Identity formation is at the heart of pastor Gerard Duncan’s community commitments. From the age of 9, Duncan recalls his mother Gloretta Knowles persistently expressing to their family that “we are the church.”
This steady declaration emphasized identity over location. Duncan has come to embody his mother’s teachings in all facets of his life as a Gainesville pastor and community leader.
“The concept of ‘we are the church’ is an empowerment of who we are, not where we go,” Duncan, founder and senior pastor of Prayers by Faith Outreach Ministries, said in an interview. “So, in every area of my life, I always tend to be the church.”
Duncan personifies this notion throughout the Gainesville community. Among his many civic endeavors, Duncan serves on the advisory panel of Gainesville Thrives, an organization that provides various services and promotes academic success through tutoring and mentoring students.
Literacy was a value Duncan’s parents instilled in him early in life.
“I remember growing up, we had a bookshelf that took up like the majority of our front room,” said Duncan, whose parents were from the Bahamas. “My dad made us read newspapers and books.”
Duncan founded an organization called Innovative Dads in 2010, which focuses on fatherhood mentorship. This endeavor was birthed from his recognition of disparities that contributed to local family dysfunction and trauma. Duncan trained with the National Fatherhood Initiative to become a fatherhood facilitator.
Similar to the literacy emphasis of his work with Gainesville Thrives, this effort also has personal roots.
“I grew up without my dad involved in the most valuable time of my life,” said Duncan, whose parents divorced at age 16. “So when I knew I was going to be a new father, I placed this as a safety mechanism, an accountability piece.”
Duncan’s civic mission initially gained momentum in 2012 at a meeting featuring some of Gainesville’s top officials. After volunteering for a paint project with the Gainesville Community Reinvestment Area, Duncan received the opportunity to speak to city leaders.
Following his speech, several people immediately approached Duncan and sought to connect their organizations with the community. They viewed Duncan as a crucial bridge to that relationship.
“I was now able to not only provide a program and services, but also able to give people the gospel,” said Duncan, a Carol City native. “That’s what was missing.”
Duncan recently launched the “We are the church” movement with his congregation, which aims to influence his congregation with the same identity empowering formation that sparked his community devotion.
“It’s about bringing light, of being resilient, and knowing who you are,” he said.
The following are excerpts of our recent interview, which has been edited for clarity and length.
Q: Growing up in a very spiritual home, when did you realize that you wanted to become a pastor?
A: I never wanted to become a pastor. I remember one day hearing mom tell one of her friends that I was going to be a pastor and God was going to use me in a mighty way because of her birth pains. I was the last child and very high risk. Mom shared with me as I got older that the doctor said she would probably not make it through birth.
I made a lot of bad choices. That was not in any way an indicator of my parents’ values or the things that my parents did. But I had a spiritual awakening and said, ‘God, you can use me.’
Q: What was the final event or life experience that ultimately encouraged you to become a pastor?
A: My life was spiraling. Dropping out of school, hanging on street corners, hustling . . . I just had a major breakdown of life and didn’t realize I was warring. I overheard my mom and a friend talking like, this is real life, now my soul is at stake. You go through all this stuff, and God didn’t let you die yet? It’s because he doesn’t want you to go down. He wants you to go up.
It's almost like when Jesus was led in the wilderness by the Spirit and then he's tempted by Satan, who shows him all the kingdoms of the world and says, ‘Oh, this could be yours.’ I thought I had all of that.
But I realized that those things were leading me to jump off a cliff. I was like, ‘Wait a minute, I know too much of His Word.’ And the same effort that I put in everything else—I put that same energy in God.
Q: How and why did you get involved with Gainesville Thrives?
A: I've always been a community advocate person, reaching and meeting people where they are. That’s what I've seen biblically in the gospel of Jesus. He moved that way. I partnered with the city on a paint project and I felt like the community that I once helped tear down and gentrify—I committed to helping the people who remained in the community, and that was the seniors who still lived there.
Q: What are some other partnerships and initiatives you’re involved with?
A: I’m one of four reappointed senior advisers for the governor’s Faith-Based and Community-Based Advisory Council. Our role is bipartisan, to help work alongside the executive office of the governor, to give recommendations and counsel to state departments, and to work within to help support and bring light to the essential work of the faith community.
I’m also a member of the Alachua County Christian Pastors Association, on their social justice committee. After the disparity report of Gainesville came out, I felt like it was a great opportunity to share with a group of pastors, some of the challenges that were happening in Gainesville, and how the community looks at us as the churches. So, I had an event that brought pastors together.
Q: Thinking back on your mother’s words concerning being a representative of the church in the community, how does that factor into your current civic motivations?
A: Sometimes we lose sight of understanding that the church was never the building, it has always been the people. And anytime we focus on the church as a place to go, instead of a people to be, then everything is going to revolve around that building. We go because that's a place for us to gather and fellowship. But in no way could we ever settle for a place to take the place of who God has called us to be.
If you go:
- What: Prayers By Faith Outreach Ministries
- Where: 429 NW 4th St. Gainesville, FL 32601
- When: 10 a.m. Sunday