(RNS) — Former Joint Chiefs of Staff Chairman Colin Powell, known as a four-star general and as a onetime secretary of defense, was remembered at his funeral at the Washington National Cathedral Friday (Nov. 5) as a man of the Episcopal faith.
Longtime colleague and friend Richard Armitage, who served as deputy secretary of state under Powell, recalled how their regular 7 a.m. morning calls shifted to 9:30 on Sunday mornings, after his supervisor had returned from church.
“Colin loved the church: He loved the ceremony. He loved the liturgy. He loved the high hymns, which made him extremely happy,” said Armitage, who served with Powell in the State Department during the George W. Bush administration, during the private ceremony that was livestreamed on YouTube.
“And he would answer the same way every Sunday. He said, ‘Oh yes, I was at church. And I want you to know I’m in the state of grace.’ And I would answer the same way every Sunday: ‘Colin, if you’re not in the state of grace, who among us is?’ And that was every day for almost 40 years, the same opening remarks.”
Powell, who died Oct. 18 from COVID-19 complications, was honored at a nearly two-hour private ceremony. Hundreds of people gathered under the cathedral’s neo-Gothic arches, including President Biden and two former presidents, Barack Obama and George W. Bush, and their wives, and former Secretary of State and first lady Hillary Rodham Clinton.
“With faith in Jesus Christ, we receive the body of our brother Colin Luther Powell for burial,” said Episcopal Church Presiding Bishop Michael Curry, who met the general’s casket at the doors of the cathedral with Bishop Mariann Edgar Budde, leader of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.
Some family members of Powell, 84, had key roles in the service that mixed the high church liturgy of the cathedral with the military precision of uniformed service members bearing Powell’s coffin and escorting his family.
His son, former Federal Communications Chairman Michael K. Powell, gave a tribute, along with Armitage and former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, who preceded Powell in that position. His daughter, Annemarie Powell Lyons, read from the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Micah: “And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
The Rev. Stuart A. Kenworthy drew on that Scripture as he spoke of Powell’s faith.
“Colin knew his God through all his years,” said Kenworthy in his homily, a role the former Army National Guard chaplain also played at the 2016 funeral of former first lady Nancy Reagan. “His faith was of first importance, and his life was marked by those words of the Prophet Micah.”
He also encouraged those remembering Powell to embrace their Christian faith.
“God raised Jesus so that you and I might share in his resurrection, and if you turn to him and accept him in faith, he will come into you and raise you into that new and eternal life now,” Kenworthy preached. “Just as he has for your beloved Colin, who now stands upon another shore and in a greater light, with that multitude of saints that no mortal can number.”
Prior to the homily, the Rev. Joshua D. Walters, rector of the Powell family’s church in McLean, Virginia, read words of Jesus from the Gospel of John: “Do not let your hearts be troubled. Believe in God, believe also in me.”
Congregants, masked during the continuing pandemic, stood to sing the hymns “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee” and “Precious Lord.” Soloist Wintley Phipps sang “How Great Thou Art.”
In an earlier statement issued after Powell’s death, Curry noted Powell was a lifelong Episcopalian.
“I pray for his family and all his many loved ones, and I give thanks for his model of integrity, faithful service to our nation and his witness to the impact of a quiet, dignified faith in public life,” the presiding bishop said at the time. “He cared about people deeply. He served his country and humanity nobly. He loved his family and his God unswervingly.”
Though not generally known for his ties to religion, Powell was noted for comments he once made about then-Senator Obama’s faith.
Obama, in a statement released on the day of Powell’s death, spoke of his deep appreciation of Powell’s endorsement of his presidential candidacy when the general had been affiliated with past Republican administrations.
“At a time when conspiracy theories were swirling, with some questioning my faith, General Powell took the opportunity to get to the heart of the matter in a way only he could,” said Obama in the statement, referring to rumors that he was a Muslim.
At the time, Powell said, “The correct answer is, he is not a Muslim; he’s a Christian.”
But then Powell added a follow-up: “But the really right answer is, ‘What if he is?’ Is there something wrong with being a Muslim in this country? The answer’s no, that’s not America. Is there something wrong with some 7-year-old Muslim-American kid believing that he or she could be president?”
Powell also was among the top picks of likely voters who were religious and considering potential vice presidents when the then-senator was seeking the presidency in 2008.
But Armitage and other speakers mostly put politics aside as they recalled the man who was their friend, family member or colleague.
The former deputy secretary of state noted he and Powell had different preferences for hymns. Armitage recited the final verse of “Rough Side of the Mountain,” which speaks of standing “before God’s throne” when the race of life has concluded.
“Be real quiet,” Armitage told the congregation. “Listen real carefully. And you might hear our savior say, ‘Colin, welcome home. And here’s your starry crown.'”
