Gilyard Returns to Major Pulpit to Fanfare and Controversy

Shown l-r is Mt. Ararat Pastor Gilyard with church members: Eric Ellis, James and Beatrice Andrews.
Shown l-r is Mt. Ararat Pastor Gilyard with church members: Eric Ellis, James and Beatrice Andrews.

By Lynn Jones

By Lynn Jones
Twenty years ago Pastor Darrell Gilyard could have cashed a blank check anywhere in Jacksonville. As the lead pastor of spiritual powerhouse Shiloh Metropolitan Baptist Church, Gilyard led the growth of the congregation in the 90s for 14 years to the mega church it is known to be today.

In 2008, the revered pastor’s life was changed forever when he was arrested for sex crimes against two minors in his congregation. In the cases, for which he was imprisoned, Gilyard pleaded guilty to fondling a teenage girl during a counseling session and to sending sexually explicit text messages to another. After his conviction, Gilyard admitted to fathering the child of a woman who accused him of raping her during a 2004 counseling session, court documents showed. He shared in a later interview he had made serious mistakes, knew that he had disappointed many people, and vowed to make it up to them.

By 2012, Gilyard had completed his three-year prison sentence and returned to Duval County as a registered sex offender. His talents had been missed by his devout followers and despite controversy, he became the lead pastor at Christ Tabernacle Missionary Baptist Church. His first service drew an estimated 150 people, up from a regular attendance of only five to 10. Protesters soon stopped and the flock continued to grow.

Fast forward to 2020 that space is no longer big enough. No longer under the legal confines of having to stay a distance from minors, still powerful with the word, Rev. Gilyard was recently installed as the head pastor of Historic Mount Ararat Church on Myrtle Avenue.

Free Press phones rang off the hook with concerns and pleas from congregants regarding their incoming pastor and what many deemed his questionable history. Judging from the packed house at Mt. Ararat’s recent Sunday services, while his history may be of question, his spiritual gift left no doubts that the gifted pastor was right where he was meant to be.

“If you want to talk about mistakes, I’ll be the first one in line,” said Gilyard in his opening sermon. “All have sinned and become short of the glory of God.”

Still a sharp dressed man, the fluidity of his sermon continued the same soul stirring anointing delivery those who witnessed him in all of his glory days still remember – and continue to flock to.

“As a service member I’ve visited churches all over the world and I’ve heard many pastors preach. Pastor Gilyard is by far the best teacher of the Bible and the Word of God I’ve ever experienced anywhere,” said 30 year follower James Andrews.

During the opening service, the devoted filled the church along with the curious for the next phase in the life of the 100 year old institution. If history stands as a lesson, everything Pastor Gilyard touches turns to gold, except for the lives of the young women he unwelcomingly entered.

In a previous text message to the Florida Times Union, Gilyard stated “Somehow I will prove that life isn’t over when one has committed a crime for which he receives this heinous label. You don’t have to languish on the fringes of society.”

The Bible’s book of Matthew states, “Judge not lest ye be judged.” Judgment for the pastor has been rendered by a court of law, and the rest will reside in those whose support him and trust his message.

“ After being under his tutelage I found it extremely difficult to sit under any other pastor,” said Andrews. He has a way of always bringing the message back to the importance of the word of God.”

It seems that just like the words of the Bible, Gilyard too is standing the test of time.

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