Pastor Wendell Raulerson Sr. had a Saturday full of surprises.
Raulerson, chairman of the DeLand Clergy Coalition, earned a community engagement award Sept. 8 from the Spring Hill Neighborhood Association; it was presented at the TURN Festival in Spring Hill Park.
Then the longtime pastor, who is currently undergoing treatment for prostate cancer, was surprised again with a benefit concert Sept. 9 in his honor at Mount Calvary Baptist Church.
The spacious church was packed for the event, organized to raise money for Raulerson’s medical costs. Even with folding chairs alongside the pews, some attendees had to stand.
A choir led by Stan Whitted included among its voices Shilretha Dixon — head of the Spring Hill Neighborhood Association and TURN Festival organizer — and Barbara Girtman, who is running for Volusia County Council.
The group performed rousing renditions of “Jesus Promised (He’ll Take Care of Me)” and “God’s Grace,” among others, which brought the house to their feet.
Events coordinator Stephanie Corley jumped down from the stage to speak with The Beacon and explain the need for a fundraiser.
“We’re trying to defray the costs of his medical expenses,” she said.
Raulerson said his insurance covers 30 treatment sessions and 80 percent of his costs; however, he requires 45 treatment sessions.
Pastor Raulerson was told only to be at the church 10 minutes before 4 p.m. Saturday. He had no idea why.
“It was incredible. When I walked in and everyone was praying and loving on me … well, it made me cry,” he said. “I couldn’t keep it in. I was totally overwhelmed. It was amazing.”
The event was on the 14th anniversary of Raulerson’s becoming a pastor at Greater Bethlehem Baptist Church.
He said the TURN Festival award was another surprise. Several others also received awards at the festival, which is an event designed “to unite, rebuild and network” in the Spring Hill community.
“It’s a great honor to be standing with those people on the stage,” Raulerson said. “I know all of them, and they are just tremendous, tremendous people. To be named with them was incredible, and humbling.”
Dixon, director of the Spring Hill Resource Center, said she wanted to highlight Raulerson’s leadership of the DeLand Clergy Coalition, which has worked with the DeLand Police Department this year to address the problem of gun violence.
“You know, you get a lot of certifications and notifications in my line of work. And that one?” Raulerson said. “That one is special.”