Aretha Franklin honored at church prayer service

James David Dickson
The Detroit News
New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church Pastor Robert Smith Jr. sings at the beginning of a prayer vigil in honor of Aretha Franklin, Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018 in Detroit.

Detroit — As one of the city's most famous daughters, Aretha Franklin has also long been linked to New Bethel Baptist Church.

The house of worship on Linwood was founded by the legendary singer's equally famous father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin, and members still recall her support for the church her father founded over the years.

And on Wednesday, more than 100 supporters filled a 5 a.m. service to send prayers as the Queen of Soul remains in hospice care.

Before the service, Robert Smith, pastor of New Bethel for the past 36 years, praised Franklin for her “continuous generosity” to the church.

Church attendees sing during a prayer vigil in honor of Aretha Franklin, Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018 at New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit.

After, Franklin’s longtime assistant, Fannie L. Tyler, furthered Smith’s statements, detailing Franklin's 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 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.

Fannie Tyler, left, who used to be a secretary for Aretha Franklin's father, the Rev. C.L. Franklin,  as well as working in public relations for Aretha, receives flowers from Lynette Williams following the prayer vigil.

As the service began, Smith called on visitors, who’d been spread throughout the sanctuary, to draw close to one another. 

“We’re fathered to intercede on behalf of one of your children,” Smith said. “We’re asking you to touch the Queen of Soul. We’re lifting our sister up to you.”

Messages of hope and well-wishes flooded social media sites this week as reports of the grave condition of Franklin grabbed headlines around the globe. Civil rights icon, the Rev. Jesse Jackson; local religious leaders; and legendary singer Stevie Wonder are among those visiting Franklin this week. Reports of Franklin being in grave conditioncirculated Monday.

The 50-minute vigil alternated between prayers and songs, the church’s pews filling out as the service continued. Guests fanned themselves down to beat the early morning heat.

“Touch my beloved sister in the way that only you can,” one participant said, praying. “She’s given so much to the world, to the community and for all of us.”

Church attendees holds hands during a prayer vigil in honor of Aretha Franklin, Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2018 at New Bethel Missionary Baptist Church in Detroit.

Ruby Ann Dowling, who hails from the Bahamas, called Franklin a “virtuous woman, a woman of substance who said "take my voice and let me sing.”

“When medical extremity comes, that’s God’s opportunity, not for a healing, but for a miracle,” Dowling said. “I came to claim a miracle only God can give. He is the great physician.”