The Miami pastor will take his message to the Oxygen network
It was bound to happen.
The show, tentatively dubbed The Wilkersons, will star the 30-year-old pastor and his wife, DawnCheré, and will be produced by E’s Giuliana Rancic and Jason Kennedy.
The sudden attention has mystified Wilkerson, who bears more than a passing resemblance to Leonardo DiCaprio.
“I never expected that anyone would care who performed the ceremony,” he says. “Celebrities get married all the time and no one knows who their pastor is. I didn’t tell anyone I was doing the wedding; I just went to Italy and did it. And then everything started moving really fast.”
PEOPLE recently spent a day with Wilkerson to learn more about the Miami pastor who has celebrities on speed dial – but insists that his heart is really about helping those in need. “The wedding and now the reality show has given me a platform to give my message of redemption, which is for all people,” he says. “That’s why I’m here.”
A Thriving Ministry
In a rough neighborhood of Miami Gardens, the sprawling campus of Trinity Church sits alongside strip malls and blue-collar shops. The building could clearly use some repair, but it has become the center of the community.
Every Tuesday night, Wilkerson, 30, leads The Rendezvous, (nicknamed “the Vous”), the church’s young adult ministry. Seven years ago, Wilkerson decided to reach out to a younger crowd. His first service had 12 people; it now has more than 1,100.
It has the vibe of a hip Miami club: live rap music, contemporary singers, and an attractive, ethnically diverse crowd dancing in the aisles. But when it’s time for Wilkerson to preach, he tackles the tough issues, giving clear advice on everything from racism to drugs and sex, and he doesn’t shy away from preaching about sin and repentance.
“I want to reach people who have given up, who are out of hope,” he says. “I want to talk to people who haven’t felt comfortable in church. But I’m going to tell the truth. And sometimes the truth isn’t easy.”
Meeting Kim and Kanye
It was at the Vous that he first met West and Kardashian about two years ago.
“One night, I got a text [from a friend of Kanye’s] that he was going to bring Kanye to church,” says Wilkerson. “We hung out and chatted. He flew back into town the following week and came to church. The week after that, he and Kim flew in from New York just to come to church.”
“It began a relationship; we started emailing and calling each other. We collaborated on a few things: art, fashion, music, Jesus. He invited me to write a few things for his tour, and I’ve been able to counsel him on a few things.”
Wilkerson is used to being asked about some of the couple’s more controversial moments. “I don’t have to agree with everything that someone does to love them,” says Wilkerson. “I think that’s actually a problem within the church: everyone wants to judge everyone else. My job isn’t to judge anyone. I tell the truth if I’m asked, and we may disagree, but we’re still friends. Kanye knows what my standards are. There’s a respect there.”
When they asked him to officiate the wedding, Wilkerson readily agreed. “I got to give my message,” he says. “They wanted a Christian wedding, and wanted me to talk about Jesus. It wasn’t a message of hate and judgment; it was a message of hope and love. Kim and Kanye have both told me that they’re followers of Jesus; we’re on the journey together as friends. I believe in them, and I believe in their marriage.”
Hollywood Comes Calling
The wedding instantly made Wilkerson a local celebrity. Sitting with PEOPLE at Lagniappe, a funky Miami barbecue joint and wine bar, it’s hard not to notice the four young women staring at him from the next table. Finally, one of them approaches.
“Is your name Rich?” she asks. “Will you take a picture with us?” He sheepishly complies, and the women immediately tag him on Instagram.
It’s that notoriety that led networks and production companies to take an interest in a reality show. “I don’t watch a lot of reality TV,” says Wilkerson. “But I’m not against it. Love it or hate it, reality TV has become the language of our culture. And I believe that there’s a place for Christians to show that this is who we are, this is what we believe, and we’re not all sitting in judgment of other people. It’s a chance for me to show the love of Jesus Christ. It’s a platform.”
And what can viewers expect?
“There’s a lot of my life that is hilarious,” he says. “But there’s also a lot that is very serious. We have people in our church who are facing difficult things. Also, my wife and I are trying to have children, and it hasn’t happened yet. Obviously, if the show causes stress in our marriage, we’d stop doing it, but I think we’re both on the same page.”
One of Wilkerson’s chief concerns: how a reality show will affect his ministry. “There are people who will think that I’m exploiting my celebrity friends for my own gain,” he says. “I don’t want anyone to think that. I am really looking for ways to share some good news with as many people as possible. If I don’t do that, what’s the point?”
And if more celebs show up at the church? “They’ll be welcome here,” he says. “But they’re no more welcome and no more important than the homeless guy who walks in. I want to minister to the famous and the nameless. Everyone is welcome at our church. And it’ll stay that way.”
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