Funeral for popular pastor and singer John Henry Heath set for Saturday

Funeral for popular pastor and singer John Henry Heath set for Saturday
January 29
00:00 2015

City mourning death of Winston-Salem native

Apostle John Henry Heath, well-known for his abilities as both a pastor and a singer, passed away Friday.

Heath was founder and pastor of Greater Higher Ground Worldwide Ministries Inc. With his passing, his wife and co-pastor, Janice Heath, will now lead the church. John Henry Heath rose to bishop and became an apostle as presiding prelate of Greater Higher Ground in July.

Heath’s sister Doris Jones said that he’d preached earlier last week before becoming seriously ill, so his passing came as a shock. But the church persevered, holding revival service that night, which she said would’ve been exactly what Heath would’ve wanted.

“It’s sad but joyous at the same time, because we know where he is,” she said. “He’s transitioned to that glorious church.”

Heath was born and raised in Winston-Salem. He was the youngest of seven children and started singing at an early age. Jones recalled that at only 12 years old, his rendition of “Take My Hand, Precious Lord” got a standing ovation at a service honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s memory. Heath’s baritone voice, which she said “came straight from God” only got better with age.

“He would just open his mouth and sing, and you’d just get lost in it,” she said.

She said he had a special wisdom beyond his age and his brother and sisters came to know God through him. In 1982, he became an ordained minister under the leadership of Bishop F.D. Patterson at Ambassador Cathedral.

He also had a long career as a gospel singer, which began as one of the lead singers with David Allen and the Ambassadors for Christ Church Choir. He would go on to sing all over the country, perform with numerous gospel singers and groups and record several CDs.

He was a member of the North Carolina Black Repertory Company, using his singing and acting talents in numerous productions such as “Don’t Bother Me Brother, I Can’t Cope.” NCBRC Artistic Director Mabel Robinson said he was more than just a great talent on stage; he was an example and mentor to the young talents around him. She said he took her son, Kierron Robinson, under his wing and would later officiate at his wedding.

When he couldn’t perform on stage, Heath could be found in the audience of any Black Rep production he was able to go to. Health would also find other talents to sing for the Black Rep, including his daughter, Bethany, who is also an accomplished singer. Robinson said Heath’s tremendous talent and positive spirit will be missed.

“There are certain elements in people and energies that you expect will be in your life forever. I couldn’t believe it,” she said. “So I had to just take a deep breath and pray on it and say, ‘OK, it was evidently time for him to go’,” she said.

Jones said it was while touring with a production that he was moved to start his own church. She said he founded Greater Higher Ground in 1994 in a storefront location off South Main Street with a handful of members. Now the church is located on Moat Drive with about 300 members.

Heath struggled with complications from diabetes over the years. He was on dialysis for eight years after his kidneys failed before receiving a kidney from a deacon at his church, DeForest LaGrone. After the surgery, he released a CD, “Get Right Church,” and told The Chronicle in 2006 he wanted his music to inspire others.

“I’ve been through a lot, but I kept my hand in God’s hand” he said. “People need to hear this music so that they can be encouraged. They need to know that they can make it and better days are on the way regardless of their situation.”

His health greatly improved with the kidney transplant, but later complications from diabetes caused him to have a leg amputation, leading him to use a prosthesis to walk. Jones said Heath didn’t let his health challenges keep him from the pulpit or from visiting sick members of his church.

She said the family and church have received an out pouring of condolences from the many people whose lives Heath touched.

“He was able to make each person feel special,” she said. “He had a special gift to make each person feel worthy no matter who they were or what was going on in their lives. He looked at the good in people and he made them know that they could do better and be better.”

On Friday, Jan. 30 from noon-6 p.m., Heath will lie in state at Greater Higher Ground, 4175 Moat Drive, followed by a family viewing at 6-7 p.m. and a Celebration of Life Service at 7 p.m. On Saturday Jan. 31, there will be a viewing from 10 a.m.-noon at Union Baptist Church, 1200 N. Trade St., with a Homegoing service at noon. The internment will follow at Piedmont Memorial Gardens.

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Todd Luck

Todd Luck

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