Five Questions | Pastor Leroy Hardy
CLEARWATER — As if parenting six kids and running a business is not enough to keep him busy, Leroy Hardy has recently taken on a new role — pastor of Mount Olive Missionary Baptist Church. The church, with 100 registered members, has roots that go back about 90 years in the South Greenwood community.
As a teenager, Hardy served as an usher at Shiloh Missionary Baptist in Dunedin where he first met Clem Bell, that church's pastor, in the mid 1970s. "Leroy has become a successful businessman, husband and father, and now he has the big challenge of taking what he has learned in all his other roles and implementing them into his pastoral role,'' said Bell, 64. "Mount Olive is getting a man with integrity."
Hardy and his wife, Stacie, live in Largo. His children, three sons and three daughters, range in age from 11 to 28, and three remain at home. Hardy's full-time salary will continue to come from Dicoer, an insurance company in Largo that he founded in 2012.
"Ultimately, I'd like to be full time at the church, but I need to balance everything. With me, it's not about money. I feel like I have a much higher calling,'' said Hardy, 48.
1. What do you see as the biggest strength of Mount Olive?
Those members that have been here for a long time and are committed to Mount Olive. Actually, the biggest weakness is tied into that as well. There's so much history here that to make changes, I have to be careful, not that I plan to make a lot of changes. God leads people differently so I know the ones who have been here awhile will feel some change.
2. Do you see yourself as a leader of the larger African-American community in Pinellas County?
I believe most any black pastor is certainly looked at as a community leader. That's our history. There has been little separation between our community and church. Seventy or 80 years ago, where could the blacks meet but the church? You weren't allowed to go to restaurants or a public place. When you look at things like the civil rights movement, pastors in the African-American community were typically the leaders. Martin Luther King was a pastor. … I also think a pastor in the African-American community is much more revered than a pastor sometimes in a white community. I can't say more because I'm not involved there, but man, a black pastor is expected to be a jack of all trades, and again, that's the history.
3. So what do you see as the biggest challenge for the African-American community in North Pinellas?
There's two layers. First there's still an education impediment. In this day and age I am still flabbergasted how graduation rates could be so low among African-Americans in 2014. I just don't get it. Unity is also a huge challenge. I'm talking unity in the home, in the family. There's too many single mothers and not enough fathers being fathers. Seventy percent of our kids in public school are in single-family homes. It's like this across the board, but it's so much more prevalent in African-American communities. There's a saying if you want to tear down a nation, you start by dividing the home first. In the Bible, it says a house divided cannot stand. The home, our homes, are so far from what they are supposed to be.
4. Would you like to see more involvement between white Baptist churches and African-American Baptist churches or are you pleased with the relationship?
I don't think we can ever be pleased with the relationship. As a matter of fact, the last three Sundays, my sermon has been based on unity. Heaven is not going to look anything like the average church. Sunday is one of the most segregated days of the week. We go to work together, we go to the same stores, we do all these things together Monday to Saturday, but when we hit Sunday we all go to our separate churches. I would love to see a lot more integration.
5. How would you integrate more?
It'll take what is supernatural, divine intervention, to bridge the gaps between us. We won't cross the bridge on our own. It is true that we do things that make us the most comfortable, and we are comfortable going to our churches because we are similar to those next to us in the pews. I get that, but our limitations, our biases, almost allows us to put God in a box.
Contact Piper Castillo at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 445-4163. Follow: @Florida_PBJC.