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Atlanta's Emory Berry preaches key message at Candler School of Theology

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Atlanta Pastor Emory Berry Jr. was invited to preach Alumni Day message at Candler School of Theology.


By Allison Smith

Emory Berry Jr., pastor of Greenforest Community Baptist Church in Decatur, Ga., was recently honored by Emory University’s Candler School of Theology with an invitation to preach the key message this week on Alumni Day.

Candler’s Alumni Day, which coincides with Emory’s Homecoming Week and Family Weekend, is an opportunity to bring alumni back to the campus to celebrate highlights and accomplishments of the school as well as share current initiatives and projects.

Emory Berry

Each year, Alumni Day features a worship service called a “Service of Word.” While the Service of Word is held often throughout the year, the one on Alumni Day provides a unique opportunity for current theology students to see and hear from alumni while pursuing their own call to ministry, according to Bill Doerr, assistant dean of advancement and alumni engagement.

The graduate invited by Candler’s Dean Jan Love to deliver the sermon for this service is chosen among their 8,300 alumni, which includes many distinguished preachers. This year, the prestigious invitation was extended to Berry, who completed his Master of Divinity at Candler in 2006.

While others have described Berry as innovative, daring, compassionate and inspiring, he describes himself as simply “a child of God seeking to do the Lord’s will, the Lord’s way.” In 2016, Berry moved from Richmond, Virginia, to become the fourth senior pastor of Greenforest Community Baptist Church. Under his leadership, the Decatur church has experienced significant growth. The now 3,500-member congregation has been led by Berry to enthusiastically emphasize community outreach and global missions — work that Epitome Magazine spotlighted him for in 2019.

As an Atlanta pastor, Berry serves Georgia Baptists as Moderator of the Atlanta Metro Baptist Association and as a member of the Executive Board of the Georgia Baptist Mission Board.

Pastoring in Atlanta has also enabled Berry to become more involved with his alma mater. He serves as adjunct professor in Candler’s Baptist Studies program, teaching church practice, leadership and history. He also sits on the Alumni Board of Directors. “This board helps provide insight into what we, as practitioners, are seeing out in the field, in the ministry arena,” says Berry. He adds that sharing shifts in church culture and ministry influence course offerings that will be of value to students in their future service.

Still, Berry’s noteworthy invitation to deliver the principal message on Alumni Day pays tribute to his astute preaching. And this is not the first recognition of his ability to deliver an engaging sermon. In March 2017, Berry was inducted into the Martin Luther King Jr. Board of Preachers at Morehouse College. Previously, in 2012, Inspire Magazine chose himas one of their “Top 40 under 40” pastors. And in 2021, Berry was a featured writer in Preaching Magazine, which also published his sermon entitled “What Are You Doing?”

Emory Berry’s commitment to preach inspired messages is a response to Jesus’ command to Simon Peter in John 21: “Feed My sheep.”

“I have literally and figuratively taken that to heart,” Berry said, “really seeing preaching as a privilege. Seeing as God has allowed me to feed His sheep, I do not want to misrepresent the Lord in delivering the spiritual ‘meal,’ if you will.” 

In answering the call to feed God’s sheep, Berry is cognizant that not all sheep are able to eat the same thing. “Many sheep are at different places on their journey,” he observes. “Some are babes in Christ who need the meal to be served in a way that is palatable and digestible.”  On the other end of the spectrum, Berry takes to heart those who are mature in their faith and need spiritual “meat,” in the words of Paul.

To engage such a diverse audience from the pulpit, Berry strives to include an element of unpredictability to invite listeners in, while at the same time, being true to the Scripture.

As Berry delivered the spiritual “meal” on Alumni Day at Candler, his desire was for his listeners to walk away able to say, “I have dined sufficiently today.”

“It’s truly an honor,” Berry said, “and I was truly humbled by the invitation.”

“Candler School of Theology is incredibly excited to welcome Pastor Berry back to campus to deliver words of inspiration and blessing to our students, faculty and staff,” Doerr said. “Since his graduation in 2006, he has been an active member of our alumni community and a leader on our Alumni Board of Directors. We appreciate his service, commitment, insight and sense of humor, and we are honored to call him one of our own.”     

Berry’s Alumni Day address was delivered Tuesday at Emory’s Cannon Chapel and livestreamed on social media.

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