Religious leaders (especially those that identify with the Christian faith) have historically had an immense impact on the culture and the giving people throughout Lakeland’s and Polk County’s history. Their influence is especially notable in the history and culture of Black American families and communities.

For decades, the church stood as the cornerstone to social life within Black American communities. These leaders were not only experts of the scriptures, but also the civic leaders of black communities calling for the hearts of our people and its laws to bend towards a more just society.

The Lakelander sat down with one of the up-and-coming religious leaders of Lakeland, Pastor Edward L. Quary Jr., aka “Chris.” He is now serving at one of the cities’ oldest churches, New Mt. Zion Missionary Baptist Church, which has been in existence in Lakeland for 92 years. Under his leadership, the church has already hit the ground running, opening its doors to the Polk County Health Department to offer COVID-19 vaccines to anyone 65 and older.

Born in Lakeland on Christmas Day (which is how he got the name “Chris”), Pastor Quary describes himself as a servant of the Lord. When you get a chance to meet him you quickly sense his sincerity for the work that he does. A family man, he strongly believes that his first ministerial priority is as husband and father. He is married to his high school sweetheart, Rahsheia Thompson Quary, whom he met while attending Lake Gibson High School. Their union has produced two children. Always a high-achieving student, Pastor Quary holds a Doctorate Degree in Pharmaceutical Science from the Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and a master’s degree from Dallas Theological Seminary. He has always remained active in service to his community mostly through mentorship and coaching of youth.

Pastor Quary acknowledges the gift of God to practice as a pharmacist but believes his highest calling is not to dispense medication for the healing of the body, but to dispense the Word of God for the healing of souls. Pastor Quary summarizes this calling with the following words: “It is my desire to please God as a demonstration of my gratitude for his immeasurable grace towards me. It is God who formed me, and He continues to both strengthen and sustain me. It is not possible for one to represent both himself and Jesus Christ. I, therefore, choose to be a servant of the Lord. My prayer is that Jesus Christ may be glorified in everything we endeavor to accomplish for His great name and that Christ may forever receive the highest honor, glory, and praise.”

The Lakelander: Chris, tell our readers a little about you and your time here in Lakeland.

Chris: I describe my life with two words: gratitude and grace. Gratitude because I am grateful to have been born to two loving parents. Grateful to be raised in Lakeland, Florida, and educated in the Polk School System which, as you know, equated to a village of educators that cared for us and poured into us, starting with our parents. I would describe my upbringing as a normal one. That included participating in youth sports all the way through high school. My goal was to go into the medical field, but God had additional plans on top of that after I obtained my Doctorate Degree in Pharmaceutical Science.

Grace because it’s all a gift: my life, my wife, my children, salvation (through Jesus Christ), and the opportunity to serve.

The Lakelander: Tell the readers about your new role and your hopeful contributions to Lakeland from this new assignment.

Chris: The Bible says that to whom much is given, much is required. I have had the privilege to serve (as Lead Pastor) in different parts of the state and different parts of the county, but this is a grand privilege to serve in the place that has served me so well. It’s exciting, and I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that it’s God’s plan for me to exalt Him in the place that He used to equip me. It is rare, but I am thankful for this new role as Pastor. I have said to New Mt. Zion that God has not just called me, but He has called an entire church, however, he feels led to use us for the proclamation of His gospel and His grace. I trust that He is able to do exceedingly and abundantly more than we can ever ask or think (Ephesians 3:20 and 21). I am giving Him glory in advance for whatever He wants to do through us to glorify Himself, and while we wait for His perfect plan to be revealed, we know that we are looking to glorify Him to a watchful world. My primary responsibility is to preach the word; to first know the word, live the word, and then share the word. Lastly, to evangelize and share Jesus Christ. While it is sentimental to serve at a place where your grandmother’s name is on the cornerstone, it is not about me. The task remains the same, and that is to promote the cause of Jesus Christ to lift Him up and for us to worship Him and witness to His goodness and His grace.

The Lakelander: In this new role as Pastor, what do you hope to contribute not only to this body of believers but also as a member of a broader community?

Chris: There is such a wonderful team already assembled here, as you know, for decades and decades that have had a history of contributing and being that change agent for good in this community that I would just hope to come alongside and build on the firm foundation that is here as a grateful participant in the plan of God. In particular, to allow Him to providentially work His mission impacting one soul at a time through His gospel. We would hope that when our time on Earth is over, that we can say at least one person is better off in eternity because we were here, because God worked through us, around us, and through us, to reveal Himself to someone that did not know Him. I firmly believe that the church is the only entity or institution that does not exist for itself; we exist for those who are not yet here. It is my hope that through mentorship and gospel connections that every member of New Mt. Zion will be on divine appointment and mission to share the love of Christ, the light of Christ, and the life of Christ. I believe that if we are better Christians, we can’t help but be better employers, employees, coaches, fathers, mothers, friends, spouses, and better citizens at large. The church has been endowed with the power to change communities for the better. Not because of who we are, but because of who Christ is. He is the hope of glory, so we offer hope spiritually and help spiritually and physically.

