On January 5, 2015 EarHustle411 and the great City of Chicago along with the world are mourning the loss of the Reverend Dr. Johnnie L. Colemon. Reverend Colemon or “Johnnie” as she was lovingly called was memorialized at the beloved spiritual home and foundational creation of Johnnie’s Christ Universal Temple, located on the corner of 119th & Ashland on Chicago’s far south side.
This journey into the life and legacy of the woman who was affectionately known as “The First Lady of the New Thought Christian Community” while some who were blessed to have a personal relationship with her called her “Mother” or Aunt Johnnie”. It is on this joyous journey we were taken on by Johnnie’s longtime publicist Hermene Hartman who had been in that capacity since Christ Universal Temple moved to its present location. The memorial was opened up with a glorious sound by the Christ Universal Temple Ensemble under the direction of Fred Nelson. Mayor Rahm Emanuel opened with his expression of gratitude for Johnnie making Chicago her home and sharing many would be “firsts” in this great city. Reverend Kimberly Lewis Davis who serves at the Chaplain for the Chicago Police Department rendered a resolution on their behalf and offered words of encouragement.
Anyone claiming to know Johnnie knew that music was very important to her and her love for the art of music was brought to life with by Christ Universal Temple’s Music Director, the late Robert Mays. EarHustle411 would be out-of-order if we did not make mention of the CUT Ensemble Choir member Connie Kinnison, a longtime member of CUT and crucial piece to the Ensemble’s success. Take a look at the CUT Ensemble as they sing “Keep On Singing His Praise”:
Several members of the religious community paid their respect to Reverend Colemon such as the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan, calling her “mother” because of her nurturing spirit which he bared witness to when he was going through his health challenge with cancer. Reverend Jesse L. Jackson called her a “genius” and said “even though her physical body has died her spirit has not” Both ministers rendered their respect, love and admiration for Johnnie by phone. Johnnie’s good friend and fellow minister Della Reese also called into the memorial to share a word of comfort with the CUT congregation. One thing that was in common is those who truly knew Reverend Johnnie Colemon shared that she was all about the business of God, nonsense had no place in what her plan was and the plan that God laid before her.
Reverend Clay Evans, founder of Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church had a relationship and friendship that transcended leaps and bounds. He stated:
“If I could add one thing to Johnnie’s name, it would be EXCELLENT!! Johnnie touched lived in ways no one could ever imagine, she was triple A in every way”
Friends and associates of Johnnie’s from various walks of life all with whom she had given guidance to and even served as mentors, paid the ultimate respect to the woman who would be as tall as she was larger than life. Alderman Carrie Austin of the 34th Ward where CUT was housed experienced some memorable moments with Johnnie as the area where the church had been the catalyst for the ward to successfully thrive. Johnnie would tell Alderman Austin ” God don’t give you a vision with complications”. Oh how true this is as Alderman Austin would come to know.
Reverend Johnnie Colemon had no biological children but she had MANY of what she referred to as “Johnnie’s babies”. These were young men and women whom she took under her wing and mentored them and watched them grow up to be some of the most successful individuals the world would ever see. One of her babies Kevin Ross said:
“Johnnie “womaned” Chicago’s pulpit and made history doing so. I am so grateful to Johnnie for all that she has taught and instilled in me”.
World Renown Motivational Speaker Les Brown also was taught under the direction of Reverend Colemon and he owes his successes to her. He said about his mentor as he referenced how her influence made him what he is today:
“Johnnie was not an exception, she’s an example. There’s a Johnnie Colemon in each one of us!!”
It was no secret that Reverend Colemon did not advocate holding funerals in Christ Universal Temple, she always stated the sanctuary was no place where a dead body to be, however it was only on one occasion where an exception was made and that was in 1987 when the late Mayor Harold Washington passed. Hermene Hartman elaborated on how at a time when the City of Chicago was in complete turmoil over his death, it was Johnnie Colemon who was able to bring a sense of calm in the midst of chaos. To date the funeral of former Mayor Washington was the one and only to have their deceased body lay in the church.
Interestingly and most appropriately Johnnie was a woman of many “first” She was one of the first to have the ministry in mainstream media in places such as radio and television. Long time member and CEO of Central City Productions Donald Jackson was the Chair of CUT’s Media Ministry from 1975 to 1985, he talked about how Johnnie’s vision “overpowered” the realm of what television and radio called for. She was a woman who wanted things done decent and in divine order, when it was “showtime” and the spotlight was ready so was Johnnie and everyone involved. With the evolution of technology, Donald Jackson has made a commitment to put CUT back on the airwaves again.
Johnnie in all 50 years she actively pastored, she has made several longterm friendships but none compared to the friendship she shared with Spencer Leak, Sr. of Leak and Sons Funeral Home. Spencer in his own way lightened the mood of the room more than anyone could ever imagine. He spoke of how families that used his services would frown upon a “woman pastor” eulogizing over their loved ones but he didn’t care he would have her to do it anyway. Spencer made it clear that Johnnie was always the one to stand out, he says:
“She was always doing something that people or society thought she should not be doing”.
She was the first to build a mega church and her vision was the platform for all mega churches to come after CUT. Spencer Leak in the most humorous fashion cleared up the conflict of who was the ” best man friend” in Johnnie’s life. He lovingly talked about a time when he himself need some counseling, he reached out to Johnnie and of course she obliged and invited him to have a meal. Funny thing though, once the business of counseling was done, Spencer says she says to him “so how do you like your peanut butter sandwich?”. The room burst into a thunderous laughter, we know that Johnnie was laughing right along with us.
Johnnie was always one to provide comedic relief in her own special way. She must have been a comedienne in a former life as she was known for some famous “one liners” but she was one who did not sugarcoat anything with you but she did so with love of God and if you were blessed enough to be hit with one, it surely stuck with you for life.
So many lives the Reverend Colemon touched but in the essence of time few were able to speak to what she meant to them like Ben Vereen who sang a heart wrenching rendition of The Impossible Dream, Reverend Hardy says Johnnie taught him the ABC’s of Life and Reverend Jim Lee of Unity Worldwide Ministries who shared a few “Johnnieisms” like “There’s a power within you that is always greater than the condition before you”, “Change your thought and change your life” and “It works if you work it”
Some say the path before CUT’s Senior Pastor Derrick Wells is a long one but he doesn’t seem to think so. The foundation has already been laid and the stage is set. He has been amazing with continuing the vision of Reverend Johnnie Colemon and he wholeheartedly believes that we are to be a blessing to someone else so he asks with a coy smile: “Who’s blessing are you holding up by not being about the Father’s business?” Something to really think about in the grand scheme of things.
Reverend Helen Carry Johnnie’s key administrator who’s been on this journey with Johnny for a long time said it best:
“yes, she was a first and there will never be another like her. She’s the first and the last”.
In the 5 1/2 hours of tribute to the Reverend Dr. Johnnie Colemon it most certainly was not enough time but definitely time well spent honoring a woman who made it her life’s work to share the goodness of God with all those who were willing to listen, hear and apply the message.
EarHustle411 and the writing staff thanks Reverend Dr. Johnnie Colemon for her many firsts and spreading the gospel in such a way that its understanding would be transparent. We send our condolences to her husband Leon, to the Christ Universal Temple Family and to the many lives she has touched.
We close out this post with a memorable “Johnnieism”: Stand on your own 2 big spiritual feet!! and on that note…EarHustle411 signs off.
Job Well Done Johnnie, JOB WELL DONE!!!
Source: YouTube (video) (Top Photo) Gaylon McDowell, History Makers, Christ Universal Temple, C-Span