Pastor Elwood aims to strengthen faith of college students


Pastor Anton Elwood
Photo credit: Damion Dunlap

New Mount Zion African Methodist Episcopal’s “coolest pastor” Anton Elwood is spreading the word of God in a practical intergenerational way to anyone that will listen.

“We’re trying our best to meet the needs of all generations. We focus on outreach,” Elwood said as he described this particular AME church. “We are empowering every generation. That it’s ok in 2018 to love God.”

Divine interruption has made it impossible for this church-reared minister from New Orleans to do anything other than preach. Being raised in a happy home by parents and being surrounded by love and spirituality, Elwood became the life of the church at a young age. 

Elwood vividly recalled a church convention where the guest speaker from Bethune-Cookman University (BCU) scolded him saying kids that crack jokes in the back of church do not go anywhere. So, naturally when it was time to apply for college BCU was on the list.

That acceptance letter paved the way for everything else to materialize. From finding his calling, to later meeting his wife, Shawana Elwood, at seminary school in Atlanta. 

Anton is the pastor at New Mount Zion and has two children, Kaylin and Tony Elwood.  

“I worked all through college, but I always knew I wanted to be in full-time ministry,” Anton said, and it was impossible to miss the passion and conviction in which he spoke about his calling. “It was 100 percent the call of God.”

Since becoming the pastor of New Mount Zion at the age of 28, Anton has strived to make his teachings applicable to real life. To him, making the Bible relevant and judgment-free is a part of steering people toward the church. 

New Mount Zion has become a go-to for students in the area, especially those at Florida A&M University that are seeking a closer relationship to God.

“It’s a place that they feel safe; they can maintain their spirituality without feeling judged about being a college student,” Anton said as he explained why FAMU students may be compelled to come to his church. “This message is to do the best that you can at maintaining your spirituality.” 

The AME church was the first independent Protestant denomination founded by Black people. Like many AME religious leaders Anton has made it his mission to empower the people.

Member of Mount Zion, Carl Burnside, enthusiastically restated a recent sermon saying, “Don’t tell yourself that I don’t meet the qualifications. Aim for the stars and you will land on the moon.” 

Burnside who is a FAMU student said what he appreciates about Anton’s sermons is that it is family based, relatable and you can really feel the spirit.

“It’s really motivational. It sticks with me and I take bits and pieces to use in my everyday life,” Burnside said. “If Kevin Hart was a pastor that’s how he would be.”

Anton schedules three separate services so everyone can get what they are looking for. Zions leadership has dedicated the third service to the college students. Every aspect of it down to the time it starts.

Anton’s teachings are so diverse that despite appealing to the younger crowd, he is still able to make a meaningful impact on other generations of people.

One church administrator put it this way, “Though he is a young man, he has the wisdom of an older person. Praise and worship are always the guide to the service,” Rebecca Johnson said. “It’s not the traditional AME church, it’s a church where every generation is served.”

Anton is striving to break barriers that older religious leaders put in place. He is letting people know that it is not impossible to reach the standards of a Christian life, and his message seems to be resonating with the community.