The Rev. Jennifer Prescott, a physician and pastor

By Arthur Hirsch
Globe Correspondent / July 28, 2011

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The Rev. Jennifer M. Prescott, a physician and the assistant pastor of Abundant Life Church in Cambridge, found her abiding passion among people who needed help: her parishioners, those on the streets of Boston and Cambridge, in her immediate family circle, and in the villages of Uganda.

The Rev. Larry Ward, senior pastor of Abundant Life Church, described her as a woman who carried out her work with a kind heart, a gift for inspiring others, and a strong sense of how to get things done.

“Jennifer lived her life devoted to helping other people,’’ said her sister, Cheryl Prescott-Walden of Newton. “She had visions of making a difference, particularly in the lives of women. . . . That pretty much defined her entire life.’’

Rev. Prescott, who juggled church responsibilities with work as an independent contractor performing physical examinations at American Para Professional Systems in Wellesley, died July 2 in Melrose-Wakefield Hospital.

She was 59 and had been ill a little more than a month.

“She’ll be missed,’’ said Rev. Ward. He said the Pentecostal church of more than 100 members now enters a “transition time’’ with the death of Rev. Prescott, who directed several ministries.

“She played a huge role,’’ Rev. Ward said, helping to run the church that she attended most of her life, seeing the congregation evolve from its Caribbean roots to welcome parishioners from a range of ethnic backgrounds.

“She’s kind of like what I call my anchor runner on the team,’’ said Rev. Ward, meaning that he could count on her to keep church activities going and make sure the people she worked with were on schedule.

Rev. Prescott ran the church’s Women’s Ministry, supervised the four deacons in their pastoral care, coordinated a Christmas dinner for homeless people with the Salvation Army, and ran the church connection to college students who needed a “family away from home,’’ Rev. Ward said.

In 2004, she traveled to Uganda as part of the church’s mission there, providing medical care and educational materials.

“Her focus was really to develop people,’’ said Rev. Ward. “She felt that spiritually, to see people develop spiritually and to help to develop people in leadership.’’

Outside the church, she counseled homeless women in Cambridge and Boston and helped to run support groups for pregnant teenagers.

The eldest of seven children, Rev. Prescott always seemed willing to take on the caretaker’s role, whether in family, church, or neighborhood, her sister said.

“Any member of the immediate family who needed anything, Jennifer was right there,’’ said Prescott-Walden, recalling how her sister helped see her through recovery from illness in the late 1980s.

More recently, when their father was ill, Rev. Prescott took him for medical treatments, paid his bills, and “organized his life.’’ When he died in 2009, she took responsibility for their mother’s affairs.

Rev. Prescott was born in Barbados, West Indies, and came to this country with her 2-year-old sister, Cheryl, and her father, James, when she was 4 years old. The two girls and their father settled in Cambridge, joining their mother, Elaine, who had immigrated earlier and lived with the mother’s great-aunt.

Elaine Prescott of Somerville said she remembered her daughter saying she wanted to be a medical doctor when she was a little girl, but at the time it seemed mostly because she wanted to take revenge on a physician who had just given her a painful injection.

The impulse turned out to be more serious. As a teenager, she worked as a volunteer at Somerville Hospital, which seemed to affirm her enthusiasm for a medical career.

“She liked people; she liked helping people,’’ her mother said.

After graduating from Cambridge High and Latin School, she began studies at Pembroke College, which was then Brown University’s women’s college and which merged with the university by the time she graduated in 1973.

She completed her medical degree at Boston University School of Medicine in 1978, said her sister Cynthia, of Medford.

Family members said Rev. Prescott pursued her medical work over the course of several years in a number of settings. She was part of the medical team for the Boston Celtics and worked as a consultant at Roxbury Comprehensive Community Health Center and as medical director for the former Mattapan Chronic Disease Hospital.

She also worked for the Aswalos House for unwed mothers and with Superior Mobile Medics.

Since 1992, she worked as an independent contractor for American Para Professional Systems, performing physical exams required for disability and life insurance, said David Baime, the national company’s regional director in Massachusetts.

“She meant a lot to us,’’ said Baime. “She was a good person.

“She rarely ever complained about anything,’’ he said, despite the frequent difficulties of the work that demanded she visit homes and offices in and around downtown Boston performing 20 to 25 examinations a week.

As far as Baime knew, she did not hold a state medical license during the time she worked at American Para Professional Systems, and performed only the examinations that were done by paramedics.

He said the work gave her flexibility and independence and allowed her to devote more time to the church.

After Rev. Ward called on church members for ministry leaders, Rev. Prescott stepped up. She completed studies at the Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary’s Boston campus, known as the Center for Urban Ministerial Education.

She began her apprenticeship at Abundant Life in 2001 and was ordained two years later, Rev. Ward said.

Prescott-Walden described her as “a woman of deep, deep faith’’ who was also grounded in the practicalities of running an organization.

“She was a ‘take charge, take care, get it done’ kind of person,’’ Prescott-Walden said. “It will take 20 people to pick up the pieces Jennifer left and do what she did. She died too soon.’’

Besides her mother and sisters Cheryl Prescott-Walden and Cynthia, Rev. Prescott leaves her sisters Francia of Windsor, Conn., Patricia of Upper Marlboro, Md., and Maureen Atkinson of Roswell, Ga.; and a brother, Roger of Arlington.

Services have been held.

Arthur Hirsch can be reached at