Pastor JoeNell Summerfield's body lay in a metallic grey coffin just underneath the podium at Word of God Fellowship Church and Academy in Raleigh, North Carolina, as her children prepared to say a few words about her life in a memorial service on Monday.
Earlier, popular megachurch pastor, Bishop T.D. Jakes who presided over the service had reminded the church that they were there to celebrate JoeNell Summerfield's life.
"We have come not to mourn but to celebrate. We have come to celebrate the life and the legacy of this tremendous woman of God, Pastor JoeNell Summerfield," Jakes said as he encouraged the congregation to clap.
When it was her four children's turn to speak, however, it was Pastor JoeNell Summerfield's youngest child, Joshua Summerfield, who reminded them all that though he knew they were supposed to be celebrating, the year had been a "traumatic" one for his family and the church and he just wanted to be "human" for a minute.
His mother died on Sept. 9 at the age of 61 after battling an unspecified illness for several months. Her death came just two months after his father, Bishop Frank Summerfield, the founder of Word of God Fellowship Church and Academy, also died of an unspecified illness at the age of 67.
"To be honest with you I really don't feel particularly like speaking because of the fact that this whole year, if I can be honest, if I can be human, has been very traumatic," said Joshua during a live broadcast of the memorial service.
Nevertheless, he explained, the family was "standing strong" because of the Holy Spirit.
"I would say that we're standing strong, tall and we're gonna continue to do the same thing because I believe that the way our parents taught us in the ministry, as leaders we have to stand strong, tall so that the flock can continue to do the same," he said.
JoeNell Summerfield raised four children with her husband and all of them are in ministry. Frank Summerfield Jr. is an elder and minister of music. Mitchell Summerfield is an elder and the COO of the church. Their sister, Valisha S. Fowles, is human resources and payroll director and elder, while Joshua is the church's youth minister.
Jakes, who said he did not plan to say much during the service, was moved to speak after listening to friends and church members recall the version of the preacher's wife they knew. Jakes called her a "ruby" among the many people he has met in his lifetime.
"I have to say something about Pastor JoeNell. She was just incredible, outstanding, impeccable woman of integrity and class and grace. I've traveled all over the world and I've met all kinds of people. She certainly stands out a ruby amongst them all," he said before recalling the first time he met her.
"It was difficult being in that back room where they had us holding because the first time I ever met her was in that room back there," Jakes said.
"I didn't know who she was and she didn't even wait for me to know who she was. You didn't even get to decide whether you liked her or not. She just came in and filled up the whole room with this effervescence and that was my introduction to her as I was preparing to speak that night here. Other times we've encountered since then, it's been amazing. And then I got the call that she was ill," he explained.
In late January, months before the death of her husband in July, the bishop called on his nearly 2 million followers on Instagram to pray for JoeNell Summerfield, saying she was "in desperate need of healing."
"First Lady Summerfield, wife of Bishop Frank Summerfield is in desperate need of healing. I just left her bedside in Raleigh agreeing with the family in prayer. Please join me in interceding for her! She really needs a touch from God. You don't need to call or go by...... just send urgent prayer! Thank you!" Jakes said at the time.
Jakes then recalled how worried her husband was for her.
"He was over in the corner, I could still see him sitting in that chair in the corner. He was worried to death about her. I have never seen him look like that in his life. He looked like a little boy scared to death because she was in the bed sick and frankly he looked like he was in more trouble than she was and she was sitting up in the bed trying to comfort him," Jakes said.
He explained that he had gone to see JoeNell because God had sent him to her. While he was praying for her during her illness, he recalled something "divine" that happened after his tears fell on her during prayer.
"When I started praying for her I started crying and I started weeping over her as if the Holy Spirit inside of me was weeping. And my tears fell on her forehead and we entered into a move of the Holy Spirit that I can't even explain to you," Jakes said. "It was something divine that God did."
He remembered her as fierce and a stoic.
"She was a relentless person. I watched her bury her husband. I watched her come out to church and praise the Lord when I knew her heart was broken and her body was weak. Sat around the table with her for hours and hours with all of her amazing and gracious children. And she sat there and she reminded me of Ma Barker in the movie because she had such strength, under fire and pressure," he said.
Jakes then encouraged her children and thanked them for sharing their parents with the church.
"I want to say to the children having known your mother and father much better than I know you individually, and collectively I am coming to know you. I don't really have to know you 'cause I know your ingredients," he said to applause.
"You come from good stuff and no matter what you go through, no matter what you face, that will always rise undaunted. As we convey our condolences to you today, it came in my mind and heart that there is something else that we need to say to you.
"Being a pastor and raising kids, I sat with you so long because I know what it's like to be in that house and live that life and go through all that you have gone through. On this occasion, as sad as it is, I want to take this moment to say thank you for sharing your parents with us," he said as the congregation applauded.
"We honor your sacrifice. I know how much it costs to share your family with the world and to live up under that scrutiny. We honor you today," he said. "I don't know what the future holds but I do know who holds the future ... the same God that brought you this far will take you the rest of the way through."