The Rev. Darron D. McKinney Sr., known for his community development work and activism in Baltimore after a black man died from injuries in a police van there, was installed Sunday as the sixth senior pastor of Bright Hope Baptist Church in North Philadelphia.

McKinney, 35, was installed in a four-hour service that included speeches by Mayor Kenney, former Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr., Temple University president Richard Englert, State Rep. Curtis Thomas, and State Sen. Sharif Street.

"This is one of the most beautiful and historic churches in the city," Kenney said of the 108-year-old church, once headed by former  congressman the Rev. William H. Gray III, the last of three generations of the Gray family to head the institution at 12th Street and Cecil B. Moore Avenue, across from Temple. Both the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Nelson Mandela have stood at its pulpit — Mandela in July 1993, the year before he was elected the first black president of South Africa.

Thomas noted Bright Hope's location, in a neighborhood that is quickly being gentrified.

"Just preach the word, and the people in this community will be able to hold on to what God gave them 50 years ago and will not have to go through unnecessary transformation by people who don't have the same interests," Thomas advised.

McKinney didn't return calls this week asking about his plans for Bright Hope.

For more than six years, McKinney was pastor of Macedonia Baptist Church in Baltimore. In interviews with the Philadelphia Sunday Sun, McKinney noted that the arrest of Freddie Gray, who died in April 2015 after being injured in a police van, occurred only a couple of blocks from his former church.

After street violence broke out and businesses were damaged, he joined with other Baltimore clergy to write a letter calling for peace.

"We met with the mayor, asking, how we can implement action plans, making sure that policies and police reform were implemented," McKinney told the newspaper. "We met with grassroots organizations to talk about how we can create a safe space for our citizens."

He said his former church bought 30 parcels of land to build affordable housing and a community center, and the former police chaplain worked to help incarcerated people reenter society.

The Rev. Darron D. McKinney Sr..
ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer
The Rev. Darron D. McKinney Sr..

The audience at his Sunday installation included a delegation of clergy members and friends from Baltimore and several family members from Tennessee. McKinney grew up in Memphis.

This was yet another life cycle event of McKinney's in which the Rev. James L. Netters, 91, who preached the sermon, was involved: "I christened him when he was a baby, I baptized him, and I married him and his wife, BillieJo," Netters told the audience.

Bright Hope had been without a pastor for more than three years. Its fifth pastor, the Rev. Kevin Johnson, resigned in 2014 after years of accusations by church officials and congregants, including that he refused to allow an audit of the church's finances, that he reneged on a promise not to be political when he announced a run for mayor, and that he failed to honor an agreement to include a charter school and community center in a development the church had partnered with the Goldenberg Group. With Johnson's departure, several Bright Hope members also left the church.

Bright Hope officers hope to rebuild the church's membership with McKinney.

"We have great work to do," McKinney said.  "In fact, the world is watching us. …[But] God is always on the side of the underdog, like David."