By Alice Mitchell Cross and Dr. Aidsand F. Wright-Riggins
“Pastor Donna,” as she is affectionately known by members of Tabernacle Community Baptist Church, is inspired by words God addressed to the Prophet Jeremiah: “Call out to me and I will answer you and will show you great and mighty things, secrets you do not know.” (Jeremiah 33:3)
The Rev. Dr. Donna Childs has been calling on God on behalf of her community for practically all of her life. In response, God’s answer has been to call on her time and time again to do great things for God in her church and around the greater Milwaukee, Wis., area.
Born and raised in Milwaukee, Pastor Donna was a “church baby.” Church babies in the Black church tradition are children who grow up in church attending almost every service and activity and are raised not only by their parents but by the congregation who see every child as “their” child. At Tabernacle Community Baptist Church, Donna and her siblings were children of Deacon Martin Childs Sr. and Mother Gleneva Childs. She knew most congregants by titles, “Brother,” “Sister,” “Deacon,” etc. She was loved by, and she loved Tabernacle Community Baptist Church.
Tabernacle is a historic African American congregation with deep roots in the city of Milwaukee. Almost 100 years old, it has never shied away from addressing the pressing needs of congregants and neighbors. Nurtured in this church Donna Childs devoted her early years toward equipping herself for service.
She began her journey of preparation by earning an undergraduate degree in Business Administration from Marquette University and two graduate degrees from Cardinal Stritch University, one of which included a Master of Education in Educational Leadership. Donna then worked professionally at Messmer High School for more than a decade, where she served as Assistant Principal, Dean of Students, Athletic Director and Girls Varsity Basketball Coach.
Concurrently, Donna also served her church. She assumed roles as Christian Education Ministry Leader, New Members Orientation Teacher and Associate Bible Study Teacher. For as long as she can remember she exhibited a gift for teaching and a desire to motivate and inspire others through her words and the Word of God. Ultimately, in her own words, Donna says, “God saw wondrous work for me and called me into ministry.”
She was licensed in 2002, and formally ordained in 2013. Ever the student, Donna enrolled in Northern Seminary in Lombard, Ill., where she earned both a Master of Divinity and Doctor of Ministry (D Min.) degrees. She is the first female pastor in the history of Tabernacle Community Baptist Church having served as Interim Pastor and called as Senior Pastor in September 2020.
A New Baptist Covenant, Covenant of Action Partner,
Tabernacle is engaged in issues pertaining to Milwaukee’s common life. They have hosted vigils for homicide victims, creating a safe space for the city’s grieving, and reclaimed the sanctity of an elementary school playground after the shooting death of a 10-year-old.
In 2014, Tabernacle hosted a city-wide Gun Buyback event with the Milwaukee Police Department and the City of Milwaukee that turned over 300 firearms. Later that year, Tabernacle led the Black Lives Matter Sunday at Red Arrow Park, drawing attention to and protesting the killing of unarmed Black citizens by police across the country.
In 2016 Tabernacle lifted the issue of gun violence onto a national platform, hosting then former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a community forum, along with Congresswomen Gwen Moore, Annette Nance-Holt, and Geneva Reed-Veal, mother of Sandra Bland.
Dr. Childs has been able to reach individuals outside the church by working with other organizations such as Common Grounds and the Milwaukee Bucks basketball team. The Church initiated “Pack A Bag to Pass” where each member was asked to bring two bags of groceries (pre-identified items). The goal was to serve approximately 150 to 200 bags, however, they collected enough for almost 300 bags which they distributed to the surrounding neighborhood. A month later, Tabernacle initiated “Because We Care Gift Bag” where they passed out masks and care packages to members of the church and surrounding neighborhood.
In partnering with Common Ground and the Milwaukee Bucks, Tabernacle hosted three voting canvassing events. Other activities included, volunteers knocking on doors during the pandemic to encourage people to register to vote and participate in early voting. In addition, Tabernacle adopted a polling place location on voting day, and church members volunteered by passing out Personal Protection Equipment (PPE) at the voting locations. Dr. Childs, church members and pastoral staff made phone calls to the Minneapolis/St. Paul Distrsict Attorney’s Office encouraging the charging of officers in the George Floyd case.
Currently, Tabernacle Community Baptist Church continues to conduct worship services and Bible studies online during the pandemic. “We do not lose hope. Hope comes through Jesus Christ, who died for us. God is with us, and we should keep our sight and focus on Him,” Dr. Childs said.
New Baptist Covenant salutes our partner in mission for bringing hope to Milwaukee.