King, Barbara 19(?)(?)–
Barbara King 19(?)(?)–
Barbara Lewis King creates quite a presence standing upon the podium. Possessing a flair for flamboyant clothes and dramatic gestures, she exhorts her congregation to love themselves and to find the Father-Mother God within each of them. Raised by a grandmother who emphasized spirituality, King has inspired others with her message of positive action and leads a congregation exceeding 5, 000 worshipers.
King was born in Houston, Texas to parents who divorced shortly after her birth. Her father, Lee Andrew Lewis, was an activist who fought to bring African American motion picture operators into the AFLCIO, pressed for equal wages for African Americans, and became the first African American motion picture operator in Texas. While her father’s example of dignity in the face of struggle continued to influence her significantly, King moved in with her grandmother, Ida Bates Lewis. Despite the fact that King lived in poverty and sometimes went to school with cardboard stuffed into the bottom of her shoes, her grandmother stressed the pleasures of dressing well and the satisfaction of making the best of one’s situation. She was further bolstered by her grandmother’s strong faith and the teachings of the Baptist church. This combination of spiritual and emotional fulfillment worked to strengthen King’s self-confidence in the face of adversity.
As King explained toWomen Looking Ahead, “I saw the working of the spirit in my grandmother. She demonstrated religious and spiritual principles through her actions and how she lived; not through talk…Her affirmation [that“The Lord will make a way”] moved me as a child; gave me the will and courage to pursue my calling.” She also remarked to Donita Rolle inFemme that her grandmother often told her to“Never say you can’t do something. You can do what you have to do.”
Soon after enrolling at Texas State University in 1948, King was diagnosed with tuberculosis. Instead of attending college, she found herself in a sanatorium for the next four years. While convalescing at the sanatorium, King was introduced to the Unity School of Christianity, a belief system whose central tenet states that because all people are created in the image of God, all are potentially divine. The Unity message of personal power strongly appealed to her. Although doctors were skeptical that King would recover from her disease, she claimed that she was miraculously healed after following a radio preacher’s
Born Barbara Lewis; daughter of Lee Andrew Harris; married and divorced three times; children: Michael Education Teas Southern University, BA in sociology; Atlanta University, MSW in social work administration.
Career: Program director, Henry Booth House, Chicago; program consultant, Church Federation of Greater Chicago; executive director, South Chicago Community Services Association, 1966-68; dean of community relations, Chicago City College, Malcolm X Campus, 1967-69; instructor, Atlanta University School of Social Work, 1971-72; director, South Central Community Mental Health Center, Atlanta, 1971-73; dean of students, Spelman College, Atlanta, 1974-76; founder and minister, Hillside Chapel andTruth Center, inc., Atlanta, 1971-; founder and president, Barbara King School of Ministry, Atlanta, 1977-.
Memberships: Chair, Community Relations Commission, Atlanta; vice-president, International New Thought Alliance; member, Atlanta Women’s Network; member, Women’s Chamber of Commerce of Atlanta; member, American Management Association.
Addresses: Hillside Chapel and Truth Center, 2450 Cascade Road, SW, Atlanta, GA 30311.
instruction to put her hands on the radio and pray with him. She has often recounted that when she removed her hands from the radio, a voice within her declared that her lungs were clear. In 1951, King convinced her physicians to allow her to return to college, and she remained free of tuberculosis.
From the age of 13, King felt called to the ministry. She often taught Sunday school classes as ateenager and, at the age of 15, was the youngest Woman’s Day speaker in the history of Houston’s Antioch Baptist Church. King recalled that she would envision herself standing at the pulpit during church services. However, she was repeatedly discouraged by male church leaders from pursuing the ministry and told that she should become a missionary. Setting aside her dream of becoming a minister, King earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from Texas Southern. In 1955, she moved to Atlanta to pursue a master’s degree at Atlanta University’s School of Social Work. Upon completing her degree, she moved to Chicago and found employment as a social work administrator, heading a $3 million-a-year settlement project within the city’s housing bureaucracy.
While living in Chicago, King married Moses King in June of 1966 and gave birth to her son, Michael, on March 15, 1967. In 1968 she met the Rev. Johnnie Colemon, the first female African American minister that she had ever encountered. At the time, Colemon was the full-time minister of Christ Universal Temple, one of the largest churches in Chicago, and she inspired King to establish her own ministry. King served as Colemon’s director of administration while Coleman concurrently guided her ministerial training. King also studied at the Baptist Training School in Chicago and at Missouri’s Unity Institute of Continuing Education. She completed her training and was ordained by the Rev. Roy Blake in 1971.
In 1971, King returned to Atlanta and joined the faculty of Atlanta University (later known as Clark Atlanta University) as a professor of social work before becoming dean of students at Spelman College. In addition to her university responsibilities, King started a Bible study group. The group blossomed into what Virginia Holland-Davis of Reflections termed“a sort of’underground‘ religious-social women’s organization” that networked and served as an umbrella to other woman-led underground ministries. From this small, dedicated group of 12 people, King began to create a ministry.
By 1974, the Bible study group had grown into a church-sized gathering. King left Spelman, bought a building to house the congregation, and named her new church the Hillside Chapel and International Truth Center. She remarked inWomen Looking Ahead that shortly after the church’s founding, “verbal attacks and allegations that we were a cult, that we were non-religious because a woman was the pastor,” began to surface. King is quick to point out that her ministry is not feminist-centered although, as she noted in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, “I don’t believe any woman ought to be put in a position where she has to depend on a man for paying the bills….I just grew up in a family of strong women who taught that whatever you can be you ought to be that.”