GOODBYE: Flowers and memorial tributes were abundant outside New Hope Baptist Church in Newark, New Jersey, where Whitney Houston's funeral was held. (Photo: Dennis Van Tine/Newscom)
There is no doubt that God was glorified on Saturday afternoon at pop icon Whitney Houston’s emotional homegoing service. Rev. Marvin Winans preached to nearly 1 million online viewers via UStream and millions more on CNN. If you followed the Twitter feed, it was as if the entire world sat down together for one powerful church service, and it was utterly beautiful.
There were performances from gospel singers Kim Burrell, CeCe Winans, as well as Stevie Wonder, Alicia Keys, and R. Kelly.
Watch Stevie Wonder’s touching performance below:
Watch R. Kelly’s performance of the song he wrote for Whitney’s final album, “I Look to You”
One of the most interesting takeaways was the power of God’s public glorification. Twitter was flooded with an overwhelming sense of humility and genuine appreciation of life. Though some expressed concern about a hint of “prosperity gospel” preaching in Rev. Winans’ eulogy, for the most part the twitterverse and blogosphere seemed genuinely stirred by the presentation of God’s Word. Many people tweeted that they hadn’t been to church in a while and that they were grateful to hear the Word today. Others seemed proud, like they were watching their favorite team playing in the Super Bowl. God was #winning.
God’s presence is so real, so tangible that it can be delivered even via the Internet. But there’s something about corporate worship that brings believers and non-believers to their knees. I am grateful that Whitney’s family didn’t allow Hollywood to dictate the service, and I am certain today that God was pleased. To God be the glory.
LARGER THAN LIFE: Pastor Zachery Tims' mysterious death sent shockwaves through the faith community.
On Friday night in Apopka, Florida, hundreds of people waited in line for more than an hour to pay their final respects to Rev. Zachery Tims. The 42-year-old megachurch pastor, who was found dead in a New York City hotel room on Aug. 12, will be laid to rest on Saturday morning.
Of all the things to be said about Tims — some great and perhaps not so great — one thing will almost certainly be true: he was a man.
Knowing nothing about this man, I heard “Pastor. Dead. Hotel. New York City,” and my imagination conjured the most depraved of possibilities that could validate the combination of those words. The scattered details following reports of his death, including that of a white powdery substance found on his person, only made my internal speculation worse.
Soon after media confirmed the news, Facebook and Twitter exploded with condolences, expressions of shock, and, in some cases, blame directed at Tims for his own death. He wasn’t new to controversy, after all. Long before his move to Florida, he’d battled drug abuse but said on the church website that he was “miraculously saved, instantly delivered … and called into ministry.” In 2008 he admitted to an affair, and he and his wife later divorced.
Drug abuse and marital problems unfortunately fall into the tragic categories of normal life for normal people. It’s only abnormal when it’s public and it involves the pastor.
How could someone bearing that title and the spiritual responsibility of thousands, commissioned by God with the Spirit upon him to preach the gospel, heal the brokenhearted and preach deliverance to the captives be in the bondage of sin himself? The answer is simple: even the man of God is still a man.
We frequently lose that fact in the face of pastors and other church leaders who appear to have arrived at the place people stake their lives on trying to go.
Many are the best dressed, driving the nicest of cars, and living in houses that look like they’re straight from MTV Cribs. And even for leaders with more modest incomes, preaching every Sunday, they appear smart, confident and even fearless. Their holiness is apparent; their anointing is strong, the words they speak prophetic. They stand over hundreds, thousands, and — thanks to online worship — maybe millions of people, continually holding attention and commanding respect. And if you miss that it’s the Spirit of God holding that man or that woman up, you’d think he or she holds power that no ordinary person does.
Throw in a sense of humor, a certain “swag” (like my pastor), and the good looks of Tims (who was often likened to Will Smith), and you’ve got a larger-than-life superstar who’s everything to everybody every hour of the day.
When this is all we choose to see, we inevitably make titans of our teachers and hold them to a supernatural standard. The pastor becomes our idol — no longer a man of God but, instead, a god of man.
And we know there is only one God, who is God all by Himself. All other manmade gods eventually fall — just as all humanity does, just like any man or woman would. Regardless of his or her position in the church, every believer has the challenge of walking through the struggles of this fallen world in pursuit of God’s truth and the life that comes with it.
Victory over the sin struggle sometimes isn’t so easy, particularly for church leaders who, though surrounded, are isolated physically and spiritually. They cover entire flocks but live uncovered themselves. With little to no support, accountability and the weight of others’ burdens, perhaps anybody would do anything just to endure — even the pastor. Maybe your pastor. Maybe even the late Zachery Tims.
Following the announcement of his death, I read of Tims’ encouraging words, his amazing testimony, and the altruistic work he did as pastor of New Destiny Christian Center. Though I didn’t know him, I’m convinced he probably was a great man, even an anointed man of God — but a man nonetheless.