Bishop Walter Harris Richardson was 21 when he came to Miami on a “short” vacation. The vacation has lasted 71 years.
Richardson, now 92, came to Miami at the invitation from his uncle, Elder Thomas J. Richardson and his wife, evangelist Mamie Richardson. The couple founded the Church of God Tabernacle, where for the past 50 years, the bishop has served as pastor and overseer, making him one of the longest-serving pastors in South Florida.
This weekend, the church family and members of the community will honor Richardson at his Golden Pastoral Anniversary, starting Saturday with the Golden Jubilee Celebration Banquet at Signature Grand in Dania. Special recognition worship services will be at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. Sunday at the church, 1351 NW 67th St. in Liberty City.
Richardson has often said he gave up a “good paying” job as a truck driver to move to Miami and become a porter at the old Sears store at Biscayne Boulevard and Northeast 13th Street. “But God had another plan for me,” he said.
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Prior to coming to Miami, Richardson accepted the Lord in his hometown, when his uncle and some of the members from the church in Liberty City journeyed there to hold a revival. That revival changed his life, he said.
For 14 years, Richardson sat “at the feet” of his uncle and aunt, learning how to live for the Lord. During that time, he became an ordained minister under his uncle. He later sent for his fiancee, Poseline McLaughlin, to join him. They married in 1947 and later became the parents of two sons, who would follow their father in the ministry. Richardson was married to his first wife for 49 years, when she died in December 1996. In 2000, he was blessed to find love again, when he married the former E. Betty Forbes, a widow with two grown sons. They live in Miami Gardens.
In his early days as a pastor, Richardson worked at Sears and held two other part-time jobs while leading the church. This was his routine for several years until he retired early to become a full-time pastor.
“Retiring so early was an act of faith,” he said with a chuckle. “In those days, the majority of the members didn’t have good-paying jobs so they couldn’t pay me very much.. Yet they honored the Lord with their tithes and offerings, just as God commanded, and we got along just great.”
Recently Richardson took a look back over the years he has been pastor. “The Lord has been good to us. Over the years we were able to establish churches in Vero Beach, Belle Glade and Valdosta, Georgia. Not only has God blessed us to serve the congregation of the church, We have been blessed to serve the community and even people abroad.”
There has hardly been a catastrophe here or abroad that Richardson hasn’t led the congregation in reaching out to help — from hurricanes and floods in other states and countries to sending care packages as far away as Africa.
A humble man who loves the Lord, Richardson said: “I never thought I’d be blessed to be a pastor and work with so many wonderful people.” He specifically remembered the time when he requested the church to reach out to the orphans of Rwanda. “We are a small congregation, that depends solely on tithing and offerings for church support. Yet, there never was a complaint. Everyone just stepped in, donated their care packages and then helped to box them all to send off. They never complained about how much it was costing the church to do this gesture of kindness.”
He said he gives God all the praise for helping him to remain humble. “I have never stopped seeking the Lord, and He has enabled me to be a successful pastor to the souls entrusted in my care. It’s just amazing that the Lord has blessed me to be able to speak to his people and they listen.”
Richardson has been described by congregation members as a “father figure, friend, mentor and brother.” Oliver Gross, one of the youngest elders in the church, says Richardson has been all that and more.
“I think Bishop is one of the most unique people that God has gifted this earth with,” Gross said. “He exemplifies the Bible phrase that says ‘God will give you pastors’ after His own heart. Bishop has the divine ability to be mentor, father, and friend all at the same time. He is the most unselfish person I’ve ever known.”
While both of Richardson’s sons followed him into the ministry, only one, the Rev. Dr. Walter T., stayed in Miami. Now retired, he is chairman of Miami-Dade County’s Community Relations Board and pastor emeritus at Sweet Home Missionary Baptist Church in Perrine. Younger son Alfred J. lives in Atlanta. Both sons, known for their preaching skills, will be the guest speakers at the worship service. Alfred will preach at the 10 a.m. service, and Walter will preach at 7 p.m.
“Daddy is my preaching mentor. Most of what I learned about leadership, I learned from him; diplomacy, such as how not to say everything that comes to mind,” Walter said. “Leading church folk can be a challenge at time; It takes a steadfast personality to lead God’s people. One has to have the tenacity of Joshua and the boldness of Moses. That description epitomizes my dad.”
Linda M. Swift, who serves as the chairwoman of the Golden Jubilee Celebration said: “Bishop has been my pastor and spiritual leader for my entire life, God has given us a servant leader, who is honorable, wise, who is a compassionate gentleman. I have always admired how his leads by example. He holds high, the standards of holiness, which is mirrored in his daily life. We are all the more blessed that God has allowed him to be an ambassador for Christ for 50 years.
Allen Chapel Unity Service
The Rev. Vensen Ambeau, pastor of Allen Chapel A.M.E. Church at 1201 NW 111th St. invites the community to the annual Unity Day worship service to be at 4 p.m. Sunday.
Bishop Adam J. Richardson Jr., presiding prelate of the 11th Episcopal District of the African Methodist Episcopal Church, will be guest speaker. The theme: “A Year of Transformation: United in Christ.” Following the service, dinner will be served.
Call Laura Jones at 305-621-4319 for more information.
Sistah to Sistah monthly forum
The Sistah to Sistah Connection invites women in the community to its monthly women’s forum: “Spiritual Gifts — Part II.” The event will be from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday at 6151 Miramar Pkwy., Suite 204. It’s free.
‘The Black Miami’ to be screened
The film The Black Miami will be screened 7:30 p.m. Wednesday at Temple Beth Or, 11715 SW 87th Ave. The documentary will be followed by a discussion of current community events with Dr. Marvin Dunn, noted historian, educator and community activist.
The one-hour documentary will take viewers on a journey through Miami and Florida history, highlighting the important role played by blacks.
The event is free and open to the public, but donations of any amount will be collected and used to assist local families with burial expenses of children who were victims of violence.
Prayer vigil for Christians in Middle East
A prayer vigil for the Christian communities across the Middle East, especially those who are suffering persecution for their faith, will be at 4 p.m. Sunday at St. Mary Cathedral, 7525 NW Second Ave. The prayer vigil will be led by Archbishop Thomas Wenski. All are welcome.
Little Rock Nine member to speak May 4
Terrence Roberts, one of the Little Rock Nine — the group of black students who in 1957 attempted to integrate the all-white Little Rock Central High School — will speak Monday, May 4, at a Facing History and Ourselves presentation at HistoryMiami Museum, 101 W. Flagler St. The event runs 6 to 7:30 p.m. May 4 (corrected date). To register, email Jeremy_Simon@facing.org or call 617-735-1673.
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