Pastor Morton and the Prayer Palace Ministry

Originally published at Fort Greene Focus on Sept. 11, 2013.

In 2007, Pastor Luther Morton turned his Carlton Avenue home into a church. Four years later, cancer forced him from the pulpit. But now, 65 pounds lighter after months of chemotherapy and radiation treatments, the 70-year-old pastor is rebuilding his congregation, planning to work with a battered women’s group and turn two backyards sheds into a food pantry for the neighborhood’s hungry.

“The lord inspired me to open up my own church so that is what I did,” Pastor Morton said before delving into the detail of his prophetic conversation further.

His Prayer Palace Ministry services are not like those of a typical church. As parishioners enter the first floor space they immediately transition from a typical brownstone exterior to a place of worship on the inside. The walls are filled with photos of Jesus, the last supper, a dedication to Pastor Morton’s parents and the prayer palace mission statement. Towards the sidewalk-facing windows is the pulpit, bordered by microphones, speakers and floral arrangements.

The color scheme of the drapes and the paint on the molding bear the purple and yellow that are on the banner outside, welcoming passers by. Seats fill the space from the front to the back where the bathroom is located. An ample amount of light flooded the room on one Friday night. As people filed in they walked through the isle, said hello to others in attendance and took seats where prayers books are placed atop.

Services started on a recent Friday evening with the singing of a selection of songs, chosen from home made service books that were dense with easy to follow songs and prayers. Following the song those in the audience – eight people in attendance that night – said their own private prayers. First the parishioners – including local pastors, evangelists, reverends and a couple neighbors who attend services on a semi-regular basis – were encouraged to pray to themselves silently. Then the prayers were said aloud for the whole room to hear.

On most nights the testimonials include thanking god for blessings, praying for additional blessings and a resounding amount of “hallelujah” and “amen” from those in attendance. The last one to offer prayers is Pastor Morton. Recently he spoke about his battle with cancer and the role faith and prayer played in that tribulation. As he raised up a radiation mask from behind the pulpit and showed it to those in attendance, he began to speak of his journey through the life altering disease.

“This was the mask that covered my face five days a week as I had radiation put into my face. I said Psalms 23, my personal favorite prayer, numerous times every day and God brought me through this disease and returned me to life,” Pastor Morton said, “Faith is what saved me and continues to help me live every day of my life.”

Pastor Morton is not a very eloquent speaker. His stage presence could be found lacking at times, but he’s able to make up for his shortcomings with resounding faith and determination to spread his beliefs. Those in attendance said that’s the reason they support Pastor Morton.

“He is doing excellent work,” says Pastor C.E. Williams, a former local pastor who has recently returned from a year in Texas. Pastor Williams said he is determination to help Pastor Morton rebuild his congregation.

Reverend Ray Wade from Positive Force Ministry talked about how he loved the charm of the living space turned ministry. “This is how church started, not in big buildings with fancy windows and such, church started at home,” he said.

Opal O’Neil is a regular visitor to the ministry since her mom passed away around the same time Pastor Morton reconvened his services 4 months ago. “I find it more comfortable here than being in a bigger church. It feels more like a family and is more private he makes everyone feel very comfortable and welcome.”

Pastor Morton’s brother, Leonard, is the ministry’s Deacon. He said he never lost faith throughout his brother’s cancer treatments, which began in March of 2012 at the Brooklyn VA Medical Center in Dyker Heights, Brooklyn. The treatments included radiation five days a week and chemotherapy once a week. It lasted roughly four months and took a toll on the pastor’s health, he said.

“I had faith that God would take care of him and eliminate the cancer from his body,” Leonard said. “He work’s in mysterious ways, how he does it is his business but I knew that it would be completed.”

The brothers have lived in Brooklyn their whole lives and in Fort Greene since 1953, when their father bought the brownstone on Carlton Avenue that houses the ministry. At 70 years old, Pastor Morton is rebuilding the ministry he was absent from for more than a year. He has aspirations to continue to expand its community service, including opening a food pantry to feed hungry locals. The pastor has also entertained interest from a local battered women’s group to hold its weekly meeting in his ministry.

“I have a vision that one day this place [Prayer Palace Ministry] will be filled to capacity with standing room only,” he said.

Evangelist Joanna Cunningham only had to attend the services once to be hooked in, she said, quick to note that the unique style of the ministry at Pastor Morton’s brownstone made no difference to her.

“This is a church, it is no different. It is not in how the building is situated. It is whether or not God is there,” Cunningham said, before describing his ministry with a quote from scripture, “Where twos and threes gather in his name, there he is in the midst.”

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