In 2017, Brandon Queen was ordained as the first African-American elder at the 150-year-old First Presbyterian Church of Thibodaux, La.
Thibodaux, La., is in the heart of Cajun country—a place where you find a mix of landscapes, cultures, people, and food. A little bit of this and a little bit of that. A gumbo. Brandon Queen’s life has been God’s own special gumbo recipe, with a mix of ingredients that includes his family, First Presbyterian Church of Thibodaux, and the people who invested in his life from an early age. The resulting dish has been a blessing to all.
Queen cannot remember a time when he was not a believer. He could quote Scripture at the age of 5—before he could read. His family was mostly Baptist, with some Pentecostal, Roman Catholic, and Methodist relatives. He, his 10 siblings, and some cousins were raised by his grandmother, Eunice Queen, in a small government house.
“She had a big variety of ages of kids stacked in on top of each other in that home,” remembers Betsy Magee, a member of First Presbyterian Church.
Eunice Queen did not want any of her grandchildren to go into the foster care system, so she took them all in. She signed them up with the Angel Tree program that provides Christmas gifts for underprivileged children; their names were passed on to the church. However, she didn’t want the kids to just receive gifts. She was adamant that the children be involved in the church.
Brandon Queen with his grandmother, Eunice, in 2014 when Brandon was awarded The Silver Beaver Award, the highest service medal for adult Boy Scout leaders.
“Eunice was a real kick to know,” Magee said. “She did the very best she could for those kids. They were fed. They were loved. They were cared for. But she didn’t put up with much nonsense.”
Sensing the great need for support, church members stepped into the lives of the Queen family to fill the roles left vacant by absent mothers and fathers.
Magee had three boys and owned a Suburban. She would fill her Suburban with Queen kids and take them to all the activities at the church. Her family “adopted” Brandon as one of their own, making certain he always had school supplies and other necessities.
Magee says that she didn’t have a choice.
“It was something God put in our path, taking that family under our wing,” she said. “We have been blessed, even more than Brandon, by the relationship we have with him.”
Queen said Magee “was basically my mother. She just did it, without asking.”
By the age of 11 Brandon began to understand who God is and what Jesus accomplished on the cross. He was baptized and became “entrenched” in the life of the church.
“Brandon stayed with the church and the church stayed with Brandon,” Magee noted. “We encouraged him in his faith, grades, studies, tutoring, and whatever else he needed.”
Brandon Queen with Bill Crawford, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Thibodaux.
Bill Crawford, Pastor of First Presbyterian Church, agreed.
“It’s not a guarantee that you feed into someone’s life, give them opportunities, share the gospel with them, and they engraft into the body of the church,” he said. “But Brandon has done that.”
Another important person in Queen’s life was Rhonda Bridier, a local scout master and church member who got Brandon involved with the Boy Scouts. He would go on to earn his Eagle Scout and The Silver Beaver Award, the highest service medal awarded to adult leaders in recognition of commitment and leadership within the organization.
Magee proudly described Brandon’s work ethic. She explained that once he was old enough to work he would ride his bike to various jobs. While working for Office Depot, he learned enough about photography to start his own business—Brandon Queen Photography—taking photos for seniors and other classmates.
After finishing school, Brandon became a correctional officer and found that he loved interacting with the inmates. He graduated from the police academy and became a patrol officer, and later, a juvenile detective with the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Becoming a police officer resulted from watching his mother battle drug addiction her entire life. He saw that people around him were “getting caught up in bad decisions and situations,” he said, adding that he learned from their mistakes.
As a juvenile detective with the LaFourche Parish Sheriff’s Office, Brandon Queen is Thibodaux’s own “Basketball Cop” often stopping his patrol to interact with local young people.
“I want to encourage other young people to stay out of trouble and do productive things with their lives,” he said. “I can relate to the kids out here today who get themselves stuck in some of the things they get themselves stuck into. I love people. God has given me the gift of loving people which has enabled me to do the things I do in this job.”
Magee also sees this in Brandon’s life. “God has used the gifts He has given Brandon—his life experiences—to be able to reach out to at-risk kids and to counsel others with his Christian values. God has put Brandon in great positions.”
In 2017, Brandon was ordained as the first black elder in the 150-year-old Thibodaux congregation. Crawford says that Queen’s ordination was the natural progression of Brandon’s journey with the church.
“We were just affirming what we already saw in him,” Crawford said. “When you meet Brandon, what you find is someone who has an enthusiasm and optimism for life, and a character where if you didn’t know the rest of his story, you would never guess it. We don’t see color in him. We see Christ.”
As if being a juvenile detective, Ruling Elder, and photographer weren’t enough, Queen also serves as an at-large member of the Advancement Committee for the Southeast Louisiana Boy Scout council and produces a podcast called “The E.A.R. (Evangelical and Reformed) Podcast” in which he and his guests discuss social, political, and cultural issues from a theological perspective.
He also is a member of the EPC Revelation 7:9 Task Force, which is studying how the EPC “can better become a denomination that faithfully embraces, worships with, and serves our neighbors from every nation (ethnicity), tribe, people, and language.” These neighbors include people of differing genders, ages, education level, and socio-economic status.
Brandon believes that Revelation 7:9 is both a descriptive and prescriptive verse, in that God—through the Apostle John—describes how Heaven will look and prescribes how the Church on earth should look.
“Our ethnicities are different for a reason, but not different enough for us to segregate ourselves purposely,” Queen explained. “The Church should put our differences and cultures to work for good. If we do, it will work the way God intended for it to work.”
Though he is quick to point out that he has faced challenges regarding race—especially in light of his career as a juvenile detective.
“I have been called a race traitor, an Uncle Tom, and even a ‘porch monkey working for the white man,’” he acknowledged. “But I know who I am in Christ, and I am doing what I do to glorify God. It doesn’t make me hate that person. It makes me want to pray for that person and to love that person.”
He knows that many African Americans may not understand why he chooses to stay in a congregation and denomination that is predominantly white. His response?
“I stay because I love the theology, the liturgy, and the fact that I am loved, supported, and never judged for the color of my skin,” he said. “In Heaven, it’s not going to matter if you are Asian, Chinese, black, white, Hispanic, or whatever. We’re all going to be a mix, standing in front of the throne, worshipping God. That right there—that’s my gumbo.”
by Kelli Lambert Gilbreath