Saturday, February 03, 2007

Bishop laid to rest

From The Grand Rapids Press, Saturday, February 3, 2007

More Than 2,000 Attend Funeral For William Abney
By Charles Honey (Press Religion Editor)

WYOMING -- With jubilant songs and anguished tears, Bishop William Abney was sent home Friday to the Lord he loved so well.

Nationally known Bishop T.D. Jakes praised him, gospel artist Marvin Sapp sang his favorite song and his daughter, Janathan, danced for him one last time in a celebratory funeral for one of West Michigan's most beloved pastors.

About 2,200 people gathered to honor Abney as an exemplary preacher, generous friend and devoted family man in a five-hour service at Resurrection Life Church. Abney, pastor for 45 years at Bethel Pentecostal Church Abundant Life Center, died Jan. 23 at age 80.

There was as much praising as weeping at the service, held at the 4,200-seat Resurrection Life to accommodate the large crowd.

"Daddy, this dance is for you!" shouted the Rev. Janathan Abney Austin, one of his three daughters, as she joyfully jumped across the podium to pounding gospel music. "I love you, daddy!"

Sapp, a renowned singer who grew up at Bethel, said Abney taught him to always put family first.

"He is the epitome of what a man should be," Sapp said before launching into a powerful rendition of "I Won't Complain," Abney's signature song. Abney's wife, Lorraine, and his children huddled around his casket and wept.

"This is what he lived his entire life for -- to be absent from the body and present in the Lord," Sapp said later. "So it's actually a victory."

Jakes, a television talk show host and pastor of the 30,000-member Potter's House church in Dallas, said Abney played a key role in his ministry. While Jakes was leading a revival at Bethel, Abney told him he should leave early to accept a sudden invitation to appear on television -- an invite that led to his own show.

"I just loved Bishop Abney," Jakes said. "He was an incredible person."

Jakes was one of about three dozen bishops from across the country who attended the service. Close to 200 ministers also were there, along with Gov. Jennifer Granholm and Grand Rapids Mayor George Heartwell.

"He was a great citizen of our state and of our community, and certainly was an embodiment of what Jesus would want us to be on Earth," Granholm said.

"Our city has lost a spiritual guide, and yet the spirit of the man, the presence he will have in us even in his dying, will give us strength and courage and warmth in God's spirit," Heartwell said.

Former U.S. ambassador Peter Secchia, Grand Rapids Police Chief Harry Dolan and Grand Rapids District Judge Benjamin Logan were among the dignitaries. Before the service, Logan said Abney took him under his wing when Logan first came to town.

"He was just a wonderful family man, a religious man, a community man," Logan said.

Abney also drew praise from fellow bishops in the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World as a devout man of God who would always help a friend.

"He was the kind of friend who gave of himself, and gave sacrificially," said Bishop Clarence Moore of Virginia.

In his eulogy, Bishop Noel Jones of Los Angeles spoke of "Uncle Bill" as a man of wisdom whose influence endured to the end.

"He never faded into oblivion," Jones said. "He was just as viable and significant until he fell asleep."

Great-grandson William Aziz Ellis choked back tears and said he wore Abney's name proudly.

"He always taught us to be different," Ellis said.

"I'm going to try my hardest to do what he told me to do."

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