Rev. Conrad Tillard Installed as Senior Pastor at Brooklyn's Nazarene Congregational


By Gloria Dulan-Wilson

On Sunday, October 18, Rev. Conrad B. Tillard, Sr. was officially installed as the Senior Pastor of the Nazarene Congregational United Church of Christ, with the congregation, family and well wishers happily witnessing the 20th such installation in the Church’s history.  

While the name Tillard may be somewhat unfamiliar to you, many will easily recognize him by his former identity as Minister Conrad Muhammad of Muhammad's Mosque No. 7 in Harlem, where he served as National Youth Minister from 1984 through 1998.

What many may not have realized is that eleven years ago, in 1998, he stepped down from the Nation of Islam, reinstated his family name, Tillard, and  re-embraced his roots within the Christian Church.   Joining Harlem's Abyssinian Baptist Church, he embarked on the rigorous study and training at  Harvard's Divinity School under Howard Thurman.  Thurman, according to Tillard,  “gave him new insight into Jesus Christ and his mission of universal brotherhood, reconciliation and love.”  Under the mentorship of Rev. Calvin Butts, he became an ordained minister, before coming to Nazarene in Brooklyn.    

The Apostle Paul once said, “Be not conformed of the world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.“  And over the past eleven years,  Rev. Conrad Tillard has most definitely and totally transformed his life.   In addition to completing Harvard Seminary School, he started CHHANGE (Conscious Hip-Hop Activism Necessary for Global Empowerment), in an effort to address the problems of the youth.  Simultaneously he’s managed to  re-marry, becoming the father of a handsome new son, Barack, while continuing to be a good father to his children from his previous marriage.   He's also begun work on his autobiography, “The Prodigal Son Imperative in My Father’s House.”   Somewhere in that time frame he’s also planned, participated in, or attended conferences world wide, held local seminars of relevance to the Black community, and lent his presence and support to other organizations in the community. 

It is clear Rev. Conrad Tillard is a man who makes every moment of his life count.  A quality that is a definite asset for Nazarene and for Brooklyn as a whole.

Rev. Tillard surrounds himself with stellar leaders who are likewise dedicated to the community, and this installation was no different.  The morning service saw guest speaker in the personage of former D.C. Congressman Walter Fauntroy; while Rev. Wendell Foster served as Installation Master of Ceremonies, and Rev. Calvin Butts was the keynote speaker. 

Rev. Foster’s wit and wisdom was evident throughout the program: “I will say to him {Rev. Tillard} publicly what I always said to him privately: You once were lost, but now you’re found.  Aren’t you glad he’s found?”  Church chimed in, “Yes! Amen!”  Rev. Foster continued “There’s a bad habit that we of the Black, Negro, Colored race have, and that is to always talk about what a person is not doing, rather than looking at their contributions.  We tend to forget that Jesus said: ’I have come that you might have life and that you might have it more abundantly.’”  With Rev. Tillard taking the role as Senior Pastor of Nazarene, that will not be an issue, given the fact that since  coming to the church, seminars, forums, community events have stepped up exponentially.

Per Foster, the Black church was, and must always be, an instrument for liberation.  “That’s why we’re here.  The Black church is the oldest indigenous religious institution born in America.  The others came from England, Holland and other places, but the Black Church was already here.  They brought us here as slaves and introduced us to religion.”  

Rev. Calvin  Butts, in his keynote, spoke of the necessity for Rev. Tillard to be a man of deep thought and conscience:  “The Psalmist raises this quote.  ‘What is man that thou art mindful of him?’   Conrad Tillard must be a man of thought.  One of the things that is so distressing about the church is that many of the men and women who are leaders of the church do not think.  They have allowed themselves to be regulated by clich├ęs.  You know just after three words what they are going to say next.  And they will say almost anything to get a rise out of the congregation.  It’s truly tragic.  They haven’t read anything in a long time.  They haven’t pondered anything in a long time“

In this world of stress, wars and rumors of wars, where the family is undergoing considerable stress and challenges, Rev. Butts emphasized:  “That’s why when we gather on a Sunday morning we’d like to know that our leader, the pastor of our church has taken the time to think about some of these issues.  To have the ability to look beyond what is in the present moment, and contemplate what may be down the road  and see the tides of certain situations.”

