Pastor MaryAnn Berry explains how she created a church, a college and a new life in Christ
By Pat Shea
Becoming a pastor was never a planned item on MaryAnn Berry’s agenda when she married her husband Wayne in 1975. Instead, she was focused on helping her husband establish and run a successful security company in upstate New York, and then turned her attention to starting a family.
Like many women, MaryAnn suffered from severe morning sickness every day during her pregnancy. Her doctor prescribed her a popular anti-nausea drug, Bendectin, to alleviate her symptoms. MaryAnn began feeling much better, and on March 29, 1977, she delivered Maria, a healthy baby girl. Two years later, MaryAnn and Wayne were thrilled to discover she was pregnant again, but like before, she was plagued by severe morning sickness and her doctor prescribed the same medication.
On May 6, 1979, her son John was born, but unlike her previous pregnancy, MaryAnn didn’t feel well and healthy after delivering her health son. Instead, she began feeling weak and dizzy and at times, didn’t feel strong enough to even hold her infant son or get out of bed. She went to doctor after doctor, explaining her symptoms, but no one could give her an answer as to why she could barely walk. Each day was a struggle for her to just get up and move and her parents and husband grew more and more concerned.
After seeing over 15 doctors, MaryAnn felt frustrated and defeated. She then was horrified to read an article in the newspaper that the drug she had taken had caused other mothers to deliver children with severe birth defects. A controversy over the drug began and it was later removed from the shelves, but MaryAnn believed that the drug had somehow damaged her health, and there seemed to be no way to regain her strength.
Her mother, who lived nearby, suggested attending a healing service that her neighbor had recommended. Having been raised Catholic, MaryAnn was stunned her mother had suggested attending a non-Catholic healing service. “I always thought these sorts of things were against my faith,” explained Pastor MaryAnn in a recent interview. “I had no experience with healing services and in my head all I could think of was people rolling on the ground and speaking in tongues. How could these people help me?” But as her health continued to spiral downward, MaryAnn agreed to go with her mother. “By that point I had tried just about everything so what did I have to lose,” explained Pastor Berry.
Still, attending such an event, especially housed at an Episcopal church, fought against the strict religious beliefs that MaryAnn had been raised with. “I was worried I was going to be hit by lightning or something, so I decided to sit by the door, so I could make a run for it if I needed to,” stated Pastor MaryAnn. “My mother decided to stay at the back of the church with the children.” As the service began, MaryAnn felt uncomfortable and out of place, especially as a group of women began praising and worshipping at the altar.
“One of the women asked if there was anyone who wanted to accept the Lord, and I heard them call a woman from the back of the church forward. I felt a tap on the shoulder and realized it was my mother! I did the only thing I could think of…I pretended I didn’t know her,” laughed Pastor MaryAnn. However, when her mother arrived at the altar, she explained to the worship team she wasn’t coming forward for herself, but for her daughter. MaryAnn was horrified when the women called her to the altar to be prayed for but went up with all intentions of fleeing as quickly as possible.
“None of the women worshipping knew the night before I had been rushed to the hospital with a cyst on my ovaries,” stated Pastor MaryAnn. “So, when I got up near the women I said, ‘You can pray over me, but don’t touch me’. The worship leader looked at me and pointed to where the pain had been the night before. ‘You have pain right here, don’t you?’ Now I was convinced they were witches. I nodded and then the women began praying over me and I felt what I can only describe as a light breeze behind me. Before I knew it, I fell backwards. I couldn’t move. My mother believed I had passed out, but I knew…I just knew something had happened within me.”
Eventually, MaryAnn was able to get up and leave the service, but over the next three days, her symptoms returned, and she suffered worse than ever before. “I couldn’t understand why I didn’t feel any better when I truly believed that God had touched me,” stated Pastor MaryAnn. After the third day, her symptoms began to improve and within a short time she felt healed from all that had plagued her for so long. She ventured in prayer to ask God why it took so long for him to heal her, and she heard Him tell her, “There’s healing and there’s a miracle. You asked for healing.”
