Seven. That’s how many college degrees 47-year-old Kylon Middleton has earned.
But now that he has joined Charleston County Council, it’s enough. It’s time to act.
“I’m used to being of service to the community, but it’s broader now,” he said.
Middleton, a Charleston native who grew up in Radcliffeborough, earned a bachelor’s degree in English and communications from the College of Charleston. Then as he taught school, served as a principal in North Carolina and pastored churches, he got three master’s degrees — in divinity at Lutheran Theological Seminary in Columbia, in theology at Duke University and in administration from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. There also are the doctorates in theology from Duke and education from UNC, plus an Ed.S., an Educational Specialist licensure from UNC.
Whew. That’s enough to make anyone’s head spin.
Middleton, senior pastor at Mount Zion African Methodist Church on Glebe Street adjacent to his first college alma mater, won election to council in November by garnering 13,554 votes in his West Ashley-North Charleston district — almost 10% more than his closest challenger.
His first bid for elective office likely was made easier because of leadership activities in recent years with the Charleston Illumination Project, which seeks to strengthen relationships between police and area citizens. He got involved after the 2015 slaying at Emanuel AME Church of nine people, including his best friend, the Rev. Clementa Pinckney, a state senator.
Life will change some, but not lots
As a pastor, Middleton spends time in meetings, public and private. He talks with lots of people. And he works on issues that need to be resolved, such as a long-awaited $2 million renovation, restoration and expansion at his church.
As a member of council, he’ll have public meetings, policies to resolve and constituents in a district to serve.
“That does not differ much from what I do as a pastor,” he said, fully recognizing that taking on a new role will take more time. But he’s gotten used to it in a months-long campaign during a pandemic. In doing so, he’s become a master of Zoom.
“The depth of service is no different than how I’ve served my
church, my community and schools,” he said.
These days, Middleton spends a lot of time in virtual meetings, services and more from his distanced control room — a home office in a comfortable West Ashley townhouse. And interestingly, he kind of likes it because he says he’s really an introvert — even though his warm smile and open manner warm a room like the best extroverted politicians.
A typical day
Middleton gets up early, really early. He arrives at a West Ashley gym by 5 a.m. every day but Sunday. He lifts weights, a repetitive toil that he says is relaxing. Then after cooling down, showering and getting breakfast, he’ll do personal reading before starting church work. During the campaign, election work was interspersed throughout the day, much of which is spent on Zoom calls, he said.
Middleton’s weekly schedule is ferocious. On Tuesdays, he co-leads a book discussion group with members of neighboring Grace Church Cathedral, which is immediately followed by a Tuesday evening virtual church service for Mount Zion worshippers. On Thursdays, there is a Bible study. Friday mornings feature a virtual prayer call. And Sunday mornings, there is the regular church service, all via Zoom, although some are aired from the church.
During the typical week, Middleton says he interacts with up to 2,000 viewers, although some of them attend more than one service. He’s had participants from all over the country and as far away as Switzerland.
“It has worn me thin, but it has kept them engaged,” Middleton said.
During the pandemic, the church reaches more people than the 300+ pledging members it has because the church’s leadership team, which includes three assistant pastors, works hard to engage people in the virtual experience.
“It [the pandemic] has reset the ministry and ministry opportunities in ways that we may not have thought about.” He later added, “The elimination of in-person worship affected me because all of my training centered around the community of faith gathering in-person. It immediately caused me to pivot and depend solely on God for direction to lead my congregation.
“Our historic Mount Zion AME Church is undergoing a multi-million dollar restoration, renovation and expansion to position us for service to the community for years to come,” Middleton said. “We are not just surviving. We are thriving in the city of Charleston.”
His friend Clem
After Middleton earned his theology degree in Columbia, he and his family moved to North Carolina, where he pastored while teaching and then serving as a high school principal. In 2006, while still working in the Tar Heel State, he was assigned to pastor a church in Georgetown, which meant a lot of time on the road on weekends.
After the massacre at Emanuel AME Church, Middleton, who had retired from his education career, was in Charleston a lot to help the family of Pinckney, who he met as a boy at AME conferences around the state.
“We were driven to each other by our funny names,” Middleton laughed.
Eventually, Middleton was transferred to Mount Zion AME since, as he noted, he was spending so much time here, anyway. The following year, he helped start the Charleston Illumination Project.
Winding down at home
Middleton says he’s trying to relax more at home. How? By vegging out in front of the television watching classic comedy shows or sporting events. He’ll cook some food, watch the news, take long walks and occasionally ride his bike. And, he’ll read the Bible and other books to help inform the words he shares throughout the week with members of his church.
During the holidays, he also spent time with his son, a 24-year-old graduate student at East Carolina University.
Now with his new job on council, he said he would work hard to balance his church and elected responsibilities. He knows there will be more meetings, as well as interactions with constituents. But he’ll manage them — and engage with constituents in new ways to help build the community.
He’s ready to get down to work — ready to provide the moral leadership he campaigned on to win the seat on county council.