Sarvis Park

"Studying, trusting God, yielding, and loving" with Blackwell AME Zion Church

"Just because you don’t want to hear doesn’t stop God from calling. It’s like ya mama calling you from the window." — Pastor Overton

FLINT, Michigan — There are two distinguishable lives of Rev. Darren Overton, Pastor of Blackwell AME Zion Church in the Sarvis Park neighborhood — one before God and one after.

Before he gave his life to God, the Chicago native graduated from Grambling State University with a degree in Electronic Engineering Technology and went to work at a General Motors factory in Pontiac. He sold drugs out of his car, decided to take care of his sister’s children, and, ironically enough, became a single man after his girlfriend left because “I was not in the church.” But the church and its community never seemed to be very far away.

Pastor Overton tells tales of how the church helped send one of his nieces to Australia, supported him financially when he was out of work, and even went so far as to help him buy a car and pay for the insurance. They “brought me in slowly, loved on me, and helped out with the kids,” he says in a heartfelt voice over the phone.

The memories and moments of gratitude and humbleness exude from the reverend. Pastor Overton’s speech has no superior tone due to his position in the church and the community — quite the opposite. He speaks casually, saying “Amen” when Spirit takes over or taking a moment to pause and reflect. He cracks jokes and uses the word “irregardless,” something said “in the hood,” while juxtaposing biblical scripture and relating them to narratives of our African American upbringing.

Still, “God was directing my footsteps,” he remarks. After recognizing the struggles of being a single parent raising four children, sleepless nights, and stress-induced worrying, he eventually found his way to the church. “I got saved on December 11th, 1998, the second Sunday in December,” and ultimately accepted the calling to become a minister. But in a hilarious twist, “the day I gave my life to God, my car was stolen from the church.”

Now, as the head of Blackwell AME Zion Church, Pastor Overton is committed to community activism and sharing the word of God and the lifestyle. Flintside caught up with Pastor Overton to talk about the lifestyle of God, hearing and accepting the calling, and community activism.

Flintside: There’s so much to unpack about your life. You could have continued as you were. Why go into the church? 

Pastor Overton: “I had three nieces and a nephew I’m raising. That was the reason for me getting saved. I don’t know how [single parents] go through it with not having a relationship with God. I was worrying about everything and sleeping two hours a day. I was a weed smoker, and the weed didn’t work. The day I got saved, I went home that night and slept almost fourteen hours. That was God showing me, ‘if you want peace, I can give you peace.’ Four years later, I confessed and accepted the calling to ministry in 2002.”

Flintside: How did you move into ministering?

Pastor Overton: “African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church believes in a lot of education. I didn’t get ordained until 2007 and didn’t get my Elder’s ordination until 2011. Once my last niece graduated in 2011, I took the appointment in Albion, Michigan. I was there for five years, then I got appointed to Blackwell AME Zion in 2016 and tried to get acclimated to the community. It’s been a slow walk, and we’re trying to get younger people and keep them.” 

Flintside: Moving with God and listening is challenging. How did God or Spirit come to you and say, ‘this is what I want you to do?’

Pastor Overton: “To go from being on the street to saying ‘Lord, I hear you,’ that’s not easy. Scripture says that faith comes by hearing. It should keep going, but it stops there. Just because you don’t want to hear doesn’t stop God from calling. It’s like ya mama calling you from the window. No one hears God calling them, and they answer, especially if they know who they are. The sense of the calling is always too big. That’s why the call is continual, and you have to accept.”

"God will put you on your next level without you even recognizing it. That’s what I’m trying to impart. I’m not just giving [the] word; I’m trying to give you the method.” - Pastor D. Overton
Flintside: You mention that the church community loved on you and your family. How have you continued the legacy of pastors, community members, and the church pouring so much into you through Blackwell and Sarvis Park?

Pastor Overton: “We’ve been doing community walks. We come in on Sunday and go three streets to the left and right. We go to them and say we’re back in the church. We ask, ‘is there anything we can do for you in the community?’ And then, ‘is there anything we can pray for you?’ That’s what we’ve been doing, trying to acclimate ourselves since the pandemic. We’re trying to make sure that we first take care of our community. When it comes to community and true activism, it’s a continual thing of going back, asking questions, and ensuring that you’re present. [We’re] trying to make sure the community knows that we’re in the fight with them.”

Flintside: What are some things you want the congregation and the Sarvis Park community to take away from Spirit moving through you to deliver the word?

Pastor Overton: “I’m always trying to preach lifestyle. God gives through your lifestyle, and if you’re [unwilling] to make changes, you can’t look for God to empower you. Lifestyle is an acronym: Life is learning to imitate the Father every day. So every time we imitate Jesus, we’re imitating the Father. The style is for studying, trusting God, yielding, and loving. If you do [this], that equals elevating. God will put you on your next level without you even recognizing it. That’s what happens when you do your part. That’s what I’m trying to impart. I’m not just giving [the] word; I’m trying to give you the method.”

Flintside: Having raised four children, what do you feel your ministry can do to assist or bring that lifestyle you talked about to younger people?

Pastor Overton: “There’s a lot of intimate anonymity. One of the things I have been doing is I look at them — I talk to them. I want them not to let technology be a ruling factor in their life that they miss out on so much because they’re not there in the present moment. They love the fiction of what [social media] gives. Getting them out of this mode of looking at stuff and thinking it’s reality [because] their self-esteem shouldn’t be in someone liking their post. We’re trying to have that relationship with them and ingrain in them that they are fearfully, wonderfully made. God just don’t make junk.”  

Flintside: Having such a vibrant life, what do you believe you’ve taken away from this experience thus far?

Pastor Overton: “Grace. That’s all it is. I should be an ex-felon or still be in jail right now. I should probably be a father of kids that I ain’t fathering. I could be strung out on drugs. All it is is grace. Thank God for His grace.”

To learn more about Pastor Overton and Blackwell AME Zion Church, visit and attend services at 1902 Sonny St. in Flint.
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Read more articles by Xzavier Simon.