They say that everything in life comes full circle; I am a living witness to this truth. My story is that of a prodigal son who went halfway around the world to escape my homegrown ministry, only to return to St. Louis and continue in the legacy of my progeny.
There have been five generations of Pentecostal pastors in my family: my great-great-grandfather, my great-grandfather, my grandfather, my father, and now me. Becoming a preacher was the last thing I wanted for myself. As a younger man, I was determined to let that cup pass from me. Not only did I run from the cup, but I actively tried to knock it out of God’s hand.
Growing up in St. Louis and in a sanctified church, I became very adept at sneaking around. I could not sow my wild oats in front of my parents who fully endorsed the message found in Proverbs 13:24: that sparing the rod creates a spoiled child. So, to spare myself from the rod, I was forced to take my hijinks underground. There is definitely something to the saying that preachers’ kids are among the most rebellious.
When I turned 14, my life changed dramatically after my mother died of a brain aneurysm. Losing my mother gave me the reason I was looking for to cement my hatred of God and His church. Why would I want to serve a God who would separate a mother from her son? Why would I want to serve a God who just killed my best friend?
My running from my legacy turned into outright rebellion. When I left home to attend Saint Louis University, I quickly acclimated myself to the college parties. After a year of getting drunk and getting high, my grades were so bad that I was told that I could not remain at the university.
The next semester I enrolled at the University of Missouri—St. Louis. I spent a lot of time by myself, wrestling with my demons. I got serious about my studies and even found my way back to the church. I made peace with God and am glad to say that God received me back like the prodigal son that I was. As a junior, I made the decision that instead of being a lawyer, saving people from jail, I wanted to be a preacher, saving souls from hell.
Upon graduating from UMSL, I left St. Louis and went to Princeton University, where I received a Master of Divinity degree. While at Princeton, I met and married the love of my life, Marie. After graduating from Princeton, I worked as a director of a drug rehabilitation center in Paterson, New Jersey. From there I was called to pastor a church in the small town of Clifton located 10 miles west of New York City.
In 2001, I was commissioned as lieutenant in the United States Navy Chaplain Corps. I served two years on a guided missile cruiser stationed at Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. Halfway through my tour, I received a message that my next duty station would be none other than St. Louis, as a chaplain for the Coast Guard station downtown. These orders brought me back home and completed the circle that God had drawn before I was born.
My father, Bishop Jesse Battle Jr., retired from full-time pastoring in 2014 and recommended to the Board of Directors that I be selected as his successor. I was unanimously approved as the third pastor and have been the pastor of the House of Deliverance church for the past five years. I am not only back in St. Louis, pastoring a church that I grew up in, but I am also a student at UMSL once again. I am two years into a PhD program in political science.
As the name of our church implies, I see the calling on my life as an agent of deliverance. My heart’s desire is to spread the message of deliverance to everyone and especially the struggling, hurting and disaffected. The same God who rescued me and preserved my life is waiting to do the same for them. St. Louis is in need of social and spiritual renewal. My hope and prayer is that the church can fulfill its historic role as a catalyst for healing.
Reverend Eric Fitzgerald Battle is the senior pastor of the House of Deliverance Church of the Apostolic Faith Inc.
“Homegrown Black Males” is a partnership between HomeGrown STL at the Brown School of Social Work at Washington University in St. Louis and The St. Louis American, edited by Sean Joe, Benjamin E. Youngdahl Professor and associate dean at the Brown School, and Chris King, managing editor of The American, in memory of Michael Brown.