The power of faith is interwoven in our community through the foundation of churches, mosques and temples. Throughout the last century, the diversity of religion has grown beyond the traditional Christian base presenting fractions of African American congregations resulting in international alliances among religious leaders.
Bishop J. L. Jones, Sr. is an influential voice of the Apostolic faith, in 2014 he was selected as the Diocesan Bishop of the Illinois State Council of the PCAF (Pentecostal Churches of the Apostolic Faith Association, Inc.) International Organization as well as serving as State Bishop for 40 churches. His journey is a long and interesting one as former firefighter who started serving with the City of Chicago Fire Department in 1977. Working his way up the ladder over the years, he eventually became Exempt Rank and retired from his dual role as Assistant Fire Commissioner and Chief Officer of Diversity in 2005.
His time as a firefighter allowed him to connect with various groups of people in the community outside his church and missions. Connecting with people started long before as his family relocated from Natchez, Mississippi following the trail that so many Black Southerners searching for a better quality of life. At the age of 11,his family moved to Chicago where he found his church family at Victory Apostolic Faith Church.
Throughout the years, Jones was never far from his childhood church returning from duty after serving in the U.S. Army teaching Sunday school there and being called to the ministry in 1980.
Jone’s rise in the Apostolic faith community has been a gradual dedication attending the Moody Bible Institute, Midwest Apostolic Bible College and Trinity Bible College. In 1997, he was awarded an Honorary Doctorate from the Pentecostal Bible College. Throughout the years, Bishop Jones has earned his place as one of the leading faith leaders. Aside from his international leadership role for PCAF, he is the pastor of the Apostolic Assembly of the Lord Jesus Christ located on the far South Side of Chicago. The role in the council has resulted in some gradual changes.
“Let me go back a little ways and say that when our Bishop died. He died in the pulpit. The mantle kind of fell on me after the convention. I was selected as the chosen one for it. One of the things that I wanted to believe immediately is to conduct a comprehensive analysis of the council to find out what was really needed. What do we need to do as pastors, what needed to change, what needed to stay the same. That took about 7 months. Once that was done, it gave me an open book or understanding of what I was dealing with. I knew the pastor’s needs, I knew the needs of the local congregation as a whole.”
Jones works closely with young adults in the community and just recently founded “Ministers for Peace”, an organization that will be inviting a collective of leaders from various faiths to open up resources for the entire community. He believes it’s important to take time to invest in communities lacking proper role models.
“I was with a student who was late applying for college and went with him to the university to meet with the admissions director. We have to keep them encouraged, it just so happens that the student has some home issues and life challenges. It’s important that we mentor our young people because there are some things that they struggle with.” he said. “I deal with group mentoring – there’s a big need for that. Also, sharing with young people the global landscape on the importance to discover the whole world. Not just your neighborhood and family but if you can become conscious—you can become aware.”
Over the years, Jones and his mission have traveled the world . He is a constant fixture in Liberia, Nigeria, Uganda, Dominican Republic, and Haiti helping to build schools and provide clean water and better living conditions.
Jones is the President of the Brownlow, Belton, Sullivan & Arms, a non-for-profit organization. He was instrumental in the development of the seven-story Hancock House, an 89-unit low income housing complex for senior citizens located in the West Pullman community. The housing project started out as an idea among three missionaries; Hattie C. Brownlow, Mother Essie Belton and Dr. Lula Mae Sullivan.
Jones explains. “We’re looking at building another senior building. It would be a blessing to the seniors once we get the building up. We’re hoping to have an After School program for young people so they can come into the church year-around. Mentorship is very important to me and to be there for them.”
In his determination to connect faith leaders in his council with the community, Jones takes his role seriously especially in the wake of the long electoral process that included both state and citywide public officials in office. He believes a pastor’s trust with his congregation should not be compromised for personal benefits.
“As a pastor, we can’t afford to sell each other out, that is the thing that I’m looking at. If we sell each other out, after awhile we won’t be able to trust any of our own to move this thing out of its murky waters. We do look for each other on this level especially pastors like myself.” said Jones.
Bishop J.L. Jones and his wife, LaVerne have been married for almost 46 years raising six children and the proud grandparents of seven grandchildren – he feels his work is not done.
“We have to be very careful what we say across that pulpit and who we support. To rehearse it over and over on how this is going to effect the congregation and how is it going to effect the community? It’s important to think about that and if it’s not going to bless our community then we have to come up with something that will.”