Normally, the 5 a.m. Wednesday service at New Bethel Baptist Church draws “10 to 12” faithful to the church on Linwood. But with a daughter of the church, the Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin, ailing in hospice care, more than 100 donned their Wednesday best to put some R-E-S-P-E-C-T on her name.
Franklin’s father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, founded New Bethel, and the stretch of Linwood just outside the church still honors his name.
Robert Smith, pastor of New Bethel for the past 36 years, used to hold 5 a.m. services five days a week, but has pared that down to once a week, Wednesdays, in recent years.
He believes that “fresh minds and rested bodies” best communicate with God.
Before the service, Smith praised Franklin for her “continuous generosity” to the church.
After, Franklin’s longtime assistant, Fannie L. Tyler, expounded on Smith’s statements, detailing her regular donations to the church and her history of paying for the funerals of late Motown artists — giving that Franklin keeps quiet.
During the holiday season, Franklin will donate money to help feed families, calling Tyler over to pick up a check and deliver it to the church, Tyler said. For the gospel fests Franklin stages for free to the public, she will pay to book the artists and to house them.
“That’s who she is,” Tyler said after accepting an arrangement of flowers from the church. “She didn’t forget where she came from. She’s done so much that the city doesn’t know about.”
Tyler said she last spoke to Franklin on Saturday and said she believes Franklin will pull through this health ordeal as she has survived others in the past.
“But who knows? Only God knows,” Tyler said.
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