Realizing the power of God’s healing, MaryAnn was eager to learn more. She always had a passion for learning and had previously earned a Bachelor of Science from Marist College and studied music at Manhattanville College in Purchase, New York. But this desire for learning went deeper and led her to receive a certification in Religious Studies from Advanced Christian Training School-Faith Fellowship World Outreach Center in Sayreville, New Jersey. She went on to be ordained through the Association of Faith Churches and Ministries, in Tulsa, Oklahoma and Willmar, Minnesota, under the Reverends Jim and Kathleen Kasemen and to also be ordained through Christian Faith Center, Bloomfield, New Jersey, under Pastor John and Reverend Donna Esposito.
A Faithful Future
Throughout her quest to become closer to God, Wayne, her husband, remained supportive. But to her shock, she saw his own life turn around one evening while watching television. “I had a healing program on and the speaker was giving testimony on how God had healed him of kidney stones. I had walked out the room for a moment and walked back in to find my husband crawling on the floor on his hands and knees. For a moment I thought he was [making light] of the testimony on the television, but then I realized he was in real pain from a kidney stone. I said to him, “You’re not saved. God wants you to be saved. I helped him say a prayer to Jesus and he was healed from the kidney stone pain. It changed his life.” Soon after Wayne also went on to study and become a licensed ordained minister.
God continued to make great changes in the Berry’s lives, involving their children and MaryAnn’s parents in ministry. The Berry’s put an addition onto their house in Poughkeepsie and began hosting prayer meetings. The meetings soon outgrew their home and they rented space at YMCA to pray and worship. The group then outgrew that space, and the Berry’s knew it was time to seriously consider creating a formalized space for their growing church. They purchased a catering hall in Union Vale, New York, where the John 3:16 Christian Center is now located, serving over 300 members. MaryAnn and Wayne watched in amazement as the non-denominational church, which was focused on the teaching of the Word of Jesus Christ, continued to grow to include a children’s ministry, host a healing service on Thursday evenings, hold Sunday services, a Miracle Service the first Thursday of every month, and workshops and seminars. The church also hosts a weekly television program, Faith for Today, that is produced by the church.
Despite the tremendous growth in her ministry, MaryAnn’s quest for learning further ignited. She opened and became the dean of the II Timothy 2:15 School of Biblical Studies, an accredited Bible College affiliated with the John 3:16 Christian Center that offered a wide range of accredited courses in theology.
Pastor MaryAnn is extremely proud of the college and feels that the school really “digs deep” to understand God’s word inside and out. The college also caters to the busy lives of its students, offering both online, as well as in-classroom courses. The college is open to every Christian that is interested in being “Christ-Like.” The school consist of a six-year biblical study program, but students can also take the electives program. Course credits can be transferable to obtain college certification and financial aid is available.
“I love the school. I think I’m just a perpetual student and I love the ability to keep learning.” Berry also teaches a weight loss course to help people eat the right foods and keep a “biblical perspective” about eating. “I was inspired by a program, A Diet-Free Life, and now teach a program to help people eat food in the right combination to be healthy. God gave us our bodies and it’s important that we remain good stewards of our bodies and our health.”
Fulfilling a Literary Promise
You would think with all that fills Pastor MaryAnn’s plate, she wouldn’t have time for more projects, but she is an accomplished author as well. Her first book, Answered Prayer, that was published in 1984, was in keeping with a promise she made to God to produce a book about her healing. Her second book, Why Are You Sleeping, is a spiritual look at the end times, and covers scriptural insights that point to these being the “last days of the church age.” In chapters that include The Wake Up Call, The Shaking Has Begun, Simon, Pay Attention and Passing the Test, Pastor MaryAnn leads readers through the scriptures that explains how to understand the reasons why certain events have taken place, and how to “wake up” and prepare for the future.
“Why Are You Sleeping actually came about from a sermon I was working on that encompassed three weeks of teaching,” explained Pastor MaryAnn. “Before I knew it, I had over 800 pages of teaching accumulated, and I thought, ‘There’s a book in here.’ I believe these are the last days and we are seeing the signs of the times. I want people to understand if the trumpet blows, they need to be ready.”