Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Community Distinguished Service Award
The Rev. Kirk T. Houston, Sr.
The Rev. Kirk T. Houston, Sr., founder and senior pastor of Gethsemane Community Fellowship Baptist Church in Norfolk, was inspired at a young age by the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The grandson of a Baptist minister, Dr. Houston read many of Dr. King’s sermons as a teenager, and was particularly taken with his message of altruism. Dr. King once said:
Life's most persistent and urgent question is, “What are you doing for others?”
In his own words, Dr. Houston says, “We’re here to make a difference. Where do we make that difference?” During his long career in ministry in Hampton Roads, which stretches across nearly three decades, he has not only made a difference himself, but also empowered and enabled many others to make a difference – in their own lives and in the lives of their fellow citizens. From his earliest years in ministry, he has served the community, with a particular focus on ex-offenders and those still in jail. He founded a non-profit community service organization, Garden of Hope, which holistically fulfills the spiritual, social and physical needs of the poor, the disenfranchised, the powerless. Again, in Dr. Houston’s words, “Ministry is about improving the quality of lives of people you have access to.” The organization, which employs 16 people, seeks local, state and federal grants in support of its work.
A native of South Florida, Dr. Houston became a machinist’s mate in the U.S. Navy and in 1983 was stationed at the Norfolk Naval Base. At the age of 25 he left the Navy and was called to his first formal role in ministry, at New Hope Baptist Church in the Pughsville section of Suffolk. Until then, his training in ministry had been informal: lessons from his grandfather and from serving in churches wherever the Navy sent him. In addition to his role at New Hope, he became inmate rehabilitation director at the Norfolk City Jail, and eventually became the jail’s chaplain. After five years, he founded Gethsemane Community Fellowship Baptist Church with 35 believers, and today the fast-growing church has a membership of more than 2,000.
Dr. Houston holds a doctor of ministry degree from the United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio, as well as a master of divinity degree from the Samuel Dewitt Proctor School of Theology at the historic Virginia Union University in Richmond. Possessing a passion for issues of personal and spiritual development, he is a much sought-after speaker, teacher, and trainer, and is regarded as a preacher’s preacher. He is the author of “The Church’s Return Policy: Equipping the Church to Minister to Ex-Offenders.”
Besides serving as chair of the Garden of Hope Community Development Corporation, he is chaplain to the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office, chair of the Norfolk Jail Ministry's Board of Directors, and director of the Christian Student Fellowship at Norfolk State University. In 2009, he was appointed to the Norfolk School Board and was recently re-elected to his third term as chair. A believer in education and lifelong learning, Dr. Houston sees his role on the School Board as another avenue of ministry, helping girls and boys become successful young adults.