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Features

Pastor Terry

The spiritual and the earthly get this preacher to the pulpit come Sunday morning. That's not easy when you're a sleepy 8-year-old. Grandma helps.

By RODNEY THRASH
Published June 8, 2006


photo
[AP photo]
Terry Durham, a young Fort Lauderdale preacher, sings to the congregation in April at the Ambassador Reverend Chief Divine Ministry Outreach in Riviera Beach.
Audio and video


 
Terry Durham, 8, has a cold drink before preaching at the church.  

Terry Durham, 8, was ordained by his grandmother, who is also a pastor, when he was 6. Sharon Monroe remembers her grandson walking down the aisle of a church wearing a diaper and laying hands on people who were sitting in the pews.
Ever since he saw a preacher dressed all in gold at a church in Georgia, Terry has insisted that his outfits — suit, shirt, socks and shoes — match. The shoes use Velcro because he has yet to learn to tie them.
FORT LAUDERDALE

The preacher sat in the blue booth, lips pouted, arms crossed. His shirt was covered in Rocky Road ice cream, his shorts in cheese pizza sauce.

It was a quarter past 5 on a Saturday. Nearly three hours had passed since Terry Durham arrived at a suburban skating rink, and the 8-year-old didn't want to leave.

"I want to skate with my friend," Terry said, a pair of size 6 roller

skates still on his feet.

"You can't stay out late," said his grandmother, Sharon Monroe .

Terry slouched in his seat. Tears welled in his brown eyes.

"Every time we come," he said, "I have to leave."

"No, no," Monroe said. "Just today, okay?"

Terry needed his rest, she said. His flock was expecting him at noon

the next day.

For any minister spreading the word of God, fun has its limits. But when the minister has an 8 p.m. bedtime, even the most innocent of pleasures are cut short.

Under the direction of his grandmother, Terry has been preaching in front of congregations since he was 4. But his calling, Sharon Monroe believes, came years before that.

"From the womb," says Monroe, a pastor herself. She remembers her grandson walking down the church aisles, still in diapers, laying hands on people sitting in the pews.

"That gift," says May Clark , another minister who has often heard Terry preach. "It just touches your heart to be so young and he's already a little man of God. He knows his calling."

"You can feel God moving" through him, said Alice Jackson, who lives in Daytona Beach. Terry prayed with her during a recent illness. "That little Terry is so anointed."

And popular. Congregations from Lakeland and Orlando to Tallahassee and Philadelphia have invited him to preach at their churches. Recently, NBC's Today show featured him, as did his hometown newspaper, the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

But the attention, Terry said, has its downside.

"Every time a reporter comes, I have to get a haircut."

*   *   *

On the ride home from the skating rink, he sat in the passenger seat, his feet dangling off the floor. The radio was set to 99-JAMZ, a hip-hop station. Terry doesn't like hip-hop.

"Cuss word music," he said, turning the stereo knob until he heard gospel artist Kirk Franklin singing.

Terry said he can't remember the topic of his first sermon, just the moment that he was called to the ministry. One night, he was asleep on the top bunk in his room, dreaming. He said he heard God's voice.

"He said if I am ashamed of him, he would be ashamed of me."

Around the same time, Monroe - an associate pastor at another Fort Lauderdale church - founded her own congregation.

Family photo albums show Terry in the pulpit of his grandmother's church, the nondenominational True Gospel Deliverance Ministry . He was so short, he had to stand on top of a table while his grandmother held him steady.

She ordained Terry, in a ceremony at her church, when he was 6.

He doesn't receive a speaking fee. But sometimes, when he's invited to speak at other churches, congregations give him a donation. "A love offering," Monroe calls it. He tithes 10 percent of the money, shares some with his brother and deposits the rest in a bank account.

To him and to his grandmother, it's not about the money. It's about spreading the word of God.

"Him and his little brother stay on fire for God, stay on fire for the Lord," Monroe said. "I like that."

Terry has a twin brother named Todd. The boys and their father, Todd Sr., live with Monroe, who has immersed the entire family in the word of God. When Terry's preaching, his brother accompanies on drums.

Speaking in front of a congregation would be intimidating to most adults. How does an 8-year-old boy know what to say? Terry insists he gets his direction from God, in the shower before he heads for the pulpit.

"He just speaks to me."

*   *   *

Sunday morning came, and with less than four hours to go before Terry was to preach, he was still asleep.

"Get up, baby," Monroe said. "It's time to take your bath."

Terry's eyes were half-closed, his steps sluggish. He stumbled into the bathroom, closed the door behind him and turned on the shower.

Meanwhile, his grandmother sat over a hot iron, pressing Terry's uniform: a powder blue suit. His colorful attire is as big a production as the sermons he preaches. Everything must match: the shirt, the suit, the socks, the Velcro dress shoes. (He doesn't yet know how to tie his shoes.) Anything less, and Terry feels naked, unworthy of being in the pulpit.

He has been that way since he accompanied his grandmother to a church in Georgia. The pastor of the church sauntered down the aisles, all in gold, and Terry was impressed. "I want to dress like that," he told his grandmother.

His closet contains an exotic array of fancy Stacy Adams suits. Electric blue. Red. Cream with gold stripes. Some still have the sewn tags on the sleeve.

Showered and back in the room he shares with his brother, Terry rummaged through his drawers.

"Grandma," he yelled, "I don't see my blue socks."

*   *   *

He slid one leg, then another in a pair of oversized slacks.

