The World Theater high atop the Museum of the Bible was transformed into a spirit-filled sanctuary by some of the most well-known names in the African American church while filming an upcoming televised event called “Blessing of the Elders.”
The Museum of the Bible has been a popular Washington, D.C. attraction since it opened in 2017. Still, few things compare to the June 23 event when the museum honored seven iconic figures in the Black Church: Dr. John Perkins, Dr. A.R. Bernard, Dr. Tony Evans, Pastor Shirley Caesar, Bishop Charles E. Blake, Bishop Vashti McKenzie and Bishop T.D. Jakes.
“Our hope for Blessing of the Elders is to honor – past and present – Black pastors who have impacted America with their significant ministry,” said Harry Hargrave, CEO of Museum of the Bible, in a statement.
Each honoree knew how to turn their acceptance speech into stirring sermons delivered to an audience filled with pastors and wives, many of whom were thrilled to be part of a live event in this post-pandemic world.
One of the most moving moments came when Marvin Winans played and sang, “Let the Church Say Amen!”
BeBe Winans and Erica Campbell served as masters of ceremonies and sang. Wintley Phipps used his smooth bass-baritone voice to sing, “Talk About a Child Who Loves Jesus.”
The program featured stirring selections by Fred Hammond, the Clark Sisters, Anthony Brown, Tremaine Hawkins and the rapper Lecrae – artists reflecting the diversity within God’s family.
“The remarkable history of the Black Church in America demonstrates a biblical faith under pressure that should inspire people of any generation,” said Dr. A.R. Bernard, Chairman of the Blessing of the Elders Steering Committee, in a statement released. “We are elated that the indelible mark of our community on the fabric of American society is finally being acknowledged.”
Rev. John M. Perkins, 92, is a civil rights activist, Bible teacher, best-selling author, philosopher and community developer who was first among the honorees. As he received his medallion, he said, “What am I thinking about? The Black Church, the White church . . . the Black church is the cornerstone the builder rejected.”
Local pastors and community leaders in attendance included Bishop Alfred Owens and Co-Pastor Susie Owens from the Greater Mt. Calvary Holy Church of the District and Rev. Mathew Whatley, pastor of Kingdom Fellowship AME in Beltsville, Md.
Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin, and Lt. Governor Winsome Sears, the first African-American female in Virginia’s history to serve in that post, also attended.
Accompanied by Mrs. Youngkin, Sears briefly responded, “We are here to honor those who have come before us.”
Governor Youngkin said in an interview, “This is an important night to bring everyone around a basic belief system: Jesus. I’m just excited that this is an important gathering of folks from all over the country at the Museum of the Bible.”
Bishop Vashti McKenzie, the first woman named a bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal church, is now the interim president of the National Council of Churches. As she walked in, she said, “This is a historic gathering of faith leaders primarily from the African America tradition . . . and I am just excited to be part of the gathering.”
A distinguished cast of presenters participated including actor Denzel Washington, his wife Pauletta, John Hope Bryant and Courtney B. Vance.
Bishop Jamal Bryant, pastor of New Birth Baptist Church in Atlanta, paid tribute to McKenzie, who broke the gender barrier in the AME church and showed, “There is a role for women beyond frying chicken and singing solos in the choir.”
McKenzie said, “I accept this award on behalf of all the women who were pushed to the margins of church culture.”
Caesar broke the color and gender barrier in the church and said, “God has allowed us to stand.” Then she shouted, “Jesus, I’m not ashamed to call his name. Jesus, there is power in his name.”
Bishop Blake, the retired head of the Church of God in Christ, was not well enough to travel but representing him was the new presiding prelate Bishop John Drew Sheard. He came to the event with his famous wife and her siblings, the Clark Sisters.
The Rev. Tony Evans, the pastor of Oak Cliff Bible Fellowship, accepted his award while still grieving the loss of his wife of 49 years, who died in 2019. McKenzie’s husband, Stan McKenzie, died in 2021. Her daughter and granddaughter joined her.
Evans, the popular host of The Urban Alternative, a global Christian Bible teaching and resource ministry,offered a message for evangelicals as he accepted his award. “God is not asking the church to fix the White House; if God is your problem, it doesn’t matter who you elect.”
Instead of preaching or making a long speech, Bishop Jakes used the occasion to honor his grandfather Thomas Dixon Jakes, Sr., who drowned in Mississippi, June 9, 1928.
Jakes said his grandfather died on his lunch break after arguing with a mob at the plant where he worked. In his acceptance speech, Jakes said his grandfather didn’t have the same chances Blacks have today.
“I’m safe to be here,” he said, urging, “let us march on.”