The Rev. Edward 'Skip' Turner says he has wrestled with, and has overcome, drug addiction, giving him the tools he needs to counsel others struggling with chemical dependency.
The Rev. Edward "Skip" Turner didn't go into the ministry for attention or money. He gets enough time in the spotlight as a jazz musician, he said, adding, "I make a good living" as a truck driver.
The only reason he became a pastor, Mr. Turner said, was to help people -- young people in particular.
"I love people. I've always been a soul winner," he said. "I don't hound people, but I let them see my light and I give them opportunity. I'm here. If you want to connect, I am here."
Mr. Turner, 59, has worked full-time for United Parcel Service for 18 years, driving tandem trucks across the Midwest. And almost every weekend, he plays jazz trumpet at area restaurants and clubs (Miles Davis and Freddie Hubbard are his favorite jazz artists, he said). He also plays third trumpet with the Sylvania Community Orchestra.
In addition to truck driving and music, he is pastor of Amazing Grace Christian Center, 301 E. Central Ave., a nondenominational church in a gritty stretch of North Toledo.
On Saturday mornings, hours before the church's noon service begins, Mr. Turner and his wife, Sherre, offer free music lessons to neighborhood children who attend Amazing Grace. They said they want to help the kids learn a skill that will keep them out of trouble.
Mr. Turner knows firsthand that too much time and too few positive outlets spell trouble for teens.
He's been there, done that -- and wants to help others avoid it.
"It's a story. I got a story for you, brother," he said, shaking his head.
Wearing a pin-striped suit, sporting a neatly trimmed and graying mustache, Mr. Turner spoke from behind the desk of his small pastor's office in the rear of Amazing Grace.
Church plaques and certificates hang on the wall, his bookshelves are filled with Bibles and Christian books, and the office floor is stacked high with music gear he uses for jazz gigs.
Mr. Turner started playing the trumpet as a teenager, studying at the Creative Arts Workshop at Dorr and Hoag streets in Toledo's central city. His mentor was Vernon Martin, a Toledoan who for years played bass with renowned jazz artist Rahsaan Roland Kirk.
A 1970 graduate of Scott High School, Mr. Turner said that when he was a child he attended Baptist and Pentecostal churches.
"I was a young Christian at age 13," he said, "but then I was backslidden in high school."
It was drugs that knocked him off the straight and narrow path, he said.
"It started innocent -- smoking pot. Then somebody introduces you to something else. You want to try it, you know. I can't blame it on my family. My dad worked at Jeep. We weren't really poor poor. … It was just curiosity more than anything else."
He wrestled with drug addiction for most of two decades, and has a felony rap for receiving stolen property.
In 1990, he was set free from heroin, marijuana, and tobacco use, Mr. Turner said, adding that it wasn't a "magical 'presto change-o' thing that happened, it was a gradual process."
He said he couldn't have made it without God's help. "I knew I had to grab hold of something more than just myself. Intervention is fine, but you need something spiritual to connect with."
A year after he kicked his habit, Mr. Turner said, God called him into the ministry.
He said he was inspired by Ecclesiastes 9:10, one of his favorite Bible verses: "Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, wither thou goest."
"I felt a need to give back. … I was called to do something -- something more than just, you know, be here, experience drug addiction, and die," Mr. Turner said.
He started a faith-based outreach for alcohol and drug addicts, working under the supervision of several local pastors. Eventually, he felt the need to start his own church where he could "proclaim, explain the word of God."
"It's the highest honor a man can have, to share the word of God with anyone," Mr. Turner said.
Amazing Grace, named for Mr. Turner's signature song on trumpet, is under the covering of Apostle Jerry Williams of Raleigh, N.C. Mr. Turner held services in his home for years, and last July bought a modest storefront church on Central Avenue, just a stone's throw away from where a neo-Nazi riot erupted in 2005.
Mr. Turner said his musical skills have helped bring people into the church. Sometimes it's when he plays trumpet and preaches at a funeral, other times it's when he chats with music fans at his jazz shows.
Dr. Mike Fadell, a Toledo radiologist, heard Mr. Turner's band perform at Degage Jazz Club in Maumee two years ago and became an instant fan, which led to friendship.
"It was on a Friday night and I started talking to him at intermission," Dr. Fadell said. "The next day I was at his church service and I've been 'Brother Mike' ever since. I'm a huge music lover and a huge lover of people, and I'm a Christian, so we had an immediate connection, musically and spiritually."
Mr. Turner said his preaching style is influenced by the Baptist and Pentecostal churches he attended as a youngster.
"I don't 'hoop,' but I use dynamics -- preaching soft to loud," he said.
Amazing Grace is a small church, with only 30 people -- including children -- attending "on a good day," Mr. Turner said. Some Saturdays, he preaches to an audience of four.
But he knows there are scores of hurting adults, young people, and children in North Toledo who need a positive message and a safe haven.
He said he wants to put a pool table and video game systems in the church basement to give neighborhood kids a place to play. He also wants to start a truck-driver training program so the youth can earn commercial driver licenses. "A year from now they could be employed," he said. "It's an open field, truck driving. There's so many jobs … and it's a good occupation."
Every summer, Amazing Grace invites the neighborhood to a backyard bash with live music and free food. The church passes out school supplies every August.
Mr. Turner said his desire is to be there when people need him.
"I'm here for any musician or want-to-be musician. I'm here for anyone that wants to be free from alcohol or drug addiction. I'm here for anyone that needs spiritual guidance -- I'm talking about the word of God and not religion. I'm not here to try to be a big-time pastor. I got enough attention playing my horn, so I don't need that attention. But my point is, I'm here for the community."
More information on Amazing Grace Christian Center is available by calling the church at 419-244-8776.
Contact David Yonke at: firstname.lastname@example.org or 419-724-6154
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