Kingston, Jamaica meets Brooklyn, New York in Tulsa, Oklahoma and a lifelong love is born…..but more about that later.
The Rev. Dr. Michael Harriott is a highly credentialed, deeply spiritual, family grounded, community involved leader, husband, father, grandfather and ordained minister. He is also full of wonderful good humor and prefers to be called ‘Pastor Mike’.
Pastor Mike was born in Kingston, Jamaica on August 18, 1954, the middle child of five siblings. He and his two brothers and two sisters, with whom he remains very close, were blessed with joys and burdened with sorrows during their early growing up years. The young Michael attended elementary and secondary schools on the Island and participated in the youthful activities of a boy growing up surrounded by love. At eight years old his world was shattered when his mother died and his father was faced with the daunting task of caring for and raising his five young children as a single dad. Two other factors added strain to the grieving family. One was that their grandmother, the spiritual bearing wall in their lives – became so elderly that she was unable to help with their care. Equally hard, perhaps even more crippling, was the fact that Jamaica had achieved its independence from Great Britain and, as is the case with many newly independent nations, was enmeshed in governmental turmoil, strife and unrest. Pastor Mike’s father had a very tough choice to make: continue to live in a country that offered little stability and minimal safety or leave to start a new…and better…life for his children elsewhere. One can only imagine how difficult this choice was, but being a man of courage and having a spiritual foundation, Pastor’s Mike dad decided to move to the United States to begin a new chapter for his family. Pastor Mike was 13 years old when his father, along with his new wife, moved to Montclair, New Jersey. Pastor Mike’s stepmom arranged for her sister to move from the Jamaican countryside to the city of Kingston to care for the 5 children until the time was right for them to move too. It would be three long years before that time came. In the interim, life without his mom or his dad became challenging for the young teenager. He drifted from his church roots, stumbled in choices he made and most of all came to know the meaning of fear. Fear of the city he lived in. Fear of the unrest in his country. Fear of not knowing where he belonged. Blessedly, his dad was able to secure the proper approvals and paperwork to reunite the family in 1971. Pastor Mike was 16 years old and The Lord had plans for him!
His dad and stepmom later purchased a home in Orange, New Jersey near the community of Montclair. It was into that home that the five Harriott children and their three step siblings adjusted to life in the United States. His dad was a Deacon, Treasurer, Sunday school teacher and House Church leader at First Fellowship Assembly in Orange. He was a loving man who worked hard to help children, his own and those of other families. He supported orphans in his homeland of Jamaica and left his house early each Sunday morning to pick up the neighborhood kids so they could attend Sunday school. Now reunited with his dad and his stepmom, whom he had come to love very much, Michael began to get his bearings again.
Michael’s spiritual journey began in earnest.
It had been very difficult living in Jamaica during the struggle for independence. Coming to the United States, Pastor Mike experienced a moved from a place of danger and violence to a place of peace and tranquility. This had a profound and lasting effect on the young man. He shares a very moving story of walking down the streets of Montclair shortly after arriving in the United States. He was amazed at how lovely and peaceful this new place was, and how safe he felt walking the streets of his new community. As he took in the beauty and tranquility, he reflected on what he had left behind in Jamaica: the political upheaval, the gang fights, the fear, the void of order and calm and most of all, his friends. The other young “Michaels” who did not escape. The other young people who did not even know that such peace existed on this earth. And he began to pray for the people of Jamaica. He prayed that God would allow the people in Jamaica to find a compassionate leader and that order would be restored. Tears filled his eyes as he prayed for this one special wish and God responded to his prayer. How you ask? He showed Michael a vision of his future. Michael saw himself ministering to a flock of people and it was at that moment, that the future Rev. Dr. Michael Harriott knew his path. His purpose. His direction. Now what? he asked himself. What do I do with this vision? Now what?
He resisted the call to serve for months. He knew it was his mission in life, but after all, he was a 16-year old and did not know what to do next. But God’s vision for his future kept coming back. He finally told his dad and step mom what God had planned for him. They were thrilled and totally supportive! Now the path was set. Implementation became the focus and implement he did. After graduating from Montclair High School, Michael decided to attend Oral Roberts University in Tulsa, Oklahoma. He chose Oral Roberts for two reasons. One was the excellent academic reputation it had and the other was the fact that it was a Christian university well known for preparing students for the ministry. Little did he know when he set out for Tulsa that in addition to beginning his life’s work, he would meet his life’s love.
