Pastor Tommy Lee Wade remembers when he was “the new kid on the block” among Wichita’s Black pastoral community. Now, he’s the oldest pastor in the city who is still actively leading a congregation.

In the more-than five decades since he arrived in Wichita as a U.S. Air Force missile silo inspector, he’s built a tiny congregation into one of the largest churches in Wichita, with a sanctuary that seats more than 1,000 people and a dining hall that can accommodate up to 400 diners.

On Saturday (June 24), he and his wife, First Lady Annie K. Wade, will be honored in a community celebration of their lifetime of service to New Jerusalem Baptist Church and to Wichita. 

Back in 1969 when they first met, Annie was working as a secretary to T.L.’s father, who was a pastor in Florida. Her father was a deacon in his father’s church. T.L. was a career Air Force officer, who had been serving in California.

“I was home on leave and my dad said he had a young lady he wanted me to meet,” T. L. says. “I respected my parents and I wanted to please my dad. As it turned out, I really fell for the young lady.”

For her part, Annie found the prospect of becoming a career military wife appealing.

“At that time, I knew one thing for certain,” Annie says with a rueful laugh and a shake of her head. “I was absolutely positive that I did not want to be a preacher’s wife. Growing up the daughter of a deacon was enough for me, thank you.”

The young couple ended up in Wichita by a stroke of luck.

T.L. had been notified that his next assignment would be Little Rock, Ark. At the time, racial prejudice in Little Rock was legendary and they didn’t want to go there. As luck would have it, a fellow serviceman, also a missile inspector, had learned he was being assigned to McConnell Air Force Base in Wichita and he offered to trade assignments.

“And so we came to Wichita and quickly found our church home at Shiloh Missionary Baptist Church,” T.L. says.

“Wichita seemed to me to be a nice town for raising a family,” Annie says. 

The call to ministry

Even as the Wades settled into life in Wichita and at Shiloh, where he became director of the adult choir, T.L. began to experience a restless conflict.

“At that time, I was running from my call to the ministry,” he said. “I was having trouble sleeping at night. It was only when I accepted what God wanted me to do that I found peace.”

He began his ministry as the choir leader at Shiloh and accepted a role as a back-up preacher. 

Meanwhile. Pastor C.J. Tisdale, who founded The Jerusalem Missionary Baptist Church had a calling to undertake an outreach mission taking him “away from the house of worship and into the streets of need.”

The Church had lost its house of worship the year before and the congregation was meeting in temporary locations.

On February 22, 1973, the church body accepted a new pastor, Tommy Lee Wade. A month later, they negotiated with Paradise Baptist Church, which had moved to a new location, to  purchase their former church building at 1625 N. Madison.  They named the church New Jerusalem Baptist Church and Pastor Wade set about the task of helping his congregation grow.

Annie, meanwhile, was not happy about the change in circumstances and the couple almost separated.

“I had expected that when his military service was over, we’d go back to my family home in Florida,” she said. “The idea of staying in Wichita as a preacher’s wife was not how I planned it,” she said.

It was, however, something she eventually accepted as part of God’s plan for her life, along with her own career as an elementary school teacher and mother to three – a son, a daughter and an adopted nephew. 

Rapid growth and a community mission

Pastor Wade led the effort to remodel the existing building which had some structural flaws and then to add a large educational department to serve the congregation’s enormous youth programs.

“I deliberately didn’t build the sanctuary first because it would have been too tempting to not do more,” he said. “And I felt strongly that serving the needs of our youth was top priority.”

When it came time to add a new sanctuary, Pastor Wade pushed for one “so big we couldn’t outgrow it.” 

Pastor Wade is adamant that New Jerusalem does not belong just to its congregation but also  to God and to the larger community.

Mortuaries soon learned that New Jerusalem was always willing to provide a place for funerals at no cost to the bereaved family, members and non-members alike.

“To me, it isn’t about accumulating money, but about serving God,” Pastor Wade says. “Our church is always open to the Community, whether or not they are members.God has blessed us to own the beautiful facilities we have today and I believe he wants us to share them.”

Whether it’s a family event, a social outreach or a charitable cause, he makes sure that New Jerusalem is open when it’s needed.

Pastor Wade is in the House 

Pastor Wade remains one of the most well known ministers in the community.  He’s a  larger-than-life figure, who could be counted on to show up “decked to the nines.” In the winter, he shows up wearing one of his full length fur coats, but always he’s decked in one of his colorful suits, and most often with a coordinating hat.  

 “He’s definitely a standout. You can’t miss it when Pastor Wade is in the room,” said fellow pastor Earl Burkhalter, who has been at Stranger’s Rest Missionary Baptist Church almost as long as Pastor Wade has been at New Jerusalem.

”First of all He’s a pretty tall man, so he looms above the crowd,” said our editor Bonita Gooch, “which makes him stand out even more. Add in his large personality and Tommy Wade isn’t to be missed.  He has a greeting for everyone, a hug for the ladies and has a full-throttled Amen or two to contribute during the program, whatever it is.”

Burkhalter says both Pastor Wade and Sister Wade have been a tremendous influence in the Wichita Community.

“They were involved in the Civil Rights movement, in championing community activism of all kinds. Pastor Wade opened the doors of New Jerusalem to funerals, political and civic engagements, feeding the hungry,” he says. “Pastor Wade has given money out of his own pocket to many in our community and have supported them in ways  that cannot be numbered.” 

“Spiritual Parents’

Along the way, the Wade’s were a positive influence of hundreds children, youth and adults.  During the late 1980s and early 1990s when gang warfare peaked in Wichita, Pastor Wade was known for consistent outreach to youth and efforts to help families stricken by gang violence. And the couple are no strangers to the reality that violence can strike any family. They have lost two grandsons to gunfire, one of them as recently as 2020.

In addition, Annie touched thousands of children over decades as a teacher in the Wichita Public School System.  

Evangelist Yolanda Brooks, who remains close to the Wades today, is an example of one of the youth whose life they impacted. 

“I was in the Shiloh Starlight Band and he was always so good with us kids, checking on us, giving us hugs and helping to encourage us,” she says.

She says he and Sister Annie helped her all through her teenage years and helped her learn to control her quick temper.

“They are both always going to help you and to make sure you do the right thing,” she says. “They are accepting of everyone and they make everyone welcome. I can’t say enough good things about them.”