Jamal Bryant_TheGrio
BALTIMORE, MD - JUNE 08: Rev. Jamal Bryant (3rd L) of Empowerment Temple speaks as Ben Jealous (L) of Southern Elections Fund and Todd Yeary (2nd L) of Maryland NAACP listens during a news conference June 8, 2015 in Baltimore, Maryland. The group CASA and other organizations that seek police accountability held a news conference to discuss "acceptable principles for police reform" in response to the death of Freddie Gray while in police custody. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Pastor Jamal Bryant is headed to Atlanta to serve as head pastor for New Birth Missionary Baptist Church.

He is leaving Empowerment Temple, the Baltimore megachurch he founded 18 years ago. And is scheduled to preach his first sermon at New Birth on Dec. 9, according to the AJC.

In an interview with the AJC, Bryant said he informed his congregation about the move on Sunday: “[T]he news did not go over well, at all. There was a great gnashing of teeth. Nobody was expecting it.”

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Bryant, 46, said God told him to leave the 10,000-member Empowerment Temple because he was treating it as his own church. God, according to Bryant, spoke to him and said: “This is not your church; it belongs to the people.”

“I had a sense of ownership that had leaped into entitlement. I began to think this (Empowerment Temple) is me, but God tapped me on the shoulder and said hold on. Not so fast,” Bryant told the newspaper. “I had no reason to leave Baltimore but for the prompting of God.”

Bryant has not been without controversy, writes the AJC, at Empowerment Temple after he admitted to an extramarital affair when he was married to ex-wife Gizelle Bryant, who stars on Bravo TV’s Real Housewives of Potomac. Since his divorce, the pastor is also alleged to have fathered a child out of wedlock.

But Thomas W. Dortch Jr., an Atlanta businessman and chairman of New Birth’s board, told the AJC that the board believes Bryant’s “mistakes” have helped him grow.

“Yes, he made some mistakes in life, but he’s learned from them and grown to understand he has to move forward,” Dortch said. “If you can’t find redemption in the church, then where do you find it?”

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Bryant was chosen out of a pool of 138 candidates to lead New Birth, a church that once had 25,000 members but watched the numbers decline to less than half of that in 2010 after Eddie Long was accused of sexually molesting young boys in the church. Long died of cancer in January 2017.

Bishop Stephen A. Davis became senior pastor of New Birth after Long died, but Davis resigned in June.

In searching for a new leader, Dortch told the AJC that New Birth’s board asked applicants to indicate how they would propose reducing the church’s $31 million debt. Dortch said Bryant “didn’t come in talking off the cuff” and referred to him as a guy “who’s an architect for religion.”

Bryant’s first order of business will be to promote “healing and direction,” he told the AJC.

“We’ve got to rebuild trust and bring the church collective through the grieving process that I don’t believe they have really gone through. It’s just been shock after shock. They don’t need a speaker, but a shepherd to help lead and guide,” he said.