A Memorial Service for The Rev. Dr. John Richard Sharp -- a staunch social activist who pastored Govans Presbyterian Church for 27 years and founded the Govans Ecumenical Development Corporation (GEDCO) -- will be held at 2pm on Saturday, May 16 at Govans Presbyterian Church, 5828 York Rd., Balto. 21212. Rev. Sharp suffered a brain hemorrhage and died Monday at St. Joseph's Hospital. He was 76 years old.
Known to most as "Jack," Rev. Sharp was a soft spoken, bespectacled man whose gentle appearance belied his fierce commitment to improve life for those who are sick, poor and elderly. In 1999, the minister and activist led GEDCO, a coalition of 26 North Baltimore churches, in a successful bid against big-city developers to build a low-income retirement community on the site of the old 33rd street Memorial Stadium. Even after the victory, the coalition faced challenges: Rev. Sharp steered GEDCO through many community meetings and court battles before the group finally broke ground for the $43 million project in 2001. Now standing on the sprawling 30-acre lot is an urban village consisting of multi-income senior housing, a full-service YMCA, a community playground and plenty of green space.
As a result of his faith-based community work, Rev. Sharp received the Governor's Award for Leadership in Aging - Outstanding Service Contribution. He once told a reporter that his deep spiritual devotion to "justice ministry" evolved from childhood memories of growing up in a poor neighborhood in Wilmington, Del., under the tender care of his frail and blind grandmother. No matter how bad things became, "the church on the corner was there for us." It seemed inevitable to him that he would one day answer a call to become a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Rev. Sharp was graduated with a Bachelor's Degree in history from Westminster College in New Wilmington, PA in 1962 and a Master's in Divinity Degree from Union Theological Seminary in New York, NY in 1966. He was ordained that year by the New Castle Presbytery and served first as pastor of a small urban church in Newark, NJ. and, later, another church in Albany, NY. For a time he worked as a chaplain in a Veterans Administration Hospital in East Orange, NJ. But Rev. Sharp's pastoral ministry was always centered on the church, particularly those in the midst of transition. He was most effective working as a catalyst to integrate congregations, build stewardship and address issues like hunger, aging and homelessness in the communities he served.
In 1977, Rev. Sharp joined the Presbytery of Baltimore and was installed as pastor of Govans Presbyterian Church. During Rev. Sharp's ministry there, membership in the church grew; several building campaigns were completed; neighborhood child care and senior services expanded; a multi-million dollar endowment was funded; and, GEDCO was established as a model program for ecumenical-based housing and community services.
Rev. Sharp was also an active member of the Presbytery of Baltimore. He served on the Nominations Committee, Committee on Ministry, the Permanent Judicial Commission and chaired the Presbytery's 2000 stewardship campaign for New Church Development. He also served as the Presbytery's representative on the Central Maryland Ecumenical Council and helped establish PresbyNet Telecommunications system, an international on-line resource for pastors and churches. In addition to the demands of a busy ministry, Rev. Sharp continued his studies in faith, receiving a Doctorate of Ministry Degree from McCormick Theological Seminary in 1981.
"Jack was one of the best urban pastor's I ever met," said The Rev. Dr. Herbert Valentine, a long-time friend and former General Presbyter. "He never sought recognition for all the things he did; he did them because they were in his heart to do. He was a great colleague, an intimate friend and a faithful servant of the Word."
Rev. Sharp retired as pastor of Govans in 2004 and went on to serve as interim pastor at Springfield Presbyterian Church. "He was a motivator - he believed in you even if you didn't believe in yourself," said Sandy Newsome, a former church secretary who worked alongside Rev. Sharp at Springfield. "He brought so much warmth and sincerity [to the church] that even though he was an interim, you knew he was invested." Rev. Sharp left Springfield in 2009 but continued to remain active in faith-based community work. During his retirement, he became increasingly interested in genealogy and made many friends around world who shared his interest.
Rev. Sharpe is survived by his wife of 51 years, Joanne "Dottie" Sharp; three children: Jody, John and Bryan Sharp, all of the Baltimore area; two brothers, Stephen G. Sharp of Wilmington, DE and Robert R. Sharp of Richmond, KY; and, a host of relatives and friends. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to GEDCO.org or GEDCO, 1010 E. 33rd St., Balto. MD 21218.