Several streets around Concord Baptist Church in Bedford Stuyvesant, Brooklyn on Monday were blocked for the funeral of Reverend Gardner C. Taylor.
The fact that the 96-year-old Taylor stepped away from the pulpit decades ago didn't seem to make a difference to the several thousand people who filled the pews and the balcony. About half of the church was occupied by fellow clergy who said they traveled from all over the country to honor the man who came to be known as the "dean of American preachers."
Chuckles could be heard in the sanctuary when it was announced that every detail of the service had been planned by Reverend Taylor himself years before. His legacy and character was evoked during the service, citing ongoing work that ranged from the desegregation of schools to ensuring equal access to credit for black citizens.
Taylor's participation in the Civil Rights Movement, including his collaboration with Reverend Dr Martin Luther King to form the Progressive National Baptist Convention in the 1960's, also was noted. Above all, the author and activist was remembered as a rock star among preachers.
After the funeral, Reverend Earl Jones, Sr., Pastor of First Calvary Church in Brooklyn, said there was no one who could replicate how Taylor communicated. "He had a way with words. You didn't know if it was music set to words or words set to music," Jones recalled. He said Taylor's use of language was so vivid that his words became life.
Taylor preached the inaugural sermon in 1993 for President Bill Clinton, and Clinton sent along a message of condolence to be read at Monday's service. Taylor's longtime friend, Anna Belle, said it was fitting that the reverend died on Sunday, April 5th, after attending mass.
"He must have had a previous arrangement with God because he has been praying for two years that the Lord would take him home so his work was completed on Easter Sunday," said Belle.
Reverend Taylor was preceded in death by his first wife, Laura Scott Taylor. He is survived by his wife Phillis Strong Taylor; his daughter, Martha Taylor LaCroix; and grandson, Marcus LaCroix.