Cicely Tyson’s pastor remembers her faith as family announces public viewing

Former President Barack Obama and irst lady Michelle Obama greet Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, actor Cicely Tyson, at the White House on Nov. 22, 2016.
Former President Barack Obama and irst lady Michelle Obama greet Presidential Medal of Freedom recipient, actor Cicely Tyson, at the White House on Nov. 22, 2016. | White House/Chuck Kennedy

A public viewing for the late award-winning actor Cicely Tyson, who died at the age of 96 on Jan. 28, will be held this month at the famed Abyssinian Baptist Church in New York City where she was a member and attended every Sunday when she could, according to her pastor, the Rev. Calvin Butts III.

The viewing, according to her family, will take place from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Feb. 15 at the Abyssinian Baptist Church located at 132 Odell Clark Place (formerly 138th St) in Manhattan.

Butts, in his message on Sunday, remembered the Emmy award-winning, Oscar-nominated actor as a “diva with grace” who had “great faith.”

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“I loved Cicely Tyson dearly. She was a dear friend to myself, to Mrs. Butts, to our entire church. I describe her as a diva with grace. She carried herself as an actor of great renown. She didn’t take a back seat to anyone. She would not prostitute her gifts. She didn’t sell herself to the highest bidder. She wouldn’t take any role just to make the dollar,” he recalled. “She sacrificed because of that, but she was a woman of great dignity, great spiritual strength, great faith.”

He explained that whenever she came to church to worship, people hardly knew she was in the crowd because her focus was simply to worship God.

“She had a place in our church where she would sit. She bought that pew in memory of her mother. We don’t sell pews so that people can sit in them, but she donated to our church and she asked that when she was here if she could sit there, and of course, we agreed.

"But she would come to church often and you wouldn’t even know she was here. She would not be spectacular as she can be, she would just sit in the back and worship God. She was here every Sunday when she could be when she wasn’t working, traveling. She was a good member,” he said. “I believe she is enjoying the peace of Heaven. Cicely Tyson will be missed. Our hearts are broken and we are saddened, but she lived a triumphant life. She was God’s gift to us.”

Tyson won an Oscar nomination for her role as the sharecropper’s wife in “Sounder.” She also won several Emmys, including one for “The Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman.” She won a Tony Award as well for “The Trip to Bountiful.”

She received a Presidential Medal of Freedom award in 2016 from former President Barack Obama, who said Tyson “shaped the whole course of history.”

“In her long and extraordinary career, Cicely Tyson has not only succeeded as an actor, she has shaped the whole course history. Cicely was never the likeliest of Hollywood stars. The daughter of immigrants from the West Indies, she was raised by a hardworking and religious mother who cleaned houses and forbade her children to attend the movies,” Obama noted. “But once she got her education and broke into the business, Cicely made a conscious decision not just to say lines, but to speak out. …. Cicely's convictions and grace have helped for us see the dignity of every single beautiful member of the American family.  And she’s just gorgeous.”

In remarks she made for Women’s Day at Abyssinian Baptist Church on March 11, 2018, Tyson recalled how frequently she went to church as a child growing up.

“We went to church from Sunday morning till Saturday night,” she said to laughter from the congregation.

“We attended church like Sunday, I played the organ, I taught Sunday school, I had evening service. Monday we had young people’s meeting, Tuesday, old people’s meeting,” she said to another burst of laughter.

“Wednesday, we gathered together to try to introduce young children to the way of God. Thursday, we had club meeting. Friday, I sang and rehearsed in the choir and Saturday, we cleaned the church. I decided at one point that if I ever lived to become a woman I would never enter the portals of church again. And here I am standing in the pulpit of one of the biggest churches in the world,” she said to applause.

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