Pastor brings growth to church


ST. PETERSBURG — It wasn’t a resume that landed the Rev. Doral R. Pulley the pastor position at the Unity of Midtown Church. It wasn’t his years of experience either.

It was YouTube.

The tiny church at 511 Prescott St. S. was looking for a pastor when members saw some of his sermons online and reached out to him.

Pulley, 44, had retired as an assistant principal at a private school in Baltimore to pursue his dream of becoming a full-time pastor.

“I’ve had to work through my fears of just totally stepping out on faith and doing what I believe God is calling me to do,” he said.

So when Unity of Midtown invited him to preach on Father’s Day last year and then offered him the job, he moved to Florida for the opportunity.

Since he started last August, the church, which had 38 members, has seen Sunday attendance climb to 183. The once-predominantly black church has also embraced people of other races.

“The biggest reward now is seeing the diversity,” said Pulley. “We now have Asians, blacks, whites, Hispanics – all working together.”

Pulley said he began preaching when he was seven and became a licensed minister at the age of 12. He had never been a full-time pastor until Unity of Midtown called.

He attended high school in Baltimore, earned a bachelor’s degree from Morgan State University and a master’s in pastoral counseling from Loyola College of Maryland. He has a doctorate in pastoral psychology from Graduate Theological Foundation.

“I felt like as an African-American male to set the highest example for people to know there is no limit to what you can accomplish,” he said.

Pulley, the father of three, lost his first wife 10 days after their twin daughters were born in 1993. He was 22. He put aside his plans to attend theology school at Princeton in order to raise the girls – a challenge he met with the help of his in-laws and his grandmother.

“I didn’t see how I could go learn how to do God’s work [at Princeton] and leave my children with somebody else,” he told the Baltimore Sun in 2006. “I didn’t feel like God would be pleased with me.”

Now, both daughters have graduated from college and Pulley is able to focus on a full-time ministry.

Unity of Midtown helps feed the homeless, donates toilet paper to the St. Petersburg Free Clinic and has a book club. The congregation reads a book a month then meets for fellowship and discussion.

As church attendance and membership climb, Pulley says Unity of Midtown is outgrowing its small building and parking lot, which holds about 15 cars. The pastor has dreams of a bigger place.

Renet Dennard Cole is one of the church’s new members. Friends invited her to attend a service in August 2014, she said.

“Once I heard him, I never stopped coming back,” said Cole, who now leads the multimedia ministry soundboard.

“He is a visionary. He is a teacher,” said Cole. “His concern is to help raise consciousness to where we can recognize the Christ in us.

Chelsi Kallis is a reporter in the Neighborhood News Bureau at the University of South Florida St. Petersburg. Information from the Baltimore Sun was used in this report.

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