Jerome Burton was a humble man, a streetwise pastor, a passionate preacher, an encourager, and a friend to the friendless. An evangelist at heart, he walked the Belknap neighborhood in Grand Rapids, Mich., every day for 25 years, talking to, advocating for, and praying with people. Described as a “literal walking Bible,” he will be remembered for his ability to quote Scripture. Jerome, 66, died July 6 after 42 days on a ventilator in an intensive care unit due to pulmonary fibrosis and pneumonia.
Jerome grew up in Selma, Ala., in the 1960s. After years of addiction and turmoil, Jerome had a powerful conversion experience in his 30s and experienced a call to ministry. For almost 30 years he served as pastor at Coit Community Christian Reformed Church, a small, multicultural congregation in Grand Rapids. During this time he studied at Reformed Bible College and Calvin Theological Seminary and was ordained in 2002.
Jerome served the CRC in many ministries and on many boards related to race relations and racial reconciliation, working tirelessly to break down racial barriers in the denomination. He partnered with many ministries that help restore the lives of people who are former prisoners, are experiencing homelessness, or have addictions. These include 70×7 Life Recovery, Prisoners for Christ, Matthew’s House, Exodus House, and Mel Trotter Ministries. He volunteered at Coit Creative Arts Academy for 25 years as a tutor and playground monitor. He knew every child by name and many of their parents.
A prolific reader and a serious history buff, Jerome was also an avid sports fan. He was skilled at building and renovating and a connoisseur of local thrift stores, where he bought his clothes.
Predeceased by Vivian, his first wife, Jerome is survived by his wife, Kristin; Grace, whom he and Vivian helped raise from birth like a daughter; 11 grand-godchildren; and one great-grand-godchild.
Readers may also be interested in commissioned pastor Christopher Meehan’s reflections on Pastor Burton’s life and death.