The future Pamela Harriott, who had graduated two years early from John Dewey High School in Brooklyn, New York, arrived at Oral Roberts University the year Pastor Mike was a rising senior. Their courtship ignited and lasted for three years ending in a May 1979 wedding. By then Pastor Mike had graduated and decided to begin his Masters of Theology studies at Oral Roberts University, while Pamela finished her undergraduate degree. Then it was back to New Jersey for the newlyweds. Pastor Mike completed his Master of Divinity Degree at Drew Theological Seminary in 1983 and his Doctor of Ministry Degree at Palmer Theological Seminary in 1990. He was ordained a Deacon in the former Southern New Jersey Conference in 1984 and an Elder in the same Conference in 1986. In 2012 Pastor Mike will celebrate 30 years in the ministry.
The Harriott’s have four daughters. Cecille Harriott-Faber, who lives in Los Angeles, California with her husband and their 3 sons. Alyce Harriott, a Master’s graduate student at Columbia University, School of Social Work. LaDonna Harriott who recently completed her second year in law school at Temple University, and Valencia Harriott who graduated from Duke University and has just recently been accepted to Howard University to begin her Doctoral Program in Social Psychology. Education has been a core value and continual theme in Pastor Mike’s life and it continues in his daughter’s. When you get a chance to ask Pastor Mike about his girls, you will hear the joy and heartfelt pride he has for each of them!
In addition to spending time with their daughters and grandsons, the Harriotts enjoy travelling, especially to the Poconos, Miami, Houston, The Bahamas and Jamaica. They reserve Friday nights as ‘date night’ and catch up on the week’s activities over a nice dinner and a shared movie.
Pastor Mike’s resume of accomplishments is expansive. His involvement in community outreach and leadership development began when he was a sophomore in college when he led a Mission Team to Trinidad, Tobago and St. Vincent. He continues to reach out to people in many ways. Pastor Mike is skilled in mediation and conciliation, trained by the Superior Court of New Jersey to provide these skills as a volunteer in the Municipal Courts of Newark and Irvington, NJ. He partnered with the United Methodist Homes of NJ to build a six million dollar ($6,000,000) affordable, four-story, 48-unit Senior Citizen Housing Complex in Montclair, New Jersey and served as its president for 10 years, stepping down this year to assume his ministerial duties in Woodbury.
Pastor Mike has served three United Methodist Churches in New Jersey: Mt. Zion-Wesley UM Church in Deptford, 1882-1984; Asbury UM Church in Atlantic City, 1984-1992 and the past 18 years at St. Mark’s UM Church in Montclair, NJ. He has served as the Conference Secretary of the Greater New Jersey Conference of The United Methodist Church since 2000.
During our interview, Pastor Mike was asked to share his thoughts on a variety of topics. Here are some:
What will success look like when you complete your first year at Kemble?
“I would like to have made very few changes. I would like to know that I have listened, loved, served and gained the trust of the Kemble Family.”
What do you expect from your congregation?
“I expect open minds and open hearts. I want us to show the world that we can work together and that we are open to new people and whatever God has in store for us.”
What do you want your new congregation at Kemble to expect from you?
“I would like them to expect me to be their spiritual leader, guide and coach. I want them to expect me to help them find what God wants them to be and to help them become that. I am devoted to helping people fulfill their potential.”
What can the members of Kemble do to make you and Pamela and your daughters feel welcome quickly?
“My hope is that they will invite us into their homes. Sharing a meal is the best way for us to get to know each other, and I hope we have that opportunity over and over again.”
What is the most important thing you want Kemble to know about you?
“I would like Kemble to know that I am a man of God.”
Is there anything else you would like to share?
“God has put Kemble and the Harriotts together for a reason. Pamela and I do not know the reason yet and I am sure there are people within the Congregation who wonder why too. Nevertheless, I am certain there is a reason and that it will be revealed to us all as we work together. God has a plan.”
As we reached the end of our time together, I had to ask Pastor Mike one last question. A dangerous one. One that had just one “right” answer. I hesitated. “Dr. Harriott, you’ve been generous in your time and open in your sharing of thoughts and experiences. I am hoping you will give me a straight answer on this last question.” “Ok,” he responded, “what is the question?” I mustered up the courage to ask, hoping I would not be disappointed……
“Eagles or Giants?” There was a long pause…and then a laugh… “Surely you don’t expect me to provide a total stranger, who I have just met over the phone, with the answer to such a sensitive question!” We decided the question could be answered later, once he got to know the Eagles………..and us.
Welcome to Kemble, Pastor Mike and Pamela. We are anxious to get to know you and for you to get to know us. God Bless.
Contributed by Sherron Laurrell