Butts also cited the Congregation’s responsibility, outlining the difference between man and animals is the ability to conjure and think.  “And not only is it Conrad Tillard’s responsibility, it is the responsibility of the members of the Nazarene Congregational Church to think -- don’t come in here and leave your mind outside.  A thoughtless person has no appreciation for life as God has given us.”  

The congregation was charged with giving him time to think; to do the due deliberation that is needed in times of both quiet and crises.  “When he stands for that mother who has three children, no husband and is scurrying around trying to work at a job that pays her too little for too long hours; she wants to come to church on Sunday morning, to hear what the man of God has to say for the living of these days. God has given us the ability to think everything in divine thought.  The truth is you got to have a conscience. You can’t be a leader if you don’t feel the pain of the people.  You weep with those who weep; you rejoice with those who rejoice.”   Butts continued, “It takes a person of conscious. I remember Johnny Taylor, the guitarist, who used to say, “I told my conscience that if it didn’t bother me, I wouldn’t bother it.  But sometimes you can’t sleep at night when you think about the injustice in this world.”  

He also exhorted Rev. Tillard always be open to Holy Guidance; to have an open mind and to know when he doesn’t know the answer.  “Nobody knows the work and will of God from the beginning to the end.  But when you think you know everything, you cut yourself off from the meaning of the Holy Ghost. And you don’t have to be a church of 40,000 people to be successful with God.  You can be a church of 10 people, but if you are still following the leader of the Holy Spirit, God can do wonders with you.”

“Finally, Conrad, you can’t do anything without prayer,” he stated emphatically..  “Because prayer is the thing that’s going to keep you going when everything else around you falls apart.  The Greeks called man anthropos.  This where we get the word anthropology.  Anthropos means the upward looking one.  Conrad I want to tell you to keep looking up.  Keep your eyes on God, and God will see you through.“

New York State Assemblymember, Karim Camara led the official Charge to Rev. Tillard, linking  the responsibility of the congregation to the leadership of its pastor, he stated:  “This installation service is not just about installing him, giving him a new robe, and expecting him to change the world between Sundays.  You are here at to partner with him, which means that you are a minister also.  You are unique and fortunate that you are installing a pastor who has already exercised his leadership gifts city wide, statewide, even nationally.  And throughout his spiritual transformation the one thing that’s always been consistent is that he has been sensitive to injustice in the community.  You cannot find an instance over the past twenty years where Conrad Tillard has been absent when it comes to issues of communities of color, lower income communities, or working families. “

In his Charge, Camara drew the analogy between the people of Israel who, after having been saved from slavery, still wandered around in the wilderness for 40 year and the current plight of Black people.   I’m perplexed, I can’t understand it.  Even in the absence of GPS and navigational devices, it should not have taken 40 years.  But they had lost their faith in their leader, Moses, when he was called by God.  Make sure that you always keep faith in your leader.  You can say all you want about thank the Lord, how much you love the lord, but you show that and demonstrate that by having faith in the leaders that he has put here on earth for us.  You have to let Conrad Tillard be Conrad Tillard.  Let him lead in his own unique way.  Regardless of who the previous leaders or pastors were, Conrad Tillard is not them, and has to be allowed to be his own unique self, and lead in his own way, with his own unique gifts.”

