Matthew Whittington

Pastor Mathew Whittington is one of six nominees for the Martin Luther King Drum Major Award.

GARY — An abiding faith in God, hard work, helping others and revitalizing Gary frame the life of Pastor Mathew Whittington.

The 85-year-old spiritual leader of Western Christian Community Church came to Gary from Canton, Miss., as a teenager to live with his sister. In addition to completing his education at Roosevelt High School, Whittington began working at U.S. Steel, training in motor inspection and as an electrician.

He was one of the first African-Americans promoted to supervisor at U.S. Steel during his 36-year tenure with the steel mill.

Of his faith, Whittington said, “While I was in the hospital, as a young man, I gave my heart to Christ and told the Lord that I was willing to do whatever hands found to do. I came out of the hospital and began playing the piano and later the organ.”

For 35 years, he played the organ at Washington Street Church of God. Later he provided organ music at First Church of God and Bethel Church of God.

After retiring from U.S. Steel, Whittington immediately put the skills he learned to use as a private contractor, remodeling houses and churches throughout Gary. The churches he remodeled include Washington Street Church of God, First Church of God, Bethel Church of God, Mt. Moriah Baptist Church and Wildwood Church of Christ.

In the mid-1980s, Whittington also served as the contractor for Brother’s Keeper Homeless Shelter for Men at 2120 Broadway that continues to provide shelter and services for the community including a soup kitchen, food pantry and clothes bank.

Never one to be idle, Whittington decided to exercise regularly using the Tolleston track after retiring from contracting.

“While walking around the track one day, I felt the call to remodel and reopen the old Sacred Heart Church on 15th Avenue,” he said.

After purchasing the former Roman Catholic church, Whittington began remodeling it in 1995.

“In 1996, I came down with cancer, but God healed me. I’m called to console people when they face cancer. I tell them ‘You can beat cancer,’” he said.

Over the next four years, Whittington remodeled three buildings on the property with minimal assistance. He also graduated from American Bible College to become a pastor. In 2000, the church reopened as Western Christian Community Church and Whittington’s 100-year-old mother traveled to Gary from Mississippi to hear him preach his first sermon.

“Renovating the church brought it back to life,” Whittington said. “We have a small, beautiful congregation.”

One of the buildings is now a rehabilitation mission for men to help them recover from drug addiction.

“My mission is helping people, rehabbing and cleaning up the community,” he said.

The Gary Frontiers Service Club is recognizing Pastor Whittington’s work in the community as a nominee for the 2016 Marcher and Drum Major awards.

The awards are named for the “Drum Major Instinct” sermon Martin Luther King Jr. gave Feb. 4, 1968, at Ebenezer Baptist Church in Atlanta two months before his assassination. King talked about his own funeral and the eulogy that might be given, and asked that he be remembered as a “drum major” for justice, peace and righteousness.