Times Square Pastor Remembered as Charismatic and Charitable

While many speakers at the memorial service for the Rev. David Wilkerson on Saturday spoke of how many lives his ministry had touched, one clergyman spoke from very personal experience.

“Even when it seemed like no one else was there, he was there,” Pastor William Carrol said, describing how he was homeless for more than three years, sleeping in parks and subway cars, before someone convinced him to attend a service at the Times Square Church, which Mr. Wilkerson founded in 1987 and where the memorial service was held. “The witness in me said this man knows what he’s preaching,” Mr. Carrol said, explaining that he was compelled to enter Mr. Wilkerson’s fold.

Mr. Wilkerson, 79, who was killed in an automobile accident near his home in Tyler, Tex., on April 27, had gained some notoriety for his dire predictions of riots, fires and an “earth-shattering calamity” about to befall the planet. Those who spoke at his service, however, chose to focus on his unwavering religious convictions, charismatic appeal and charitable nature.

“I called him Dad. But I think of him as a prophet, a holy man and a mouthpiece of God,” said his son-in-law Roger Hayslip, who shared the stage along with other members of the Wilkerson family and church leaders. “When he came to New York City, someone said to him, ‘I like your shoes.’ He stepped out of them and said ‘God will give me another pair of shoes.’ ”

One of Mr. Wilkerson’s sons, the Rev. Gary Wilkerson, provided levity when he described receiving letters and e-mails from around the world. “But none touched me more than this letter from a fourth grader in Arkansas,” he said, before reading the youngster’s words: “I’m sorry that your dad died. But it’s good to know that he was a Christian. So there was a good chance he went up to heaven.” The participants, an ethnically diverse crowd who had been hanging onto every word, broke into laughter.

When the 200-plus-member chorus belted out “My Redeemer Lives” and other gospel numbers, the place sounded hauntingly like the Broadway theater it once was. It was known as the Mark Hellinger, named for a Broadway journalist. The last Broadway show to play at the Mark Hellinger Theater, as it was then known, was Legs Diamond, which closed in February 1989.

A controversy arose around the sale of the theater to Mr. Wilkerson’s church, which restored the ornate-frescoed and velvet-curtained interior to its original glory. Don Wilkerson, Mr. Wilkerson’s brother, recalled: “I’ll never forget what my brother said: ‘There’s only going to be one star on this stage. And that’s going to be a bright and morning star.”

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