Bishop John Henry Sheard, longtime Detroit pastor and COGIC official, dies at 84

Mark Hicks
The Detroit News

Bishop John Henry Sheard, 1937-2021

From his passionate preaching to the wise words imparted to fellow clergy in Detroit and around the world, Bishop John Henry Sheard impressed others with a kind temperament and dedication to service.

The longtime pastor and fixture in the city’s religious community died Thursday, Nov. 11, 2021, at age 84.

He “is one of the high statesmen of the church both here locally nationally and internationally,” said Bishop Edgar Vann, senior pastor at Second Ebenezer Church, who knew him for more than 40 years.

“He was known for his strength, his conviction his ability to get things done and his straightforwardness.”

Bishop Sheard led the Greater Mitchell Temple Church of God in Christ in Detroit and was long active in the denomination.

Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan, left, and Bishop John Henry Sheard watch Kimberly Jones, General Grounds Department for Detroit, as she attaches a sign at Diack Park in 2014. Duggan said when hundreds of the city’s parks had been closed by the emergency manager, Bishop Sheard "stood up and told me it was unacceptable and ... his church was going to take care of Diack Park next to his church."

His death came after he lost his wife of 64 years, Willie Mae, to COVID-19 in April 2020. 

This year, their son, Bishop J. Drew Sheard, was elected the presiding bishop for the Church of God in Christ, considered the largest Pentecostal denomination in the country. It has about 400 locations in Michigan.

The elder Sheard spent more than 20 years as chairman with the COGIC Board of Bishops, overseeing some 500 bishops, church officials said.

In 1992, he became prelate of its Michigan Southwest First Jurisdiction, which also involved leading other clergy in the state.

While Bishop Sheard held important roles, “he was affable with everyone,” Vann said. “He walked with kings but still had the common touch.”

Born March 27, 1937, he grew up in Mississippi and learned from his father, O.S. Sheard, who was pastor of the first COGIC congregation, officials said.

At 17, Bishop Sheard relocated to Detroit and joined Bailey Temple COGIC.

He eventually earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Wayne State University and was an educator in Detroit Public Schools, according to his biography.

Bishop Sheard taught social science, had a driving school and helped prepare taxes, his son said. "He was a go-getter. He worked hard and he was a person who would always strive for excellence."

Bishop Sheard entered the ministry in 1973 after years as a deacon and working in the denomination’s youth department, colleagues said.

After several years as associate pastor at Seth Temple COGIC, he was appointed to lead Greater Mitchell in Detroit on Jan. 1, 1982, according to the church website.

Under his guidance, membership grew enough to require moving to other buildings, the site reported.

Audiences relished his preaching, even when battling illness, Vann recalled. “He put everything he had into it when he got up to speak.”

Bishop Sheard’s roles also connected him with other preachers who sought his counsel for advancing spiritually and boosting their churches.

“He wanted all local churches to be strong, serve the people and preach the gospel,” said the Rev. Charles Williams II, pastor at Historic King Solomon Baptist Church in Detroit, who leads the National Action Network’s Michigan chapter.

“I’m a better clergy for having known him, and there aren’t any pastors that knew him who won’t say the same.”

J. Drew Sheard described his father as a man of integrity.

"He always spoke about having the people that you lead be able to depend on your word and know that when you spoke, they could trust you and could have confidence in what you said," he recalled. "He taught us that we have to be examples of what we teach and preach about."

Beyond the pulpit, Bishop Sheard also was active in the city. He served as a police commissioner, joined the Detroit Urban League board of directors and was on a city human rights committee, according to his biography. 

In July, Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan presented keys to the city to him and his son recognizing their ministry work and leadership.

"Bishop John Sheard was a giant in our city, not only in the religious realm, but also in his service to those in our community most in need," Duggan said in a statement. "I’ll never forget how back in 2014 when hundreds of our city’s parks had been closed by the emergency manager, he stood up and told me it was unacceptable and ... his church was going to take care of Diack Park next to his church. Then he rallied other ministers to do the same, so our children would have safe places to play."

Vann recalls talking with Bishop Sheard about devotion to the city while waiting to meet then-President Bill Clinton at Cobo Center. The love related to the residents’ resilience and perseverance, he said.

“He always had faith in the people of the city and he always sought to do whatever he could for those people to rise, and he always had an optimistic look at what the future was for the city of Detroit,” Vann said.

Bishop Sheard never left the city, where he owned properties and worked to help couples become homeowners, his son said. "He loved the city so much. He was a remarkable man."

Besides his son, other survivors include daughter-in-law Karen Clark-Sheard, an award-winning gospel singer; another son, Ethan B. Sheard, a superintendent in the church and assistant pastor at Greater Mitchell Temple; three grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements were not complete Thursday.