Despite its critics, the Hillside Chapel’s membership continued to multiply. By 1985 the congregation had outgrown its facilities, and church members embarked on a massive fund-raising campaign to build a“church-in-the-round” on the nearly 12-acre property next door. The new facility was completed in 1991, and its circular configuration eliminated the need for a pulpit so that King could be closer to the congregation. The church center also includes a preschool, elementary school, ministers’ school, and bookstore. King’s message is broadcastlocally twice every Sunday morning, and she has hosted her own television show, A New Thought, A New Life.
King remains unaffiliated with any particular Christian denomination, but maintains ties with the International New Thought Alliance. Blending humor, positive thinking, and health tips into her sermons, she preaches love of oneself as a vehicle to loving God and one’s neighbor. King also preaches about the 12 spiritual gifts of man as embodied in each of Jesus’s 12 disciples. Each disciple is represented by a color and honored on a designated month. King wears a robe to match the color of the disciple honored and preaches about the spiritual gifts of that disciple during his particular month.
In an interview with Susan Howard of the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, King explained the appeal of her ministry, “I still bring in the emotion, the feelings that evolve from out of the traditional black church. But I teach that God is within. I teach that life is consciousness, that when you’re loving you, you’re loving God in you. God is not someone who is way off sitting at a throne looking down on you.” As a practitioner of the New Thought church, she goes beyond a literal interpretation of the Bible. “We go beyond to the spiritual translation,” she explained to Myrian Richmond of Aquarius, “because we are mindful of the historical and cultural contexts within which the Bible was written…The New Thought Movement has always recognized the threefold nature of man, that he is mind, body and emotions and that there must be balanceamong all three aspects if we are to perfectly unfold as spiritual beings.” The majority of Hillside’s congregation is between the ages of 18 and 45. Employing a message designed to appeal to this age group, King encourages her members to utilize the Hillside“Treasure Map,” a guide for visualizing one’s goals. The map includes categories for education, the perfect mate, and the ideal car, and members are asked to attach a photograph of their goal to the map so that they may forever see immediately before them the goals they hope to attain.
Critics charge that King’s philosophy overly emphasizes the material instead of the spiritual. She counters these negative comments by stressing that her church speaks to current issues, to the concerns of her specific community, and always within a spiritual context. As King noted in the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, “People need to feel good about themselves, and when a church gives that kind of support and reinforcement, it will attract people… .At Hillside, we teach that you should have whatever you want—You can have your Volvo. . .whatever you want, but you better have God with it. Recognize God as the source of everything you have.. .You don’t have to be poor and singing the blues all the time to be a Christian.”
King’s stature in Atlanta extends far beyond the walls of her church. Preaching her message of faith in God, belief in self, and the power of positive thinking, she is the first female chaplain for the Atlanta Police Department. In an interview with the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, the Rev. Robert L.“Jackey” Beavers remarked, “When people talk about black leaders, they have toinclude Dr. King. That’s evident at election time. When people are running for office, they go to see Dr. Barbara King. Anybody who has that much of a following, well, you definitely want them on your side. She has earned herself a place in Atlanta’s black power structure whether no one else wanted her to have it or not.” Responding to Beavers’s comments, King told the Atlanta Journal and Constitution, “I see power as something that comes from within. A powerful person gives his best and motivates people to exercise their own personal power. If that makes me powerful, then that’s what I’m about.”
The Hillside Center ministry has continued to expand. The church opened a holistic health center in 1997 and, one year later, celebrated the establishment of A Quiet Place, a meditation and prayer center in downtown Atlanta. The Hillside Center also has satellite congregations throughout the United States, and has established a church in South Africa. Apart from her ministry, King has opened an exclusive boutique which caters to women who require speciality sizing. Her goal is to franchise the store across the United States and abroad. King also remains focused on traveling throughout the world and preaching her message of healing and spiritual fulfillment. As she told Aquarius, “I just look forward to being led by Spirit and to being open to the guidance I will receive.”
Transform Your Life, DeVorss, 1989.
Do I Need a Flood, CSA Press, 1983.
What Is A Miracle? CS& Press, 1981.
Love Your Body Temple.
Giving Is Receiving.
The Church: A Matter of Consciousness.
Prosperity That Can’t Quite.
Aquarius, January 1998, p. 8.
Atlanta Business Journal, Fall/Winter 1997, pp. 66-67.
Atlanta Journal and Constitution, September 26, 1985; June 9, 1987, p. 1-B, 4-B; December 26, 1992, pp. B1, 10; June 6, 1995, p. Fl.
Ebony, December 1996, p. 40.
Essence, June 1998, pp. 84-89.
Femme, October 29, 1983.
Heart & Soul, March 1997, pp. 85-86.
Newsweek, March 4, 1996, pp. 50-52.
Recovery Network, October 1992.
Reflections, September 1995, pp. 3, 6.
Upscale, January 1999, p. 41.
Women Looking Ahead, November 1996, pp. 16-17.
Additional information for this profile was obtained from Hillside Chapel & Truth Center press releases and the Hillside Chapel & Truth Center web site.
—Lisa S. Weitzman
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