C.D. Brooks, a globe-trotting evangelist for the Seventh-day Adventist Church, who had a television show, preached on six continents and converted thousands of people to the church’s teachings, died June 5 at his home in Laurel, Md. He was 85.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, the church said in a statement.
Elder Brooks was considered one of the most dynamic speakers in the Seventh-day Adventist Church, which has its world headquarters in Silver Spring, Md., and claims 19 million members worldwide. The Christian denomination holds worship services on Saturday.
Early in his career as a minister, Elder Brooks was so successful at recruiting new members that he quickly came to the attention of the church’s leaders. He began to tour the United States and other countries in the 1960s, running what the Adventists call evangelistic meetings.
With a particular focus on attracting black members to the church, Elder Brooks proved to be a compelling force in the pulpit. By 1971, he was one of seven general field secretaries of the Adventists’ worldwide church, leading evangelistic meetings and training ministers around the globe.
In 1974, Elder Brooks began appearing on “Breath of Life,” an Adventist television ministry geared toward African American viewers. He was on “Breath of Life” for 23 years, as his preaching found a wide audience and led to the establishment of 15 new congregations.
Black worshipers make up 37 percent of Seventh-day Adventist members in North America, according to church figures.
Elder Brooks often conducted mass baptisms, including one in 1978 at Washington’s Warner Theater, in which more than 300 people took part. (Adventists require full immersion as part of their baptismal rites.)
According to church historian Benjamin Baker, Elder Brooks brought more than 20,000 people to the Adventist faith.
“If you have heard C.D. Brooks preach, it was most certainly an unforgettable experience,” Baker and a co-author, Harold L. Lee, wrote in their 2013 biography, “C.D.: The Man Behind the Message.” “A media trailblazer, Brooks has spread the gospel through every type of media, including cassette, radio, television, and Internet.”
His ministry also expanded beyond African American audiences, making him a popular figure at evangelistic meetings around the world.
“I didn’t want to go to Antarctica,” Elder Brooks once said, “because there was no one to preach to.”
Charles Decatur Brooks was born July 24, 1930, on a farm near Greensboro, N.C. His family was nominally Methodist, but his mother began to observe the Saturday sabbath after being cured of an illness.
According to family lore, she heard a voice commanding her to obey the Ten Commandments, including the Fourth Commandment: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.”
The family began worshiping at an Adventist church when Elder Brooks was 10. At 17, he was so moved by an Adventist evangelist that the decided to enter the ministry.
He graduated in 1951 from what is now Oakwood University, an Adventist college in Huntsville, Ala. He led evangelistic meetings in Pennsylvania the following year.
“I had a great, exciting summer,” he told the Adventist Review in 2009. “We had a little church there, 22 members. I love telling young guys, ‘First campaign we doubled the membership.’ They look at me in awe, then I tell them, ‘We had only 22 members.’ ”
He was the pastor at churches in Delaware, New Jersey and Ohio, often holding tent meetings, and he preached before other groups around the country. In the 1960s, he became more of a national and global minister, touring and leading meetings for the church.
Elder Brooks lived for years in Takoma Park, Md., but often traveled to the church’s television production studio in California to tape episodes of “Breath of Life,” which was televised on the BET network, beginning in 1989.
He spoke at an inaugural event for President Ronald Reagan in 1981. He retired from full-time ministry in 1996 and from “Breath of Life” a year later but remained active in church matters for many years.
Survivors include his wife of 63 years, the former Walterene Wagner of Laurel; two children, Deidre Tramel of Mitchellville, Md., and Charles D. “Skip” Brooks Jr. of Washington; two sisters; and three grandchildren.
“Evangelism is the elixir that warms up a cold church,” Elder Brooks once said, “the force that moves the members from standing on the premises to standing on the promises.”