The Bishop Ernest Sutton is a man many people know and respect. A retired prison administrator for the state of North Carolina, Sutton is also the pastor of Faithway Apostolic Church.
For people are not familiar with his church, the name Faithway Doves might ring a bell. That’s the family business, of sorts. His children comprise the Doves, a gospel singing group that tours the country.
There are 10 Sutton children in all, although son John passed in 2011. Sutton and his wife Valeria, a retired public school teacher, have dedicated their lives to raising these talented and community-minded children.
And lately, if you’ve been following Elizabeth City Mayor Joe Peel’s Vision 20/20 initiative, you know that Sutton is the co-chair, along with Peel, of an effort that the Elizabeth City State University graduate says offers hope to a more productive future here, in his hometown.
We sat down with Sutton and asked him questions about life as a father, and the life in this community.
The Daily Advance: You have a big family. Did you set out to raise a big family? And what influenced your decision to raise a large family?
Ernest Sutton: I come from a large family. My mother is 92 today (Monday). I come from a family of 14; 10 brothers and three sisters.
I’ve always loved children. … My wife only has one brother so a large family was foreign to her but she picked up on it well.
I guess what influenced me was my pastor. She said children are your blessing.
TDA: What are the challenges of raising a large family and what has been your secret to rising above those challenges?
ES: There are many (challenges). You have to
sacrifice. You have to teach your children to take care of each other.
I think I learned my family values from my parents. We were poor but didn’t know it. I learned we were rich. We were rich in family values. … My dad was always a great provider. We always had instruments in the house.
TDA: Your children have all performed together as the Faithway Doves. How did the family group form and is there a new generation of Doves preparing to perform?
ES: They started out before they could walk, standing up before the church, saying Bible verses and singing, if someone could help them sing.
When my children came up they didn’t have drums but they had tin cans, and then they graduated to drums and keyboards.
(And the next generation?) They are learning songs. There is the beginnings of the next generation.
TDA: The creative impulse in your family is very evident. From recording artists to playwrights to performers, all of your children are creative.
Did you instill that in them or did you see something and made the decision to nurture it?
ES: That’s a God given gift and I can’t take credit for it. It’s our ministry.
The vision of our church is to communicate to the world the life changing power of Jesus Christ. But we found that sometimes singing doesn’t communicate the message so we found that being funny but delivering a serious message really works.
My son Abel says laughter is one of the greatest medicines for healing.
TDA: You and your family arguably represent the black middle class in this area. It has been said that not enough as been done to encourage the growth of the black middle class here. Do you agree or disagree with this and what can be done to change the future?
ES: We’ve go to develop relationships and find common ground. First of all, we’ve got to face the challenges. All families, I don’t give a darn if you are a black or white family, they all go through challenges
TDA: When Elizabeth City Mayor Joe Peel came to you and asked you to co-chair the Vision 20/20 initiative what was your first reaction about the proposal? Did you see a plan that could encourage change in Elizabeth City?
ES: I readily jumped on that because it was about engaging the community and getting people involved in the city and it’s not Mayor Peel’s plan it’s his vision. His vision is to get people involved. And I can say that, because there were over 2,500 people in the community involved, and it’s ongoing and we’re putting committees in place now. And we have it in place that it will go on no matter who is mayor in the future.
TDA: The Vision 20/20 meetings initially brought out a large number of supporters and a few naysayers. Were you surprised that so many people were ready to support the initiative’s efforts? What would you say to the naysayers about their objections to the efforts?
ES: I am satisfied with the plan. The challenge now is implementation. … I think this plan gives our community at large some reference points.
We’ve got a sustainability committee and this committee is to make sure these things we propose stay on track.
TDA: There were a number of proposals that came about as a result of the initiative committees. Are you satisfied with the results so far? And what needs to happen next to move forward?
ES: The plan addresses in a broad way entrepreneurship and leadership. Small businesses, I think, are key. I think we need to raise the bar and say we want to encourage enterpenureshp in our community.
Promote small business development and I think one of the challenges is how do we teach entrepreneurship.
TDA: You are watching your grandchildren grow up now. Describe the world you would like to leave behind for them.
ES: First of all I want them to understand the value of their spirituality. The value of having a high power in their life they can use as a lynch pin to everything they do in life.
I think I’d want that world to look like the world I grew up in. I grew up in a family that is loving, caring but not without struggles.
I say to them we may not have a lot of money to leave you but we have values that will serve you well.
I think the greatest happiness comes from knowing who you are.