By Hamil R. Harris
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, April 14, 2008
Bishop S.C. "Daddy" Madison arrived at God's White House of the United House of Prayer for All People for the last time yesterday.
His body, in a gold coffin and pulled along in a horse-drawn white carriage, was escorted by a marching band and the legendary church's own uniformed soldiers. Thousands arrived to pay their respects to the man who was their national leader for 17 years.
United House of Prayer's 1.5 million-strong organization dates to the 1920s and spreads across 25 states.
Madison was only its third leader, and his wake yesterday was New Orleans-style, complete with brass bands, colorfully dressed men and women and plenty of soul food from the church's local eatery, Saints Paradise. It was a grand display of a unique African American religious organization known for its spirited worship and its institution-building, as well as its elevation of its leaders to saintlike status.
United House of Prayer was founded by Bishop C.M. "Daddy" Grace, the colorful and charismatic leader who built a huge following that still functions in the religious universe he created. Everything from the usher board to multimillion-dollar housing units have been named after Bishops Grace, Walter "Sweet Daddy" McCollough and now Madison, who died at age 86 last week.
"It is a sad time, but there is just a sense of pride to be part of this organization," said Gracie Huff, 48, of Springfield, who as an usher on duty wore a crisp, white dress. She is also one of the "McCollough Tip Top Stars," one of the leading fundraisers in the organization.
As part of the Grace Royal Guard, elder William Coates, 54, of the District, wore a royal blue uniform trimmed in red. "The House of Prayer is my spiritual and natural foundation," he said. Of the bishop, he said, "just like Jesus, he has departed to be with the Lord."
Church members were not the only ones in attendance yesterday. Alvin Brown, a District lawyer who worked on Housing and Urban Development initiatives during the Clinton administration, said, "The church is the foundation of the black community, and Bishop Madison displayed that not with words, but with deeds."
During his tenure, Madison erected and dedicated more than 100 sanctuaries across the country. He also built affordable multifamily housing, assisted-living facilities and commercial retail establishments. There are six United House of Prayer churches in the area, and the church's apartment units stretch several blocks along Seventh Street NW.
In the midst of a changing city, its church headquarters have stayed in the 600 block of M Street NW, across from the Walter E. Washington Convention Center.
Madison's funeral is set for noon today and is expected to draw city officials and several thousand mourners. For five days, leaders of the church traveled with his body to Augusta, Ga.; Charlotte; Newport News, Va.; and New York City.
"In Charlotte, nearly 7,000 people waited in lines four deep to pay their respects to Daddy Madison," said Apostle W. Swaringer, a member of the church's general council. "From their dress, many people were not just from the church. He touched the community as well as church."
Young men sporting sharp suits and carrying tubas and trombones started arriving at God's White House early yesterday. D.C. police closed the street to accommodate the crowd.
Madison's coffin entered the church to "God Bless America" and the wails of his followers.
Seated in a wheelchair in a hallway waiting for her chance to view Madison's body -- draped in white and gold and under a glass cover -- Michelle Washington, 52, said she had been in the church all her life. She now lives in one of the church's apartment complexes in Northwest. "He provided us with homes," she said. "He provided jobs to individuals, and he also provided us hope where we could wake up each day and see Jesus."
Apostle H.L. Whitner, pastor of God's White House and Madison's longtime lieutenant, spent most of his time in his study as he prepared to eulogize his spiritual leader and friend.
"This is our headquarters and where he pastored for more than 22 years, and for 16 years, I was his assistant."
After today's funeral and burial, the church will have a 30-day mourning period.
The names of several candidates to succeed Bishop Madison have already emerged, but each has agreed that the intense politicking likely to emerge must wait for another day.
Madison, himself, rose to power in the affluent church in 1992 in a hotly disputed election.
Yesterday, Huff said she isn't worried about the future of her church.
"We all have the same feelings of sadness, but we have a sense of pride that regardless of who becomes the next bishop, the House of Prayer will continue to grow and remain strong."