From coast to coast -- Rev. Philip Cousin appointed to California church

Longtime St. Joseph A.M.E. Church pastor also served as commissioner and school board member
May. 20, 2013 @ 05:33 PM

Rev. Philip Cousin Jr., a longtime religious and political leader in Durham, was appointed to a new church last week and already preached there Sunday. The African Methodist Episcopal Church moved Cousin from St. Joseph A.M.E. in Durham to the pulpit of Bethel A.M.E. Church in San Francisco.

Cousin got the call last Wednesday and had 72 hours to get ready for his new church, after nearly 21 years at St. Joseph A.M.E.

“It happened quickly,” he said Monday, reached by phone at Bethel A.M.E. Church. “It’s kind of a combination of military and corporate America. Being assigned to a new church is always a possibility.”

On Sunday, he preached at Bethel’s 8 a.m. service on 2 Kings 4:8-37. Then he preached at 11 a.m. on 1 Corinthians 14:7-8, followed by a modest reception, Cousin said. Bethel A.M.E. is the oldest African-American church in San Francisco.

Cousin said he sees his appointment to Bethel as “an opportunity to move an old and established congregation forward.” Founded in 1852, Bethel has a 356-unit affordable housing complex and a credit union. The church is a fixture in San Francisco culture, Cousin said.

Monday morning, California time, Cousin was still adjusting to the time change and working his first full day at Bethel A.M.E., then planned to take the red eye flight back to Durham. He still has to pack, and will be commuting back and forth for the next month. Cousin and his wife, Angela McMillan Cousin, have five children. The eldest four are grown, but youngest son Joshua, 16, is a rising junior at Durham School of the Arts. Cousin praised the school, DSA principal and his son’s music teacher, DSA choir director Sean Grier. The move will probably be hard on Joshua, Cousin said.

“My wife and I are thinking Durham is always home,” Cousin said, and they’ll keep their house here. There’s no place like Durham, he said.

Cousin served on the Durham School Board from 1996 to 2000, and on the Durham County Board of Commissioners from 2000 to 2008, then briefly in 2012. In 2011, he was elected chairman of the Durham Committee on the Affairs of Black People, a prominent political group in Durham. Cousin said he’d resign, and that succession rules call for the first vice chair of the committee, Randal Rogers, to replace him.

“He is more than capable. The beauty of life is found in the realization that the departure of one does not result in the demise of all,” Cousin said. “The committee will flourish. The church will do well. Durham will thrive.”

For St. Joseph A.M.E., Presiding Bishop William Phillips DeVeaux of the Second Episcopal District of the A.M.E. Church will appoint the next pastor. A conference is being held this week in Raleigh.

Cousin grew up in Durham, and in St. Joseph A.M.E. He served at five other churches before coming to his home church in August 1992.

Ava Brownlee, a member at St. Joseph A.M.E. since 1976, had known Cousin in high school. “I looked up one Sunday, and said, ‘Oh, it’s Philip!’ He said, ‘I will be your new pastor,’ and he preached that Sunday,” she said, emphasizing “preached.”

“How he came is how he left – in the Methodist Church as well, not just African Methodist Episcopal -- once you get the assignment, you go,” said Brownlee, a church steward.

The announcement about Cousin’s departure was made during church on Sunday, and people were visibly shaken, she said.

“The children took it especially hard,” Brownlee said, and expressed it on social media, with one student posting a picture of herself being baptized by Cousin.

Brownlee said that Bethel A.M.E. must have been impressed by Cousin’s reputation as a man of integrity and a family man.

“My heart is broken, but we’re very happy and excited for him and his family. They deserve it,” she said.

Cousin said there were rumors he might be reassigned, “but there are always rumors. Because we are subject to annual appointment, we are subject to annual rumors.”

Cousin said he will miss Durham. “I’m very humbled that the community allowed me to serve on the school board and commissioners. I had the opportunity to serve with some outstanding people,” he said. Cousin said he is grateful Durham prepared him very well “to go anywhere and navigate political waters.”

“Rev. Cousin represented us well in the community, politically and the church,” Brownlee said. “He’s loved and respected.”

Rev. Joe Harvard, who retired earlier this month from First Presbyterian Church, said he was grateful for the relationship between First Presbyterian and St. Joseph A.M.E., whose congregations shared Maundy Thursday services together.

“Phil Cousin has given himself to serve the community as well as his congregation, and he was a valued colleague,” Harvard said. “I wish him well.”

Cousin said he wants a good, long-term relationship with his new church in San Francisco.

“I’ll be a displaced Southerner for awhile,” Cousin said.