Praise amid tragedy

A congregation in mourning celebrates the life of Menlo Park Bishop Teman L. Bostic Sr.

"We are perplexed but we are not in despair," said Apostle Ross Garrison Jr. of Oakland at a Feb. 25 memorial service for Bishop Teman L. Bostic Sr., pastor of Mt. Olive Apostolic Original Holy Church of God in Menlo Park.

The pastor died at age 54 on Feb. 12 in a stabbing at his apartment in San Leandro, and his son, Isaiah Bostic, 21, has been held and charged with murder.

Bishop Bostic, who also served as presiding prelate of the Apostolic Original Holy Church of God Inc., had taken the mantle of leadership left by the church's founder, his mother, Elder Hattie L. Bostic, when she died in 2011.

Apostle Garrison's sentiment of confusion – yet not hopelessness – reverberated throughout the two services held in Bishop Bostic's honor: a memorial service held Feb. 25 at the Mt. Olive church in Menlo Park and a homegoing service held Feb. 26 at the Abundant Life Christian Fellowship in Mountain View. Homegoing services, common in African-American Christian communities, are separate from burial services in that they focus on celebrating the deceased's life.

In the face of such a sudden and brutal loss, questions of how and why the pastor died went largely unspoken. Humor gave relief to those dangling, unanswered questions when Mr. Garrison told attendees to "stop being so nosy."

Though people may have been internally grappling with the tragedy and the sudden absence of their father, brother, pastor and community leader, those who came to celebrate Bishop Bostic's life, led by his friends and ecclesiastical colleagues, gave harmonic voice to a pure, unwavering faith, which manifested throughout the services as bold, upbeat and forgiving.

Both services were infused with rich music of praise and worship. Hallelujahs and four-part harmonies filled the air, as if by singing and clapping loudly and passionately enough the people in attendance could send home a message of comfort to not only the members of the Bostic family who were present, but to the departed pastor himself.

Just when it seemed the music would peak in energy, the choir ramped up its volume and movement. Frenetic, upbeat songs with organ, drum and guitar accompaniment unfurled choruses such as "Lord, I just want to thank you," which Pastor James Williams of American Canyon, California, said was one of Bishop Bostic's favorites.

The messages and music offered by no fewer than 20 apostles, bishops, pastors, elders and ministers through the two ceremonies gave further reason for friends, family members, fellow evangelists and parishioners to maintain a tone of celebration rather than loss at such a time of tragedy. Messages of hope and overcoming adversity punctuated each musical number.

A video presentation of Bishop Bostic's life showed a clip of his mother, Elder Bostic, preaching to her congregation years earlier. Offering comfort from beyond the grave at the death of her son, her prescient words resonated with the audience. She said, "Something good is going to come out of this. ... We just have to be patient and wait on the Lord."

Apostle Jermaine Gibbs from Monroeville, Alabama, said that each crisis contains ground for both grief and opportunity, and that focusing on the opportunity in a crisis allows one to "show yourself strong and mighty."

Apostle Garrison emphasized the omniscience and omnipresence of God. "He is the God of every phase of our lives. ... If he was God before February 12," he said, "He's God now."

He admitted his own struggles to grapple with the untimely death of Bishop Bostic. "You can say 'Hallelujah' and be mad at the same time ... but every time you say 'Hallelujah,' something shifts," he said. That shift parallels the change that happens as people go from asking, "How could this happen to us?" to "Where do we go from here?"

While space and time for grief and healing are necessary, a simple response to that question emerged in the words of Blanche Ervin, Bishop Bostic's spiritual godmother, whose advice was simply: "Do what you can do while you can do it."

The speakers encouraged those in attendance to refrain from judgment and to offer prayers and support to the whole Bostic family – including Isaiah. Bishop Bostic's sons Teman II and Josiah asked the congregants to pray for their younger brother, and Diocesan Bishop G.F. Austin II from Alabama, spoke of a need for mercy for all people. "Isaiah," he said defiantly. "You messed up. You did wrong. But we're not going to hate you."

Teman L. Bostic, Sr.

Teman Lanard Bostic was born March 15, 1961, to Deacon Leon Bostic and Dr. Hattie L. Bostic in Stanford, the oldest of five sons. He grew up in Menlo Park with younger brothers Charles, Michael, Tabbert and George, and earned his high school diploma from Gunn High School in Palo Alto in 1978.

He married Curly Bostic in 1982, with whom he had three sons: Teman II, Josiah and Isaiah. He was baptized in 1983 and became a preacher in 1984.

He founded the Word, Power and Praise Family Community Church in Fremont in 1994 and in 1998 was ordained a bishop. He also received an associate's degree in theology and a Humanitarian Award from Dr. Hardy Academy of Theology in Seattle, Washington, in 1998, and later earned a bachelor's degree and honorary doctorate there. He later married the former Darlene Ford, and became stepfather to Brianna, Bianca and Tamas Ray Stewart II. He was the grandfather of Malia Bostic.

Though Bishop Bostic was pastor of Mt. Olive AOH Church in Menlo Park for only a few years, his work as a theologian, pastor, chaplain and community activist spanned decades and continents.

"Bishop T. loved the legacy he inherited," said Ms. Ervin, of Monrovia, California.

He was committed to carrying on his mother's legacy, though he brought his own approach to the role of pastor, speakers said. He worked with the city of Menlo Park to have a stretch of Hamilton Avenue named after her, and took the reins as president of the nonprofit she founded, the Crime Prevention Narcotics and Drugs Education Center in Menlo Park.

In his remarks, Mayor Rich Cline said he remembered a conversation with Bishop Bostic's mother, in which she criticized what she saw as misguided attempts to bridge the eastern-western socioeconomic, racial and geographic divide in Menlo Park. "We don't need you to come across the tracks and tell our kids to pull their pants up," he said she told him. "We need you to open doors, and we'll put our feet in to keep them open."

While Bishop Bostic was perhaps more soft-spoken than his mother, he had a similar passion for serving his community. "He was just getting started, in his own quiet way," said Menlo Park Councilman Ray Mueller.

Speakers said Bishop Bostic evangelized nationally and internationally, including in Jamaica, the United Kingdom, the Philippines and India.

He also worked as a chaplain. The Rev. Mary Frazier of the Bread of Life Evangelistic Outreach in East Palo Alto says she recalls working alongside him at the Kaiser Permanente medical center in Redwood City. "He was all about serving the Lord," she said. "He had extraordinary skills and gifts."

Former co-worker Sherlyn Moore attested, "He was a good person." She said she worked with him at Stanford Hospital in the patient financial services department.

Members of the Mt. Olive AOH church who knew him also spoke highly of his character.

"He was humble and funny. He was not a pastor that was so holy he couldn't be himself," said Sheila Jasper, who joined the church about 10 years ago but now lives in Florida. She flew in for the memorial and homegoing services.

Myeshia Jefferson said: "He was like a father to me. I admired him a lot." She grew up in Union City but would attend the Menlo Park church with her friends. She began going there regularly as an adult, she said, because "the spirit of the Lord was there." Even though she now lives in Hayward, she commutes to the church each week.

Teman Bostic Jr. said, "Pops was like my best friend. ... He never missed a basketball game or a football game." He said his father's preaching had recently focused on encouraging his congregation to develop a spiritual "resume."

"The only thing I can think of is God had to get him out of here to give him a spiritual promotion," he said.

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