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Bishop Nathaniel Wells Jr.

Bishop Nathaniel Wyoming Wells Jr., a stalwart community leader who advocated for affordable housing and led his Muskegon congregation for more than four decades, was among Muskegon’s earliest victims of the novel coronavirus.

Wells, who presided over Muskegon’s Holy Trinity Institutional Church of God in Christ, 2140 Valley St., died on March 24, according to an announcement shared by his denomination, of which he was a general board member.

Wells’ cause of death was COVID-19, his son, Elder Nathaniel Wells III, told MLive. He was one of several dozen clergymen affiliated with the Church of God in Christ who have died of the virus in recent weeks.

“It was really surprising,” said the younger Wells. “It caught us all by surprise.”

Wells, 78, was one of the first two coronavirus-related deaths announced in the county by the Muskegon County health department on Friday, March 27.

An advocate for the poor

Bishop Wells was a leading community advocate for the poor throughout his ministerial career. He served as senior pastor for the Muskegon Holy Trinity church for almost 44 years.

“He envisioned ministering just not to the spiritual side of human beings, but to the natural, or physical, side and to the emotional strengthening of people,” said his son, Elder Wells.

It was that belief, and Bishop Wells’ establishment of programs in education, housing, transportation and child care, that led to his “Total Man Ministry” that was adopted nationally by COGIC.

“We have always spiritualized our people, but we have never done total man ministry,” he told the Muskegon Chronicle in 2000. “We don’t minister to the mind and body as well as the spirit.”

In 1991, he founded the Trinity Nonprofit Housing Corporation, which built and operated affordable housing developments in Muskegon County, as well as Kalamazoo, Benton Harbor, Saginaw and Chicago, Ill., among other places.

Bishop Wells also was founder of the Tri-Valley Academy charter school in 1995, which closed in 2008.
Muskegon leader Nathaniel Wyoming Wells, Jr., dies of COVID-19, aged 78

Bishop Nathaniel W. Wells, Jr. of Holy Trinity, right, hugs the Rabbi Alan Alpert of Congregation B’nai Israel before the start of a meeting with Gov. Jennifer Granholm at Holy Trinity Church of God in Christ in 2005.

He received numerous community awards, including the Most Influential Person of the Year in Muskegon in 2003, the Muskegon County Economic Development Award in 2000, the Muskegon Bar Association’s Liberty Bell Award in 2000 and the statewide Jeanne Peterson Award in Affordable Housing in 1999. In 1975, he was named an NAACP Man of the Year.

Wells also was a significant leader in the national denomination, for which he was a general board member for 19 years. COGIC is the largest Pentecostal denomination in the United States.

He earned a doctorate degree in theology from Midwest Theological University in 2014.

“My father was just a great guy,” said Elder Wells. “Very honest man, loved his wife, loved his family. His family was his world. And then, of course, the church ministry was also his world, too.

“He touched a lot of lives,” said Elder Wells III. “So many people, just not locally, but so many people nationally just really loved my dad.”

Bishop Wells, survived by his wife of 59 years, Mary Ann Houston-Wells, had six children, 13 grandchildren and five great grandchildren.

His son, Elder Wells, has taken over leadership of his father’s church while continuing to also serve as pastor for another congregation in Benton Harbor, where he lives.

Bishop Wells also leaves behind a “heartbroken” congregation, his son said – a community that relied upon him for wisdom and support. The loss is especially great at a time when so many people are looking for comfort and community.

“The last month and a half has been real different from anything I’ve ever been through,” said Gray, whose solemn duty, as the Bishop’s communications manager, was to inform Wells’ congregants that the pastor’s final homegoing ceremony would be postponed because of social distancing guidelines. “You can’t grieve properly.”

Elder Wells was able to preside over a small graveside burial for his father in Benton Harbor, where he was laid to rest next to his parents. When the state of emergency passes, there will be a national ceremony to celebrate the life of Nathaniel Wyoming Wells Jr.

“If there’s any message that I have tried to convey, it’s that we are all in this together,” said Elder Wells. “We will continue to move forward his vision, and keep his legacy going and alive.”

Excerpts taken from MLive.

TCT Honors the Life of Bishop Wells (Click Image Above to Watch Short Video)