By Tyronda James
“As far as this community is concerned he’s one of the giants.”
A pillar in the Rochester community, Rev. Dr. James Lee Cherry Sr., who meant so much to so many. He died just shy of his 86th birthday in his home in Gainesville, VA on Wednesday, July 29.
Rev. Cherry, Sr. was born August 7, 1934, in Ronco, PA; the 10th child of predeceased parents, Mr. William Cherry Sr. and Cordelia Cherry.
He was also predeceased by his wife Eunice Chaney Cherry, three brothers, 6 sisters, his son, Michael Keith Cherry and daughter, Paulette D. Lorick.
He is survived by one brother, Wesley Cherry, two sons, Rev. James L. Cherry, Sr. (Polly), Rochester, NY and Bishop Wesley T. Cherry, Sr. (Jan) of Marshall, VA and daughter, Alisa Joy Cherry of Gainesville, VA. His 10 grandchildren and 9 great-grandchildren, along with a host of family, friends, church members, and colleagues.
Dr. Cherry was a graduate of the Uniontown School District, earning degrees from Allegheny County Community College, Penn State University and the American Baptist Divinity School, just to name a few. He served his country in the United States Marine Corps during the Korean War.
Born and raised in a Christian family, Rev. Cherry Sr. has pastored five congregations throughout his 52 years of ministry, four churches throughout Pennsylvania and Aenon Baptist Church of Rochester, NY.
“A Message from Mayor Lovely A. Warren on the passing of Reverend Dr. James L. Cherry Sr.:
“I am deeply saddened by the passing of Reverend Cherry. From 1981 until his retirement in 2014, Reverend Cherry was an exemplary man of God as he served the members of Aenon Missionary Baptist Church on Genesee Street and the citizens of Rochester. His steadfast service to God, the Aenon family and our community will live on through his children, loved ones and congregation.
This has been a trying year. God has called home some of our most beloved citizens, both locally and nationally. I mourn along with those who are mourning and I rejoice that Reverend Cherry has joined those who watch over us and has been granted his reward for being a faithful servant.
May our beloved Reverend Cherry rest forever in love, peace and power.”
Many say that Rev. Cherry connected the congregation to the community. He served on the boards of the Urban League of Rochester, NY, Inc. and Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School.
Rev. James Cherry Sr. received the Howard Wilson Coles Community Leadership Award, established in 2005 and named in honor of Howard Wilson Coles, a local journalist, publisher, historian, broadcaster, activist and humanitarian. Cherry joined the ranks of other prominent community leaders who received the award, former Mayor William A. Johnson and Garth Fagan.
Rev. Dr. Jonathan J. McReynolds, Senior Pastor of Aenon Missionary Baptist Church of Rochester, NY said he first became acquainted with Dr. Cherry late fall of 2016 after becoming senior pastor.
“He was an individual that I would say he was a Prince of preachers, someone that really walked in integrity in his calling and his role as the pastor of the church. Someone that had a quiet strength about him. Reverend Cherry was not the type that might go out and lead a protest, but he got a lot done in the city of Rochester.”
“My favorite memory I have of Reverend shares when he came back to visit. He came back in 2018 to visit his son, James Cherry, Jr. for his anniversary. And I called and asked Reverend Cherry if he would be willing or interested to come by the church for about 10 minutes and just wave his hand and say hello to the congregation.
It was just an honor and a joy to be able to stand in the pulpit with Reverend Cherry at the same time to hear him address the congregation after he’d been retired for a couple of years. To see him experienced the joy of being able to sit in the pastoral seat again. And to hear him express to me, his joy about me being his successor and how well the church was doing. So that, that was probably one of the most sacred moments of my ministry, just to be able to have that Sunday morning experience with him,” McReynolds said.
Dr. McReynolds said that Rev. Cherry will definitely be missed and that Aenon MBC will be honoring Rev. Cherry during the month of August.
“We’re planning to play some of his old sermon clips on our YouTube channel on Sundays at 10:30. As well as an honorary him Sunday at 9:30 after one of the church’s community events,” said McReynolds.
“We’ll miss him greatly. He was a wonderful person and a blessing to the church and the community.”
Pastor Julius D. Jackson, pastor of Trinity Emmanuel said he has known Rev. Cherry since 1981.
“I met him basically through my dad. My dad in the past was a pastor of the second largest black church in Rochester at Mount Vernon. I inherited that friendship if you will. Rev. Cherry just instantly became Uncle Jim to me,” Jackson said.
Jackson said Cherry was there for births of both his children, his two sons.
“He came to the hospital and that was something that he wouldn’t normally do for parishioners. But for us, we were like family,” Jackson said.
“And, when I decided to take up the call to ministry, he encouraged me. I was licensed as a minister, I was actually at Genesee Baptist doing my fieldwork. And he was there for my licensing and participating in the ceremony. There’s quite a few of us that he’s groomed into the ministry that would have similar stories to mine as far as the ministry, but again, he was uncle Jim to me. So, I think he went above and beyond for me.”
Jackson said it was because of Rev. Cherry, he became involved with the fight with AIDS.
“He was very active with NBLCA, the National Black Leadership Commission on AIDS. He encouraged me to get involved with them. I ended up being on their board and then, ended up working for them for AIDS care, which is now Trillium,” said Jackson.
Rev. Cherry remained committed to the HIV AIDS fight up until when he retired in 2005.
Bishop Owens F. Shepard Sr., pastor of God Healing Temple said he’s personally known Rev. Cherry for about 17 years.
“I met him working with HIV AIDS ministry and being a young pastor at the time and the pastor of a small church we connected on some things such as women preachers. One of the things he told me and told my mom at the time he said, yeah, I used didn’t believe in women preachers but I learned, I learned some sense. And, so he was that mentor type father figure type. Definitely just, well known. From the time he took over from Reverend Greer to the time he retired, he was a Giant.”
Pastor Roger Breedlove, Sr. pastor at In Christ New Hope Ministry in Henrietta, says Cherry was a man of great integrity and character.
“He was just a different kind of pastor,” Breedlove says. “He always treated me the same. He was
consistent. That’s just who he was. He helped me find a church building, introduced me to others to help
me in my ministry. He ordained me and gave me insight into what it takes to be a great leader.”
“I lost my father at the age of 20 and Pastor Cherry was definitely a father figure to me and an example of what a husband and family man should be. My greatest regret is not being able to attend his going home service because only immediate family are able to attend—I definitely consider myself immediate family though,” Breedlove notes.
“God knows exactly who we need in our lives and he put James Cherry in my path. I will be forever indebted to him. I believe he was a human guide from God to point us in the right direction.”
Reverend Dr. James L. Cherry, Sr. ‘s, service will take place at Ames Funeral Home, 8914 Quarry Road, Manassas, VA 20110 for immediate family only. The family invites the public to participate in the Cyber-Celebration, Friday, August 7. With a virtual viewing at 9:00 a.m. followed by the Home-going Service beginning at 10 a.m. To view, visit www.amesfh.com