A look at the murals in Detroit recently put on the sides of buildings in honor of Aretha Franklin.
Sam Greene and Eric Seals, Cincinnati Enquirer and Detroit Free Press
Throughout Aretha Franklin’s life, her faith was a central part of her identity, influencing and guiding her journey to stardom.
On Friday, her spiritual grounding in the black church will be on display to the public as her funeral at Greater Grace Temple is broadcast, showcasing noted singers and the traditions of Baptist funerals that are about both mourning and joy.
“In a Baptist funeral, there is duality,” explained Rev. Kenneth E. Flowers, pastor of Greater New Mt. Moriah Baptist Church in Detroit. “It’s a time for celebration; it’s a time of sadness and tears. But there will also be a celebration of life, we can celebrate, our faith tells us.”
“… We call them a homecoming celebration because that means you’re going to be home with God.”
Flowers spoke Monday at a tribute to Aretha Franklin at her home church, New Bethel Baptist Church, which was led by Franklin’s late father, the influential preacher and civil rights advocate Rev. C.L. Franklin. Flowers said he would sometimes text with Aretha Franklin, sending her messages of support and quotes form the Bible to give her a lift as she battled pancreatic cancer and personal challenges.
“I would text her, I’m praying for you Queen, told her to keep the faith,” Flowers said.
The funeral will feature well known performers, but also elements that can often be seen at Christian funerals in Detroit.
“Tears of sadness, but also shouts of joy and dancing, a time of celebration and jubilation to thank God for the Queen of Soul, that she is out of her suffering, out of her pain and going home to be with God,” Flowers said. “We can be sad and at the same time flip it around and be happy and joyous because we know where she is. She’s gone to be with God.”
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Franklin was rooted in a Baptist church while the funeral will be held at Greater Grace Temple, an Apostolic church that’s part of a Pentecostal denomination. Its pastor, Bishop Charles Ellis III, the head of Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, will co-lead the services along with Rev. Robert Smith Jr. of New Bethel Baptist.
The denominational differences don’t really matter too much given how Franklin broke across musical and religious barriers with her art, said local pastors.
“She transcended musically and our denominations are not stuck the way they were 25 to 30 years ago,” said Rev. Robert D. Lodge Jr. pastor of People’s Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit. “We’re not locked into denomination, but we’re locked into the body of Christ.”
Rev. Lodge said “the most important thing is she loved the Lord and she loved the people of Detroit. She always represented Detroit well, and she was an Ambassador for the city of Detroit as we’re going through this renaissance again.”
“We’re thankful for all Aretha Franklin has done for this city and the people of church,” Lodge said.
Pastor Edward L. Branch of Third New Hope Baptist Church in Detroit used to be an associate minister at Franklin’s home church, New Bethel Baptist, serving under her father, the late Rev. C.L. Franklin.
“For Mr. Aretha, as with many believers, faith is a central part of their lives,” Rev. Branch said. “Faith was always the foundation of her life, with all of her family.”
“To actually see her faith in day-to-day things was always amazing and refreshing because she truly believe in God, and believe in the church.”
During her concerts, Franklin would take “the audience to church because she would include gospel music and include songs of prayer,” Branch said.
Franklin’s first album, Songs of Faith, was a gospel recording made at New Bethel Baptist Church.
“She would attract not only those who enjoy music on a secular level, but also church people who attend church on Sundays,” Branch said.
“In whatever genre of music she sang, you could feel it from deep within,” said Rev. Flowers. “Her faith in God came out through her music.”
“She got her start in the church as a little girl and so all of her music — whether classical, jazz, soul, rock music … she always put the church in it.”
“The gospel spirit was always in all of her songs,” Flowers added. “She could sing anything and people could be touched by it. … that comes through the power of the spirit of God.”
Flowers and other pastors remembered how she would give back to the community, including an annual gospel celebration at New Bethel Baptist Church with free soul food.
Pastor Flowers said Franklin’s faith was important not only for her music, but for her personal life, as she dealt with the deaths of her father, who was in a coma for years before his death in 1984, and other family members.
Flowers said: “She had a strong faith, a deep love for God.”
Contact Niraj Warikoo: firstname.lastname@example.org or 313-223-4792. Follow him on Twitter @nwarikoo
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