Bishop John L. Meares (top right) takes part in the Laying of Hands during the consecration of his son, Donald D. Meares in 1997. (GERALD MARTINEAU/The Washington Post)

Assistant pastor Kevin Mathews said Meares died of heart failure after a long illness.

Meares started an evangelical Church of God ministry when he moved to the District in the 1950s with his wife and three children. Meares, who was white, built a largely African American congregation, an unusual achievement in a city where churches remain overwhelmingly segregated.


Meares was eventually expelled from the Church of God for preaching to a congregation outside his denomination during a revival, but his church thrived anyway.

Evangel Temple, as it was then known, outgrew an old stable that had been turned into a church in Northwest Washington, and then drew more worshippers than could fit in an old theater. In 1975, the church dedicated a $3 million building on Rhode Island Avenue NE.

In 1990, Meares announced plans to move the church to Upper Marlboro.He had appointed Donald, his younger son, to replace him as senior pastor at Evangel Cathedral, a year earlier.