Bishop William L. Bonner, who for a half-century was leader of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, a Pentecostal organization that under his administration grew by hundreds of churches worldwide, died April 3 at his home in Detroit. He was 93.
A spokeswoman for the New York-based church confirmed the death but did not disclose the cause.
The predominately African American church was started in Harlem in 1919 by Robert C. Lawson. Bishop Bonner was a rising minister in the church when Lawson died in 1961, and within a few years, the younger man had taken over the organization, which included a growing network of sanctuaries, schools and funeral homes, a magazine and a radio station.
While serving as pastor of the 3,000-member flagship church in Harlem, the Greater Refuge Temple, Bishop Bonner went on to simultaneously pastor congregations in Detroit; Washington; Jackson, Miss.; and Columbia, S.C.
The ministry in Columbia, which grew to more than 700 people, included a retirement community and a Bible college named in his honor. Bishop Bonner, who also held the title of chief apostle, was a regular presence on radio and television.
William Lee Bonner was born Nov. 12, 1921, in Bolden County, Ga. He is said to have received a divinity degree from the Church of Christ Bible Institute in New York, run by Lawson’s organization.
He soon became a Lawson protege, serving as his chauffeur and key aide as well as having preaching assignments.
Bishop Bonner’s death followed those of his wife, the former Ethel Mae Smith, and their daughter, Ethel Mae Bonner Archer. Survivors include a son, William L. Bonner Jr.; a sister; and several grandchildren.