Founder of one of Jackson’s largest churches dead at 81

Published 4:42 pm Friday, October 5, 2007

Bishop Phillip Coleman Sr., founder of the Greater Bethlehem Temple Apostolic Faith Church in Jackson, has died after a battle with cancer. He was 81.

Coleman, who died Tuesday, was a child of the Great Depression raised in a farming family in Raymond. He went on to found a church that grew into one of the largest congregations in Jackson.

Funeral arrangements were incomplete.

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“He was small in stature, but he had a presence about him as a real giant in the faith,” said friend Bishop Ronnie Crudup, senior pastor of New Horizon Church International in Jackson. “I knew him as a very tenacious man for Jesus Christ.”

Coleman started Greater Bethlehem Temple in 1954 with five members meeting in his parents’ home. Today the church claims 3,000 members with 1,500-2,500 regular worshippers.

Coleman also expanded the church into a jail ministry, an outreach to the homeless and for housing numerous Hurricane Katrina evacuees, said church member Laura Anderson.

“He was a strong advocate for community and community redevelopment,” Crudup said of Coleman, “and to see our people, particularly African Americans, do better for themselves in both their faith and their everyday lives.”

Before becoming a minister, Coleman earned an associate’s degree in radio technology from Jackson’s Campbell College, which closed in 1964, and served a tour of duty in the Air Force during World War II.

Early in his marriage to the former Sarah McNeil, Coleman moved his family to Detroit, seeking better job opportunities.

While there, he met the founder of the Pentecostal Churches of the Apostolic Faith Association and joined the ministry. The organization is one of a number of Pentecostal church associations.

At the time of his death, Coleman served as the diocesan bishop for the Ninth Episcopal District of the Pentecostal Churches of the Apostolic Faith, which includes churches in Mississippi, Alabama and Tennessee.

Jackson Mayor Frank Melton announced Wednesday that he ordered all the city’s flags be lowered to half-staff until Oct. 13 in honor of Coleman as well as Mario Whipps, a 16-year-old killed in a September car wreck on I-220, and Corey Rhodes, a 17-year-old Lanier High School student who died on the basketball court in 2005.

“This has not been done before, but I feel strongly about it,” said Melton, who called Coleman a good adviser. “Bishop Coleman was kind of a statesman for the African-American community.”

Coleman preached his last sermon three weeks ago before his illness prevented him from returning to the pulpit, church members said Wednesday.

No successor has been named. The church employs 26 ministers, three of whom are Coleman’s children, officials said.

Survivors include his wife, Sarah; 13 children and numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.