Reverend Philip Cousin, Jr.
When Reverend Philip Cousin, Jr. stepped into the pulpit at San Francisco’s Bethel AME last week, it was the first time he had ever been to California.
Two weeks ago, Cousin was introduced to the Bethel congregation as the new pastor by Fifth District Bishop T. Larry Kirkland and they welcomed him with open arms.
“This is a great opportunity for me as a pastor,” said Cousin. “I had never been to the Bay Area, but my wife Angela is from Stockton, so she knows the area.”
Cousin said his main mission is to grow the church. Bethel AME, the oldest black church in San Francisco, is a church with a thousand members on the rolls, but it also has an aging congregation. Cousin wants to do more community outreach to bring more young adults and families into the church. He also wants to help expand the church services, such as affordable housing.
“Providing more affordable housing is an issue all over the country,” said Cousin.
The 57-year old was the pastor of St. Joseph AME Church in Durham, North Carolina for the past 21 years. He views the move west as a new start for him. Cousin succeeds the controversial Reverend John J. Hunter who was relieved of his duties as pastor of Bethel AME in February by Bishop Kirkland.
“Bethel has a lot of programs that I have been interested in…I can come here and build upon what they’ve been doing,” said Cousin. “I like the church’s computer center that is open to the community, the housing units the church provides and the federal credit union the church has established.”
A number of Bethel’s programs have helped the black community and other people of color, Cousin said.
“I see the move as an opportunity to work with different cultures, so that we can co-exist as equals,” he said.
Cousin comes to Bethel with a history of black activism in the Durham area. He led the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, was a former Durham County Commissioner, and also served on the Durham school board.
“When I headed the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, we tried to really involve the younger people, letting them know that everything we did as a community was political,” he continued. “Through politics, we as black people have a chance to improve our life situation. Even when the people may not look like you, they may have your concerns at heart.”
Cousin wants to bring that same approach to San Francisco now that he is pastor of Bethel AME.
“What is the unemployment rate in the African American community in San Francisco? What can we do politically to improve peoples’ lives and be a voice for the voiceless?” Cousin said.