Family, friends and admirers from around the nation are gathering in Indianapolis this week to celebrate the life and contributions of Bishop James E. Tyson.
Tyson, who served for many years as pastor of Christ Church Apostolic, died July 6 at age 84 following a brief illness.
Known affectionately by many as "The Godfather of Pentecost," he was a nationally recognized minister, serving as presiding bishop of the Fourth Episcopal diocese of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World (PAW), a historic denomination based in Indianapolis that has churches across the world.
Tyson will be honored during a special memorial services this weekend at Christ Church Apostolic, a church he developed into one of the most successful congregations in the city.
Although his ministerial accomplishments are respected, those who knew Tyson say his success can be best measured by the way he touched the lives of those around him.
"He was a kind, gracious and humble prayer warrior, and a champion of the underdog," said J. Laverne Tyson, the bishop's son and current pastor of Christ Church Apostolic. "He was a true man of God and a lover of good and bad men who would work hard to go the extra mile and help someone everyone else had given up on."
Bishop Charles Ellis, presiding bishop of PAW, described Tyson as a "warrior," a unifier and a reconciler.
"So many times churches and ministers are labeled as judgmental and quick to send people to hell," Ellis said. "But when I really think about Bishop Tyson I see him embodying the Scripture that says ‘God has given us the ministry of reconciliation.' I really feel that Bishop Tyson embodies that."
Many pastors, nationally and locally, would agree with that statement and credit Tyson for being active not only to the Pentecostal faith, but also the Christian community in general.
Pastor Frederick Boyd of Zion Unity Baptist Church said Tyson supported his annual Creation Evidence Expo, which combines examination of interesting scientific artifacts with theological study to strengthen Christian faith among attendees.
"If you had a good idea that was biblically sound, he would support you, regardless of your denomination," Boyd said. "He was truly among the giants in our ministerial community."
Born in Pennsylvania, Tyson's strength, dedication to excellence and devotion to spiritual values were shaped by his parents as the family survived the Great Depression.
Tyson left home at age 16, serving in the Navy during World War II, and finding work in shipyards while going to radio school at night. He discovered that he also enjoyed reading and public speaking.
He accepted his call to ministry in 1947 while studying under Bishop R.L. Robinson at Mt. Calvary Pentecostal Church of Youngstown, Ohio. Tyson developed his leadership capabilities while humbly serving in every position the church had, from janitor and men's department director, to Sunday school teacher and assistant pastor.
He led churches in Ohio and Kansas before establishing Christ Church Apostolic of Indianapolis in 1976, and developed a preaching ministry that reached thousands through his church services, appearances at various events and a radio program on WTLC-AM (1310).
Tyson retired as pastor of Christ Church Apostolic in 2009 and passed leadership to his son J. Laverne Tyson. The bishop is also the father of C. Shawn Tyson, who is currently pastor of Mt. Calvary. In addition, he is survived by his wife, Ruth and two daughters.
For Tyson, the greatest accomplishment of his life was being saved and allowed to serve God and his community.
"He gave me the opportunity over the years to minister to people, as a clergyman, and I've also been blessed to be a father and a husband," he noted in a Recorder interview last year. "But the greatest thing that has happened in my life was being able to help someone else do God's will."
Ellis said he last saw Tyson during a visit to Indianapolis in May, and that the elder bishop was visibly frail. Ellis was glad Tyson had made a special effort to see him.
Ellis added that Tyson came from a generation of pastors who devoted most of their time and very existence to the work of ministry.
"Church was their life, it was all they ever did," said Ellis. "They never knew how to enjoy the pleasures of life like the younger generation does. They ‘vacationed' at the conventions, although we know that's not a vacation, just more work. They would go to picnics dressed in suit and tie. They believed in working for the Lord and serving the Lord."
Bishop Donald Golder, pastor of Temple of Praise Assembly, agreed, recalling the time Tyson appeared at his birthday celebration, then decided to leave in order to be at Christ Apostolic Church for its Friday night prayer service.
"I thought it was commendable for the leader to leave the celebration so that he could show his people the importance of prayer and lead by example," Golder said. "A man of his stature, caliber and prestige could have stayed and enjoyed himself. But he wanted to show his people that prayer changes things and means something."
Golder went on to describe Tyson as a "preacher's preacher" who enjoyed reaching out to people and truly cared for them.
J. Laverne Tyson said his family is thankful for all the cards, letters, flowers and messages of appreciation they have received from the community. He recalled a family meeting 15 years ago during which the elder Tyson spoke lasting words.
"He said ‘I don't have a lot of money, houses, lands, stocks or bonds to leave you. But I will leave you a great name,'" the younger Tyson recounted. "He did leave us a great name, and if you think of what constitutes a great servant of God, that's my dad."