Greg Tyus was thinking more about music than ministry.
With a 7-and-7 in his hand, Tyus and his friend listened to the songs at Spunky’s Night Club in Dayton.
“Doing my thing” is how Tyus, then 29, described the club scene.
Then just as quickly, and without notice, Tyus said he had “an encounter” with God.
“Spoke to me like I’m speaking to you,” he said while sitting in his office.
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God’s message: “You need to leave here.”
Tyus told his buddy he wanted to go home without offering a reason. When Tyus got back to Cincinnati, he cried himself to sleep.
“That provided clarity for me in terms of direction for my life,” he said.
Then he laughed: “Not that I was even looking for direction.”
That was 32 years ago, and now Tyus — make that the Rev. Gregory Tyus — is celebrating his 25th year as minister at United Missionary Baptist Church in Middletown. Before coming to Middletown in 1993, Tyus worked at New Mission Baptist Church and St. Mary Baptist Church, both in Cincinnati.
While at New Mission Baptist, Tyus assisted the pastor and sang in the church choir. He was active.
“I figured that was good enough,” he said. “No aspirations to be pastor. I was comfortable. That’s what I thought anyway.”
But God wanted more, he said.
He was called by church officers at United Missionary Baptist about leading a three-day revival in 1992. On the last night, church leaders asked him about being a candidate to see how he was received by the congregation. But at the time, Tyus was pastoring in Cincinnati.
“I’m good” he told them.
Then he and God had another conversation: “God said to come here.”
Founded 55 years ago, United Missionary Baptist on 18th Avenue has had seven ministers, none whom served nearly as long as Tyus. As so often happens in the ministry field, Tyus has immersed himself in the community, serving on countless boards and becoming a frequent fan at Middletown High School sporting events.
His congregation typically numbers about 175 people every Sunday, but Tyus will minister to anyone, at any time. The reverend has no time clock to punch.
“He loves serving, especially the youth,” said Margaret Martin, his aide. “He gives them love and hope and encourages them. All some of these kids need is love.”
Tyus certainly didn’t disagree with that description. His goal every day is to figure out a way to make Middletown a better place. He can’t fix every problem, but he can tackle one task at a time.
“My passion is young people,” said Tyus, the father of six children, 21 grandchildren and three great-grandchildren. “If I see a young person doing wrong I try to think what can I do or say today to make their life different. I look at children as God’s jewels. And I never met a child who asked to be here. So even though we have issues with society, with adults, none of that is the kids’ fault. That’s the way I have always looked at it.”
Tyus, 61, believes his role is to “shepherd God’s people.”
Really? A three-word job description?
“That simple,” he said. “As simple as it sounds, it has a lot of layers. If you’re going to shepherd someone, it’s not just about Sunday mornings. They are my sheep and my responsibility, according to God. Whether they’re going through good times or bad times, I need to minister to them during those times.”
He is assisted by two senior associate ministers, Elmon Prier and Kendall Wright, whom he calls his “left and right hand,” and associate minister Shanea Bennett.
Tyus undoubtedly is one of the most recognizable people in Middletown. That’s good and bad.
“A lot of people I know when I interacted with them didn’t know I was in the ministry,” he said. “I cherish that because then I can get to know you for who you are. Why do you have to wear a mask for me? I don’t have a heaven or hell to put you in. Just be who you are. I want people to respect me for the person I am, not reverend Tyus. I don’t want people to see reverend first. I want them to see Greg Tyus first.”