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Church’s ministry passes from father to son

After decades of service, lead pastor at church in Mattapan and Stoughton will step down and hand over the reins

Pastor Matthew K. Thompson is succeeding his father, Bishop Gideon Thompson, at their church.
Pastor Matthew K. Thompson is succeeding his father, Bishop Gideon Thompson, at their church.Jonathan Wiggs/Globe Staff/Globe Staff

The two men stood shoulder to shoulder — one the father, the other his son — and surveyed the spacious sanctuary of the Mattapan church they helped build.

At the age of 68, Bishop Gideon Thompson is formally stepping away from the limelight of Jubilee Christian Church, after more than four decades in the ministry.

His second son, Matthew K. Thompson, will take over.

It is a signal moment, this changing of the guard, marked last week by a three-day succession ceremony. Jubilee has 7,000 members and five worship services at two locations in Mattapan and Stoughton. On Sunday mornings, the church is a main attraction for the city’s young black professionals and middle-class families. And many are used to seeing both men preach.

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“It passed by so quickly,’’ the bishop said, reflecting on the past 40 years. “It seems like only yesterday we were all living together.”

Pastor Matt, as he is known, pledges to continue his father’s legacy and keep ministering to the faithful, while preserving the church’s vision for economic empowerment for the people it serves.

“My work speaks for itself,’’ the 41-year-old Pastor Matt said. “I’m not huge on tooting my own horn. We are here doing the work and doing it for God.”

The men, similar in stature and build, possess a rousing preaching style. The bishop is renowned for stalking the purple-carpeted pulpit in a sweeping robe, while weaving a narrative with Scripture.

The son sometimes delivers sermons while running on a treadmill, demonstrating the hardships of sprinting through life. He tweets his sermons, taking his message to social media.

Keith Brian Thompson, a worshiper from Roxbury, said Pastor Matt has used more than 100 props on the Jubilee stage to illustrate his sermons. He has used a basketball stand and hoop, a ladder, and a couch — each to showcase the difficulty of overcoming obstacles in life.

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Keith Thompson, who is not related to the bishop and pastor, knew Pastor Matt before he met his new bride, Duquinha Thompson, and the pastor has served as mentor and counselor. The couple said they are thrilled to see the pastor in his new leadership role.

“I feel proud as a member because I know him personally,” Duquinha said. “I have trust in him as my pastor, and I have trust in his vision for the members of this church.”

As Pastor Matt takes charge of the nondenominational church, his father won’t go very far, the men said. The bishop will continue to assist his son and preach some Sunday mornings.

“My dad is not going anywhere,’’ the pastor said. “He’s still my right-hand man.”

Worshipers and ministers said the transition of leadership has been seamless. They have long been witness to the close bond between the bishop and his eight children, often displayed in sermons and songs on the stage at Jubilee. And through the years, they have watched the older Thompson groom and nurture Matthew for this pivotal moment.

“For me, this is very emotional,’’ said Pastor Chris Sumner, a member of the church for 27 years. “To see the bishop humble himself and be led is phenomenal.”

Pastor Matt, the third of his parents’ eight children, became involved in his father’s ministries right after graduating from Morehouse College 18 years ago.

Through the years, he served as his father’s personal assistant and executive administrator, working behind the scenes on the church’s real estate ventures.

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The bishop’s seven other children all work in the ministry, some as pastors, others as worship leaders. Matt Thompson said at first he resisted what he describes as a calling from God to preach. He had always wanted to help people, but never preach.

He changed his mind about a decade ago during a trip to North Carolina, while helping his older brother open a church. At the time, he was thankful for his “miracle’’ boy — Thompson and his wife, Mona, had tried to conceive for years before they had their son, Matthew.

So there he was one day, praying to God and giving thanks for his son. He said he promised to devote that child’s life to God, but heard a call to preach.

In 2010, after consulting with his father, Thompson began to make the transition, taking on pastoral duties. By 2012, he was the lead pastor.

Pastor Matt said that while the two share animated preaching styles, he does not try to mimic his father.

“The other siblings felt the pressure of trying to be like him,’’ said Pastor Matt, who has an older daughter, Tyveshe Fernandes. “I’ve never struggled with that. I look to him for guidance.”

Bishop Thompson, his short-cropped hair graying, still delivers a biting sermon. He said the lightened workload will allow him to enjoy his older years and free him to preach in other churches. He’s still riding his motorcycle to church on Sundays, still living an adventure. Just two years ago, he went skydiving at age 66.

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A Philadelphia native, Bishop Thompson and his wife, Yvonne, moved to Boston in 1972. The young couple worshiped in Dudley Square, but by 1989 Bishop Thompson was ready to move on. He bought an old supermarket on Blue Hill Avenue, a stone’s throw from Mattapan Square. Over time, he transformed the church — then called New Covenant Christian Center — into a go-to spot on Sunday mornings.

It is a singing church, with stirring choirs and worship service, and lyrics to joyous songs posted on giant TV screens.

The church stresses economic empowerment, and through the years its real estate ventures led to job creation for the community. It runs a bookstore (down from three), has a record label, and owns 45 acres of land in Dudley Square, Grove Hall, and at the Hyde Park-Roslindale border.

The pastors said their job is to feed souls and give worshipers the spiritual lift they need to face another week.

“A lot of preachers see themselves only as trying to bring the lost to Christ, but I have a church full of believers,’’ Bishop Thompson said.

Pastor Matt said the church’s work is not done.

At the church recently, the two men crossed a threshold and walked under a massive tent where the succession ceremony would take place.

Pastor Matt led the way.

His father quietly followed.

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Meghan E. Irons can be reached at meghan.irons@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @meghanirons.