A two-day, nearly four-hour virtual celebration of Thanksgiving by the predominantly African American Church of God in Christ remembered the lives of three General Board members claimed by COVID-19 and was also filled with shouts of praise and teaching lessons on thankfulness.
“This season of Thanksgiving is especially important because all of us have learned this year to fervently trust in God as so many obstacles have come our way,” Presiding Bishop Charles E. Blake Sr. said.
The disease took Bishops Nathaniel Wells, Ted Thomas and Phillip Aquilla Brooks, all longtime figures in the denomination of more than 6 million faithful. Wells was one of the best-known COGIC leaders of the last generation. He headed a congregation and region of Michigan for the body as well as a nonprofit producing more than 1,500 affordable housing units across three states.
“He loved his children. He was an encourager to his children,” daughter Tiffany Wells Alexander remembered as “COGIC Family Thanksgiving” featured talks with relatives of the deceased who sat on the 12-member ruling panel of the church.
Wells died on March 24 at age 78. In honor of his legacy, Muskegon City Commissioners voted to rename a street to Bishop Nathaniel Wells Jr. Way.
Thomas died on June 24 at age 84 and Brooks died on April 9 at 88. Brooks was the longest serving General Board member, serving over 40 years.
Several well-known black gospel performers took turns in the spotlight, including Micah Stampley, Fred Hammond, Judith Christie McAllister and Kim Burrell.
“Come see what the Lord has done for me,” Stampley sang. “He opened doors for me.”
In addition to the original two evenings’ showings of the Thanksgiving program, the denomination gave an “encore presentation” Wednesday. Characteristic of COGIC services, the videos had testimonies of God coming through in hardship, especially COVID-19.
“I was gravely ill and confined to my bed,” Bishop Alton Gatlin of Lafayette, Louisiana, testified of coming down with the coronavirus after the annual ministers and workers meeting in his home jurisdiction. “I was certain the angel of death had come to my room to take me back,” but “after a while I heard the Lord say, ‘I still have more work for you to do, you shall live.’” He said he is preaching again even though some symptoms of the disease linger.
Vice President of Evangelism Brian Nelson delivered the first night’s message. “I know it’s been a weeping season, it’s been a wounded season,” he said, then referring to passages in Luke 1:46 and Job 1:21. “I came tonight to testify my soul does magnify the Lord. The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away, blessed be the name of the Lord.”
General Board member Jerry Macklin, now interim first assistant presiding bishop with the death of Brooks, called on fellow believers not to "let your temporary circumstances rob you of your permanent blessings.”
On the second night, Barbara McCoo Lewis, general supervisor of the International Women’s Department, preached the closing message.
She told viewers to remain thankful in three seasons: “blessing and prosperity,” “heated battles and hard times" and “uncertainty.”
“Don’t wait till the battle is over,” she encouraged. “Shout now! Call those things that be not as though they were.”