by Tim Gilmore, 7/8/2017
In 1999, Reverend John Allen Newman dissolved Mt. Calvary Baptist Church, leaving it behind in Brooklyn, and began The Sanctuary at Mt. Calvary in a former car dealership on Walgreen Road, off Golfair Boulevard and I-95, a dead-end street of old distribution centers, abandoned hotels and a forlorn Sticks ’n Stuff wholesale furniture warehouse.
In 2016, the Sanctuary at Mt. Calvary sold its car-dealership-cathedral to SALTech Job Corps Charter High School. Florida’s political leaders, after all, so conservatively resent the public school system that they leech taxpayer funding and funnel it to privately owned “charter schools,” no matter who runs them or how, at every opportunity.
In March 2017, Duval County School Superintendent Nikolai Vitti cited SALTech’s most recent graduation rate of 6.25 percent as an example of charter schools holding back Jacksonville’s academic success.
In promotional materials, The Sanctuary at Mt. Calvary links its history back to Brooklyn in 1896, but fails to mention its transmutation—the end of Mt. Calvary Baptist Church and the beginning of The Sanctuary at…
According to the church’s website, Newman is “not interested in ‘traditional doctrine,’” though he does teach “sound ‘Biblical principles.’” Note the quotation marks. His many political appointments—as a prominent black preacher in a Southern town largely black but led by whites—led him to chair the board of the Jacksonville Port Authority.
Recently, in his new “Sanctuary at Mt. Calvary” in another old sanctuary, the former Abyssinia Missionary Baptist Church on Kings Road in the inner-northwestern neighborhood of Grant Park, Newman made national news by proposing from the pulpit to Donald Trump’s Apprentice reality-TV celebrity and self-proclaimed “Trumplican” Omarosa Manigault, whom, since their wedding, Newman calls his “Lady O.”
Meanwhile, Abyssinia’s congregation, organized in 1919, has moved northeast to a new superdome sanctuary between Interstate Center Drive and I-95 at the southern end of the historically poor Northside’s sudden suburban development.
Back in the neighborhood and the church Newman left behind, sunlight burns through a small cross of glass cubes high above the empty pews. Above the cross, the holes in the roof drip with recent rain and admit more sunshine. The smell of the soaked and fallen roof tiles tinctures the damp air.
Joseph Jack looks down at the 23rd Psalm still open on the water-buckled pulpit.
The psalm leads Joseph through his city. He leadeth me beside the still waters. He feels the deep presence of a century of worship now absent. This old sanctuary ministers to him even now and fills him with a sense of promise. He restoreth my soul.