By Jennifer L. Warren
POUGHKEEPSIE – He knew God was at work.
When Reverend Dr. Jesse Bottoms reflects upon his start at Poughkeepsie’s Beulah Baptist Church, it’s really the only explanation.
“Of all the thousands of churches that God has, I knew that this one was for me,” said Bottoms. “So, by the grace of God I left Louisville, Kentucky, and came to a church I had never heard of, in a funny named City that I did not know existed and could not pronounce.”
And so, on September 11, 1977, the journey began. Bottoms, who was to marry Jacquette Delorse Hill with whom he had five children, took the helm at Beulah Baptist, a place he has considered a second home for the past 40 years. His vast accomplishments are a testimony to his dedication, diligence and passion.
Not only has the congregation grown exponentially over the years, positively impacting countless lives, but 22 preachers have been birthed out of the ministry. Further, for the past 35 years, a soup kitchen has served the homeless 150-250 meals per week, a total of a half million. The Black Archives Award, a grassroots recognition of people for their contributions to the quality of life for those in the Hudson Valley has also been created.
Bottoms himself has selflessly and diligently contributed in a multitude of capacities. Chairman of the Martin Luther King Jr. Commemorative Committee of Dutchess County, he has filled several other executive and advisory roles. Bottoms, a saught-after preacher, is also an evangelist, lecturer and author of several published pieces, including books. On a national level, he serves as the Vice President of the National Baptist Convention, USA, Inc, including eight million people as well as the Coordinator of Church revitalization for the Convention. All this experience has resulted in vast, priceless wisdom.
“The most memorable time during my 40 years has been being part of the process where hopeless people can grasp hope,” reflected Bottoms.
“While those who have made mistakes, see they are still valuable and can come to recovery.”
During those four decades, Bottoms has experienced a roller coaster of ups and downs, “walking through various seasons,” with those he has served.
That pendulum swing, laden with pleasure and pain, accompanying celebrations and crisis, is something he is quick to point to as a major benefit of tenured ministry. It allows him the opportunity to bring stability, and with it, the realization of much more.
“The biggest lesson I have learned over the years is how much there still is left to learn,” said Bottoms. “To preach the Bible is exhaustible, as the needs of the people are unique; there is no boilerplate approach, using the same thing every time.”
Despite the challenges, he is grateful every moment for the path he chose. It remains one he would urge others who feel the calling to pursue, especially now.
“This is a great time to be in the ministry cause the problems we are faced with are so great,” affirmed Bottoms. “The message of the Bible is if you are down
and out, you don’t have to stay that way; the Church has to be that community that picks up and props up.”