Grief, pageantry and emotion filled Refreshing Spring Church of God in Christ in Riverdale yesterday as several thousand mourners from across the country gathered to eulogize Bishop Sherman Scott Howard, the local leader of one of the largest African American denominations in the country.
The service was spirited. Clergy, dressed in flowing white and purple robes, and the audience broke out in laughter and nods of agreement as speakers paid tribute to the bishop's passion for good gospel, fine food and having a good time.
The coffin carrying Bishop Sherman S. Howard is taken from the church during a procession led by Travis Hall, jurisdictional adjutant at New Bethel Church of God in Christ. The service was attended by several thousand people.
(Hamil R. Harris -- The Washington Post)
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"We have come to celebrate the life of a soldier who can now lay his sword on the shelf," said the Rev. Gilbert Earl Patterson, presiding bishop of the Church of God in Christ and its 8 million members worldwide. "His battle is over. He has gone on to get his reward."
Howard died of hypertensive cardiovascular disease Dec. 11 at his home in the District. He was 77. A church pianist and gospel radio personality, Howard presided over the Washington jurisdiction of the Church of God in Christ. He was one of 225 bishops of the Pentecostal denomination, which was founded in 1897 and has its headquarters in Memphis.
Yesterday's service drew many of the church's leaders from across the country, as well as local members and admirers of the bishop, including Elder James Jordan, pastor of Refreshing Spring.
"As a leader, he set a high standard of excellence for us, and the church is going to miss the leadership and fatherly love that Bishop Howard gave," Jordan said.
"Bishop Howard was truly a man of integrity," said Karen Jackson, sales manager for WYCB (1340 AM) and WOL (1450 AM) in Lanham, which aired Howard's weekly services and daily programs.
Howard joined Church of God in Christ in his native Roanoke. He was ordained as a minister in 1946 and in 1955 started New Bethel Church of God in Christ in a small storefront in Northwest Washington. His church now has more than 1,000 members and is known for its community concerts and programs.
As some in the pews gently swayed to gospel hymns, mourners spoke of Howard's contributions, including the "Words of Inspiration" he offered on radio shows for more than two decades and his advisory work to church leaders young and old.
Travis Hall, jurisdictional adjutant at New Bethel, fought back tears after he and a group of pallbearers placed Howard's coffin in a white hearse.
"I will always remember Pastor Howard as a man of unshakable faith who knew how to praise God in any circumstance," Hall said.