"What topic are you going to preach from," Monroe asked, buttoning up his pastel blue dress shirt.

Terry already had an idea. Now he just needed a specific text. He opened his Learn-to-Read BIBLE. It was more childlike than holy. Colorful illustrations showed a man in a white robe ascending into heaven, a ray of light beaming around him. The thees, thous and thys sprinkled throughout the traditional King James version of the Holy Bible were replaced by simple words and phrases.

"When Jesus went up, up, up," Terry shouted to his grandmother.

Monroe bookmarked the pages so he wouldn't have to rustle through them at church. The precise words would come to him when he needed them, she said.

"You got to let the holy ghost have his way," she told him.

She sent Terry to his room and told him to spend additional time studying and preparing for his sermon. For inspiration, he inserted a DVD of his last sermon, which he entitled Pastor Feel Good. He sat on the bottom bunk bed, flipping through the pages of his Bible.

Before long, his father called for him.

"Terry! Get up and pick your stuff up off the floor."

*   *   *

In 1997, Todd Durham Sr. learned his girlfriend was pregnant. Both 16 years old, they were babies themselves and incapable of raising children on their own. Especially twins born 10 weeks premature.

Monroe, Todd Durham Sr.'s mother, took in the twins and has raised them as her own since the boys were released from the hospital. Though the twins' mother lives in the same city as her sons, she rarely sees them. Their father, now 25, helps raise the boys, but Monroe is their legal guardian.

Due to his premature birth, Terry spent the first two months of his life in the hospital, tethered to a heart monitor. He weighed 2 pounds 13 ounces. Doctors told the family that if the alarm on the heart monitor sounded, Terry was dead. He was still hooked up to a machine when he was discharged. At his grandmother's house, the wires kept coming loose. Each time, Monroe noticed, Terry was fine and breathing on his own. One day, when the boy was 3 months old, Monroe unplugged the monitor.

Besides a bout with asthma, Terry hasn't had major health problems since and recently was named the Pompano Cowboys Pop Warner football team's "Most Outstanding Offensive Lineman."

When visitors come to his house, it's the first trophy he brings out.

*   *   *

Just before noon Sunday, Terry and his grandmother filed into a pearl-colored Cadillac headed for the Riviera Beach church where Terry would be preaching. Terry's twin brother rode in another car behind them, ready to drum with Terry's sermon.

The 45-minute drive from the family's home in Lauderdale Lakes across Florida's Turnpike spanned 50 miles. Sandwiched between his grandmother and a family friend, Terry passed the time singing a medley of gospel songs playing on the car's tape deck.

My God's a good God

Oh-oh-oh

My God's a good God

A few minutes before 1 p.m., they pulled into the driveway of a white and purple house. Inside, the Ambassador Reverend Chief Divine Ministry Outreach - a small nondenominational church with a few dozen members - had begun its Sunday service inside a living room crammed with folding chairs. When Terry and his grandmother walked in, the congregants were already on their feet, shouting and singing.

Todd carried in his drum set and set it up beside the pulpit. Terry took his seat up front, next to clergymen with salt-and-pepper beards and receding hairlines. A church missionary brought bottled water to the other ministers. Terry was given a cup of milk.

From the wooden lectern, Monroe leaned toward the microphone to introduce her grandson.

"Stand to your feet as we bring the man of God to the altar."

Terry rose from his chair. His powder blue suit coat extended to his knees. A gold chain with a crown dangled from his neck. He grabbed the microphone. The top of his head barely cleared the top of the lectern.

"Give God a handclap of praise," he said.

The applause was audible, but not thunderous.

"Oh you can do better than that," Terry shouted. "I didn't say give me a handclap of praise. I said give God a handclap of praise."

He began as he always does, reciting the Lord's Prayer, singing I Know I've Been Changed and reading a scripture from his children's Bible. That Sunday's word was adapted from Matthew 28:19-20.

Terry read like the 8-year-old he was, using his finger as a guide. He read every word verbatim, even the instructions the book gives parents. There was an unsteady pause as he made out the words on the page.

"Jesus . . . said . . . Tell . . . people . . . about . . . me . . . My . . . Holy . . . Spirit . . . will . . . help . . . you . . . And . . . then . . . Jesus . . . left . . . Did . . . he . . . go . . . out . . . the . . . door . . . No . . . Did . . . he . . . die . . . No . . . Jesus . . . went . . . up . . . up . . . up."

Terry's sermon - the climax of the service - came next. Microphone in hand, he stepped off the pulpit into the aisle and began to speak in a rhythmic voice, as if singing. He had no notes, no outline to guide him. He breathed between every phrase like he was gasping for air.

"They tell me . . . " He took a deep breath. " . . . in my Bible . . . " And another. " . . . in Matthew 5:9 . . . where it says . . . "

His voice reached a crescendo.

"Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God."

He was stomping his feet and dancing.

"They tell me . . . peace . . . can make you live right . . . Peace . . . can make you talk right . . . Peace . . . can make you walk right . . . Somebody say yeah! Say yeeaah!"

The congregation clapped and shouted amen. When the service was over, the members waited in line to feel his touch.

"God bless you in the name of Jesus," he said as he laid hands on the foreheads of grandmothers, grown men and peers.

Finished, Terry sipped his milk, leaving a creamy mustache across the top of his upper lip.

Times staff writer Rodney Thrash can be reached at (727) 893-8352 or rthrash@sptimes.com.

 

[Last modified June 7, 2006, 12:26:35]


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