(Photo: Arthur Tsao)
NEW YORK - Thousands belonging to the immediate and spiritual family of David Wilkerson celebrated his life, legacy, and love for Christ at a memorial service Saturday at Times Square Church in New York City.
Speakers, including leadership of the church Wilkerson had founded and his relatives, honored the evangelical pastor for a life "well-lived" through personal testimonies and songs rejoicing that he is now in heaven.
"It was all about Jesus Christ," Carter Conlon, senior pastor of Times Square Church, said of Wilkerson's life.
"Everything that Wilkerson did, lived, believed and preached centered around the cross of Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins, and the wonderful and full, abundant life that God promises to those who would turn to Christ with an honest heart."
Greg Wilkerson thanked supporters for praying for his family following the news of his father's passing and his mother's hospitalization.
Wilkerson, 79, died on April 27 after his car fatally collided with a truck in East Texas. He was laid to rest at a private funeral last week at Rose Heights Church of God in Tyler, Texas. His wife, Gwendolyn Wilkerson, 70, survived the crash and is currently recovering after surgery for a broken hip.
"She will be in the hospital a couple more days. She's getting stronger," reported Greg Wilkerson.
During the memorial service, broadcasted to two overflow locations and streamed live online, speakers characterized the late Wilkerson as a spiritual father and close mentor.
Pastor Don Wilkerson said his brother, eight years his senior, was a "father figure" to him after their own father passed away. He recalled the life-changing experience of being called by the late Wilkerson to serve at Times Square Church.
"I had dreamed of leaving Bible college and going back to Scranton, Pennsylvania and pastoring with my father. But when he died at 53 years of age, that dream died with it. So, in 1987, when my brother asked me to come join him here, it was a resurrection of that dream."
The younger Wilkerson also served at Teen Challenge, a Christ-centered drug addiction recovery program founded by David Wilkerson, who chronicled the story in the best-selling book The Cross and the Switchblade.
Pastor Wilkerson also recounted an epic statement made by his older brother following a dispute that arose over the Times Square Church location. In asking why David Wilkerson chose this particular theater as the site for the church, the theater company suggested the reasoning probably laid behind the theater's large stage and reputation for having had many stars performed on its stage.
To which Wilkerson responded, "There's only going to be one star on my stage and that's the bright and morning star!"
Teresa Conlon, associate pastor of Times Square Church, drew attention to Wilkerson as a man who followed the "moving of the Holy Spirit" in all he did.
She looked at herself only as a "wife of" or a woman who was married to a man in ministry but Wilkerson saw something more and asked her to preach one day from the Times Square Church pulpit. After Sept. 11, he called her to help lead the church as he transitioned to preaching around the world.
"Why should he notice me?" she asked. "He loved the moving of the Holy Spirit. If there was power in that room, he was listening, learning and following that leading."
"I stand here as one of the unlikeliest people in the world who are in ministry because of David Wilkerson."
Before William Carroll, now associate pastor of Times Square Church, met Wilkerson, he was homeless for three and a half years. He was disappointed with Christians who he felt were "playing games" and challenged God to show him someone who was serious.
After listening to Wilkerson preach at Times Square Church for the first time, Carroll was convinced this was a man who actually believes in God. From there, Wilkerson was involved in all the milestones of Carroll's life, including sending him to Bible college and inviting him to come serve at Times Square Church.
"He was there. Sometimes, that's one of the most important things you can say about a person…He was there for all of us, going out of his way to be there when there was no one else there," said Carroll.
Turning to Wilkerson's family in the audience, Carroll expressed his deep gratitude for their generosity in allowing their father to be a father to many and enduring nights without him.
"Thank you so much for lending him to us," he said. "Because the truth of the matter is if Pastor David's family hadn't chosen to lend him to us, to lend him to me, I wouldn't be here. I know that for sure."
The strongest reaction of the afternoon occurred during a video tribute to Wilkerson. The audience seated in the church burst out in thunderous applause during an old clip of the preacher speaking from the Times Square pulpit and declaring his bold confidence in God, even in the face of death.
"There is something deep in my heart that says, 'Come what may.' That the devil can't kill me, kill you, without God's permission. But if God permits it, instant glory! Instant glory!" the Rev. Wilkerson stated in the clip.
In their tributes to Wilkerson, speakers also pledged to continue his legacy and challenged others to do the same.
"There is one less voice but there is one man who has touched a thousand if not tens of thousands of voices. There is one fire that has lit ten thousands of other fires," Pastor Gary Wilkerson said in the eulogy for his father.
"Today, we are given the privilege of picking up the torch of that life that was given to him," said Pastor Carter Conlon.
"A resounding part of Pastor David's message was simply this: what God has done through me, he can do through you; If you will open your heart and let Jesus be Jesus in you; if you will simply read the scriptures and do what God says to do."