’m the first lady.’”
Shelia said she remembered the moment she knew her husband of now 13 years was in the right place.
“It was his trial sermon,” she said. “He has always been a great speaker, teaching and mentoring people. But I remember thinking at his trial sermon, ‘Things are going to be alright.’ He’s really committed, and I am very proud.”
The anniversary celebration was scheduled for 2:30 p.m. at New Life Community Church. The Rev. Darryl Woods of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Ashland is the planned guest pastor.