Dr. Dwayne Pickett on Mississippi water crisis: When community empowerment becomes part of the solution

Even in times of crisis, having a community around you can make all the difference. 

When first visiting New Jerusalem Church of Jackson, Mississippi, in 1995, Bishop Dr. Dwayne K. Pickett Sr. had no intention of going into ministry. He had his sights set on following in his father’s footsteps, but fate had other plans. 

Dr. Dwayne Pickett finds his calling

“I was studying at Reformed Theological Seminary in Jackson, and my dad asked me to come volunteer with him at the church. My dad was a major guy in higher education, so he went to the church on a Saturday to speak to youth because the ACT test requirements had changed,” Dr. Pickett said. 

“And then after volunteering, we were going to talk about my road to becoming a college president because I was going to leave the seminary to get my Ph.D. My dream was to be a college president.”

After the presentation, the church staff asked if Dr. Pickett would preach a special youth service. 


“I preached. Everything went well. They came back two or three months later and asked if I would be interested in being an interim pastor. I said, ‘I’ll do it as long as you get a pastor by May, because I’m going back to get my Ph.D.’ They said, ‘Yep, sure. You’re too young to be the pastor anyway.’” 

But Dr. Pickett did become the pastor, and his ties to the community played a crucial role in driving the church’s success. He fostered these relationships through his work in education, so when he became a pastor, his students and their families wanted to learn more.

“So, we began to grow immediately when I became pastor. Kids from the school and their parents started to come, and it just exploded. Sometimes, we had 100 people joining during those early years but I just always wanted to stay in the school. Our church was growing rapidly and we needed to expand, but I didn’t want to leave the neighborhood,” he said.


Dr. Pickett searched throughout the neighborhood but could not find enough land to expand. The church ended up moving to its first campus, and he surrendered his dream of education to serve as a pastor. 

“And we just grew, and God just kept opening doors and locations and it’s just been amazing. I don’t even know how to describe all that has happened until now,” he said.

When Dr. Pickett started, the annual budget for the church was about $59,000 with an attendance of around 300. Since then, the church has expanded to several campuses serving thousands of congregants, and founded schools and preschools. Fast forward to 2023 and Dr. Pickett has been the pastor of New Jerusalem Church of Jackson for 26 years. That growth and longevity is a direct result of his investment and dedication to the community in those early years. 

Dr. Dwayne Pickett’s community solves a theft

Even in times of crisis, having a community around you can make all the difference. 

Dr. Pickett and his church have handed out almost 250,000 bottles of water to the community through four water crises. Each crisis comes with different obstacles. With an unexpected obstacle, his ability to mobilize the community had impact.

“Someone stole my truck that we were using to hand out water,” he said. “[But] when I put out on Facebook that the truck was stolen, in less than 24 hours, thousands of people worked together to find the truck.”


“I guess the word got out to those who stole it. ‘Hey man, y’all give the pastor his truck back, he’s handing out water.’”

Through a chain of calls, community members informed the police where they could recover the truck. And they were able to get it back – albeit damaged – and back on the road to keep handing out water. 

“We’ve been doing good, because normally those trucks get stolen and they end up in Texas or California a couple of days later.” 

Instead, Dr. Pickett was able to leverage his community ties to reach a different outcome. This experience demonstrates the importance of community buy-in and partnering with community members to understand their needs and serve them.