Bishop S.C. Madison, the Presiding Bishop of the United House of Prayer for All People has been laid to rest in grand fashion April 14. He was only the third leader of what must be considered the first Black “Mega Church.”
My hat is off to the UHOP. May God Be Pleased With You. UHOP members don’t stand out from other middle class, “Raisin in the Sun” type, striving Black folks, they don’t change their names to “El” or “Bey” or Rashideen. Of course their clean, well dressed, well represented. But there’s something else about their strength I admire. The way they worship, their exuberant musical tributes.
Bishop Grace–Sweet Daddy Grace–founded his first church in West Waltham, Massachusetts, around 1919. By the mid-1920s he had moved South, and was holding large, popular revivals and tent-meetings around Charlotte, North Carolina. In 1927, with an estimated 13,000 followers, Bishop Grace incorporated The United House of Prayer for All People of the Church on the Rock of the Apostolic Faith. The church grew rapidly and soon included branches all along the eastern seaboard, claiming some 500,000 people in 100 congregations in 67 cities.
Was he “charismatic” or merely “flamboyant?”
Charles Manuel Grace was of mixed African and Portuguese descent, born in the Cape Verde Islands around 1882. His family came to the United States during the first decade of the twentieth century. In the Cape Verdean communities of New Bedford and Cape Cod, Massachusetts, the young Charles Grace worked as a short-order cook, a cranberry picker, and a sewing machine and patent medicine salesman, before giving his life completely to his ministry.
Bishop Grace was said to have been a showman, but he was always a generous benefactor. He sponsored bands and parades, and tossed candy to his followers (hence “Sweet Daddy”) and to this day UHOP marching bands and steppers travel up and down the east coast in bright, shiny, dream-mobile-looking buses where they perform at various congregation meetings and rallies.
Daddy Grace dazzled with his long hair, multicolored robes, and colored fingernails.Â His followers believed he had the power to bless such ordinary items as soap, coffee, and eggs, and many believed that buttered toast from his plate had the power to heal. Although Bishop Grace did not claim the divinity that his followers assigned to him, neither did he deny it. “I never said I was God,” he once clarified, “but you cannot prove to me I’m not.”
Another thing I admire, is that even though his followers worship Bishop Grace, his successor, and Bishop Walter “Sweet Daddy” McCullough, and now just departed Bishop S.C. Madison as “Daddy.” the followers don’t seem to act like “Babies.” They impress me, from the outside at least, as strong people God-fearing people who know and appreciate the value of life and of “things.”
In his own right, Bishop Madison stood firm against the very ultimate force of gentrification and urban renewal ever faced by any inner-city church leader, the encroachment into the church’s residential neighborhood with the construction of the new Walter E. Washington Convention Center. To his eternal credit, Bishop Madison apparently did not yield an inch to the developers, not one apartment given up at Canaanland Apartments on Seventh Street. God Bless his soul!
The Rev. Willie Wilson said of Bishop Madison: He was a supreme example that churches can play a role in the housing and economic development needs of our community. He as well as the United House of Prayer, continued the historic position of setting up hospitals, banks and stores for the community, and it came out of the Black church. We need to emulate more of what he did.” Rev. Wilson told James Wright of the Afro-American newspaper.
Indeed, that it seems is the church tradition. Sweet Daddy Grace, after all, was known for spending a good portion of his income on his congregations, supplying apartments, pension funds, burial plans, and free food to the faithful.
Long live that great tradition and Great Black Ministry.