The Lakelander: Tell us about the Preaching Pharmacist. How did it start, and where can people find you?

Chris: The preaching pharmacist was really an answer to my time of asking God, “Why?” If you were going to call me to preach if it were your desire for me to pastor your people all along, then why did you allow me to go through the six years of pharmacy school? He (God) said, I was training you as a pharmacist to be a good Pastor. A pharmacist does not dispense what they want to dispense; they have to hear from the doctor, and in hearing from the doctor, they don’t have the right to change or add to what was written or do it the way they want to do it. Pharmacists have to give it just as the doctor prescribed it. It’s the same way with the word. In the words of our forefathers, “He’s (God’s) a mighty good doctor. He prescribes what he wants for us in his word, and it is my job to give it exactly as he has written it. It all came together while asking some of my younger cousins and nephews, “If I started a weekly sermonette in a way that was unique and still true, would you watch it?” They said that they would, so while in quarantine last year I began to develop the Preaching Pharmacist. Since then, it has grown on Facebook, with over 200,000 people following it. On YouTube, it has been going 32 weeks with over 2,000 subscribers from all over the world, every inhabited continent. I just started it for my family and younger cousins and my children, but it’s grown beyond that. On YouTube and Facebook it’s under the Preaching Pharmacist. A short sermonette in the form of a subscription. It’s exciting. God always exceeds our expectations.

The Lakelander: Who are some of the black historical figures that have most inspired you?

Chris: I have two categories that personally impact me. One, on the medical side, is certainly James McCune Smith, the first black man to receive a medical degree (back in the 1800s). In those times, those that practiced medicine were also your pharmacists, so he was the first black person to open and operate his own pharmacy. He used what God gave him: the opportunity to be educated in that regard to debunk some of the medical stereotypes. Racism was built into medicine, different size skulls, and different myths like that. He debunked a lot of that. So, he inspired me.

Charles Drew, the father of the blood bank, ended up at one point being discouraged because when he enhanced the practice of preserving blood and transfusions, there were times they would still segregate the black blood and the white blood, but we all have the same blood. You can’t tell where it comes from when you need it. God gave us that common bond.

On the medical side, those two, but on the preaching side certainly Abernathy (Ralph Sr.), King (Dr. Martin Luther), and Evers (Medgar) because of their sacrifice. They paid the ultimate price. Pastoring is not a glamorous position, and it certainly wasn’t during their times. Your house was the first to be bombed. You (the Pastor) were the first to be attacked for speaking out.

Theologically, for his scholarship, Tony Evans. He is the first black person to receive a doctorate degree from my alma mater, Dallas Theological Seminary. I love his proclamation of the word, but his scholarship and seriousness concerning the scripture, he is the first African American to produce a reputable commentary on the entire Bible, which was just published a couple of years ago.

Finally, on the stewardship side, there are guys who are not universally known but who are local heroes. Like my preaching mentor, Dr. G. I. Bradley, who has six theological degrees. He’s a farmer and a pastor of the same church for almost five decades. He takes time to pour into and mentor young preachers like me. For me, that’s black history.

The Lakelander: How has your experience as a person of color shaped how you lead?

Chris: The experience of being a person of color is one that I am proud of. It’s one that I don’t shrink back from. Being a person of color, there are certain experiences that you wouldn’t sign up for, but I wouldn’t major on the things that cause you pain although they are there. My experience as a person of color in America, whatever those negative experiences may have been, those negative experiences have taught me to seek where our true identity comes from. Our true identity comes through Jesus Christ. So, as people of color, I have dignity in my race because God created all people in His image. As a person of color, I thank God for how He made me. As a leader, it then helps me to see people not by the exterior, but for who God is creating them to be on the interior. As a leader, I look for those things that cannot be observed externally. Steadfastness can’t be seen externally until it comes out. A peacemaker — that’s internal until it shows up on the outside.

The Lakelander: What moment in black history has been most impactful to you?

Chris: Black history is being made every day. I would say that Earth’s history is Heaven’s plan. For me personally, the moment that is most impactful is the moment that God decided in eternity that from conception He would grant me a gift of life. To me, the day of birth is a monumental time in black history for me personally because that’s a day of purpose. I believe all of us have a unique purpose — black, white, or whatever the ethnicity — but because I happen to be a black man, God must have a reason for the short time He has given us. So it’s that moment of birth to me, because without Him we are not here.

The moment of birth (and even the moment of death) forces me to say if 100 years from now or 200 years from now they are discussing black history, what can they say about this black man, this black father, this black Pastor, this black friend? What can they say about him? Even if it’s not widely known, what history am I making today, and what history am I making today on Earth that can be celebrated in Heaven?