Camara spoke of the value of gratitude:  “Grateful for leadership, and grateful to the Lord in general.  The people of Israel, lost in the wilderness, God gave them their own unique specific instructions. But after a period of time manna wasn’t enough, water wasn’t enough, they wanted all the good food that they had when they were in slavery.  It got to the point where they said they wanted to go back.  Make sure you keep looking ahead, don’t try to go back.  You can value the past, value tradition, but we’re not slaves to it because the Holy Spirit is always moving and leading us in new directions“

Urging the congregation to avoid negativity and pessimism, he stated:  “Avoid the negative reports.”  The ancient Israelites sent out 12 men to “bring back the reports on the best strategic way to ender the promised land.  Ten of them came back with reports of giants and the walls being “too big.”  But Joshua and Caleb said,  ‘Even though we know that the walls are big, we know that God called us and brought us this far for a reason.’  Avoid the negative report.  Make sure that you labor with him (Rev. Tillard).  We know that the harvest is plenty, but the workers are few.”

City Councilman Al Vann presented Rev. Tillard with a proclamation,  which read in part, “Whereas, Rev. Conrad B. Tillard, Sr. was selected in  2005 - 2006 by Love Men.com as one of the most influential and spiritual Black leaders in the United States;  has been activist and leader for students for the past 20 years.  He founded a Movement for CHHANGE -- Conscious Hip Hop Activism Necessary for a Global Economy, a youth organization credited with creating the thrust of Hip Hop political activism; he has been both a mediator in Hip Hop’s vital contents and spiritual mentor to troubled Hip Hop personalities such as Sean “P. Diddy” Combs, Jamal Shine Barrow.  He has also been outspoken critic of negative activities in youth culture and the Hip Hop industry. In 2001 he returned to the church of his youth, and joined Abyssinian Baptist Church, and in that same year co-wrote the 1 hour television program “Culture Shock” for WPIX, Channel 11, New York City.  Now, therefore be it known that Al Vann, council member of the 36th District, hereby honors Rev. Conrad B. Tillard on the occasion of this 20th Pastoral Installation service, and his outstanding service to God, the Church and the Community.“
Borough President Marty Markowitz declared October 18, 2009 Rev. Conrad Tillard Installation Day in the Borough of Brooklyn.

In accepting the mantle of Senior Pastor of Nazarene Congregational United Church of Christ Rev. Tillard pledged:  “I am willing and I promise to serve this church faithfully, preaching and teaching the word of God, administering the sacrament and fulfilling the pastoral office according to the faith and order of the United Church of Christ.“  Then as his  wife, mother, stepfather, children and the congregation looked on, he donned the regal robes of the church.

After a standing ovation, Rev. Tillard addressed the congregation:  “My family means everything to me.  They have always been here for me.  Tamecca and I met at Abyssinian.  She had recently joined Abyssinian, and for the last seven years and for that time she has stuck with me through the challenges of seminary, to Boston and traveling back and forth; and coming to Brooklyn.  She has been a solid rock.  And I just want to say that she has been an excellent, excellent first lady for me for a long time now.  And she is an excellent first lady for this church.  She always does what needs to be done whether that takes all day or all night.  And I want you all to know that I love her and I’m proud to have her with me in this ministry.”

A family man, it was clear that he and his family have very loving bonds.  He stated that  without them he would not have become the success he is.   He is married to church first lady, Tamecca Tillard.  They are the  proud parents of five beautiful, talented and gifted children: Amir, Najmah, Conrad Jr., Zuriel and Barack.  

Tillard closed his greetings by introducing his mother, brothers, and other relatives. He shared with the audience the fact that his stepfather, Baptist minister and civil rights activist, Rev. Horace Jones, married his mother when he was 8 years old. “Here we are, 40 years later, and he’s still active.  So I grew up in social justice. I grew up with justice and social commitment in my home.”  It was Rev. Jones who made sure he had the education and support he needed when decided to become an ordained minister.

Rev. Conrad Tillard’s level of activism, care, concern and interaction have already made a decided difference in the Bed-Stuy based church,community.  And it’s clear that even greater works shall he do in the future.

My sincere congratulations to Rev. Conrad Tillard, to the Nazarene Congregational United Church of Christ, to Bed-Stuy Brooklyn for gaining such a wonderful leader; and to the Eclectically Black community everywhere, because he is truly a fantastic brother.

Stay blessed,

Gloria Dulan-Wilson

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