breaking news

Woman charged with 14 counts of arson in Paulding County fire

Pastor Lee May starts home-grown church after quitting DeKalb politics

He’s now known simply as Pastor Lee, presiding over his start-up church from the stage of a high school auditorium.

In his last career, as CEO of DeKalb County’s beleaguered government, Lee May once touted park improvements and pothole patching as avenues for improving the quality of life. Now, he hopes to help others change their lives, as he did his own, by forging a closer relationship with God.

“The world doesn’t need another preacher,” May tells his congregation of about 40 people. “What the world needs now is a transformed people who will lay down their lives for one another.”

May and his wife, Robin, launched Transforming Faith Church several weeks ago and plan to use scripture as a starting point for helping people in need, from providing assistance to those looking for jobs to handing out school supplies.

Relaying oft-told parables like the Good Samaritan and frequently recited principles like the Golden Rule, May pounds home the message that, by looking out for their neighbors, Christians can improve their community.

May, the 42-year-old son of an African Methodist Episcopal Church pastor, said he realized his place was in the ministry while he was in charge of the county’s government, overseeing a $1.3 billion annual budget and more than 6,000 employees. He declined to run for office last year, making way for DeKalb CEO Mike Thurmond.

“If I look stress-free, if I look relieved, it’s because I’m doing what God has called me to do,” he said. “I wasn’t running away from anything. I was running to something.”

May, who graduated from Emory University’s Candler School of Theology in 2003, views the church as a way to have a more ground-level influence on DeKalb than when he was in government.

During his time as CEO, outside investigators characterized the government as “rotten to the core” with corruption, but May said he’s proud of his work to lower property tax rates, reduce litter and give raises to government employees.

He wants his church to be engaged with the community by organizing street clean-up events, school backpack giveaways, neighborhood gatherings, after-school programs and student mentoring services.

Robin May, who works full-time as a therapist, said it’s a relief to be free from the strain of politics. But, she added, the church brings its own responsibilities.

“It’s just a different kind of pressure. Lee and I feel like we are a critical piece to bringing people closer to Jesus,” she said. “If you’ve felt Jesus, what does that mean in your everyday life, and how does that impact those around you?”

Before launching their own nondenominational church, the Mays were among the masses that attended Berean Christian Church about five miles away, south of Stone Mountain. The congregation at Transforming Faith Church, which meets Sundays at 10 a.m. at Southwest DeKalb High School, includes friends, family, newcomers and a few people who migrated with them from Berean.

One of their regular parishioners, state Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick, said she’s impressed by May’s commitment to building up the county first in politics and now through religion.

“He has service at heart,” said Kendrick, D-Lithonia, who serves coffee and doughnuts outside church. “I’m looking for people who can serve others, and nobody can say that more than somebody who has served in an elected capacity.”

PHOTOS: Lee May through the years

The message of community outreach is what attracted Jon Shoats to Transforming Faith Church.

“We want to have an impact so we’re felt not just spiritually, but practically,” Shoats said. “If someone’s hungry, we’d like to feed them. If someone needs clothes, we’d like to clothe them. If someone needs help, we’d like to walk with them.”

As May winds down his sermon and the band gently sings, “Lord, Make Me Over Again,” he emphasizes the fundamental idea of his church: strengthening faith and then turning faith into action.

May says he can’t imagine returning to politics. He prefers the hands-on satisfaction of working closely with those who gather in the auditorium of the school, which charges $225 weekly.

He said his experience managing a government amid multiple scandals gave him a foundation to keep his church pure.

“In politics, you always have people plotting because of power. Now, because we’re so small, it’s not like I have a whole lot of power or money,” May said. “I thank God for the big challenges we had. They make you stronger. They make you see God in a stronger way, to help build your relationship and trust with him.”

Reader Comments ...

Next Up in Local

BREAKING: Woman charged with 14 counts of arson in Paulding County fire
BREAKING: Woman charged with 14 counts of arson in Paulding County fire

A woman has been charged with 14 counts of first-degree arson in connection with a weekend fire that destroyed or damaged more than a dozen homes in Paulding County. Adrienne Satterly, 41, of Hiram, also faces three counts of aggravated animal cruelty, according to the state insurance and safety fire commissioner's office. She was initially arrested...
Avondale interim city manager says he’ll keep spending conservatively
Avondale interim city manager says he’ll keep spending conservatively

Avondale Estates’ interim City Manager Ken Turner takes over during a contentious interval in city history, but says he plans to continue spending conservatively. “Being conservative doesn’t mean you don’t want growth,” Turner said during a recent interview with the AJC. “If you’re going to grow you have to...
Duluth approves zoning to allow 79 townhomes, retail on Buford Highway
Duluth approves zoning to allow 79 townhomes, retail on Buford Highway

The Duluth City Council voted 4 to 1, with Councilmember Billy Jones voting against, to approve rezoning for approximately 10.19 acres on Buford Highway at Davenport Road to construct 79 attached single-family townhouses and a commercial outparcel. The project aims to create a walkable and bicycle-friendly community that will tie into Duluth&rsquo...
Peachtree City shifts funds to Drake Field
Peachtree City shifts funds to Drake Field

Peachtree City will not rebuild the storm-damaged picnic shelter at Shakerag Knoll in the McIntosh Recreation Area. The City Council voted 5-0 on Feb. 15 to instead reallocate $85,000 of repair funds toward construction of a new pavilion at Drake Field next to Lake Peachtree, as part of that area’s ongoing enhancements. City Manager Jon Rorie...
Gwinnett elections division hosting poll official hiring events
Gwinnett elections division hosting poll official hiring events

Gwinnett’s Voter Registrations and Elections Division is holding poll official hiring events with an urgent need for bilingual poll workers, particularly Spanish speakers. Applicants may apply from 4 to 7 p.m. Feb. 21 at OneStop Norcross, 5030 Georgia Belle Court in Norcross, and 9 a.m. to noon Feb. 24 at OneStop Centerville, 3025 Bethany Church...
More Stories