Wednesday, January 31, 2007

His Spirit Will Always Be There

From The Grand Rapids Press, Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Hundreds pay respects to Abney
By Charles Honey (Press Religion Editor)

GRAND RAPIDS -- Eunice Hill-Guillory came to the church about 10:15 a.m. Tuesday to say goodbye to Bishop William C. Abney. More than two hours later, she was still there.

The Wyoming woman was among hundreds who filed through Bethel Pentecostal Church Abundant Life Center, paying their last respects to the man who had been their beloved pastor for 45 years.

"I don't want to leave him," Hill-Guillory said after viewing Abney's body in Bethel's colorful sanctuary. "He showed me how to love, no matter what. He's the only reason I got through."

It was the first day of public visitation for Abney, who died Feb. 23 at age 80. He was to lie in repose at Bethel until 5 p.m. today, to be followed by a private memorial service.

Abney's body was also on view Monday at Greater Grace Temple in Detroit.

People left flowers and teddy bears around Bethel's outdoor sign, which read: "Bishop, you didn't complain" -- a reference to Abney's favorite hymn, "I Won't Complain."

Recordings of his renowned singing played in the sanctuary, and CDs, DVDs and tapes were on sale in the lobby.

A steady stream of visitors flowed past his flower-framed casket near the altar. Abney's hands were folded peacefully on a brilliant purple, green and gold robe.

Gennie Washington burst into tears after seeing him.

"Everything comes to an end, but it's just hard to say goodbye," said Washington, 53. "It's hard to let go of someone you love."

Ethel Thomas serenely reflected on the loss of "a man of God."

"I feel lost, but I know he's OK," said Thomas, 74. "His spirit will always be here, always be with Bethel."

Charles Booker said the pain Abney endured in his final years from diabetes and other ailments tempers sadness at his passing.

"I'm happy because he's not suffering, but I'm hurt because I'll miss him," said Booker, 44, head of Bethel's men's ministry. "You want to see him in a better place, and he is. He's whole again."

Ricky Wilson leaned on a cane as he recalled Abney's acts of generosity and his undiscriminating love.

"Everybody was somebody. No matter how bad you were, he was there to extend what Jesus did -- showing love, being a good neighbor," said Wilson, 54.

"I always thought he would be here till God comes back."

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