JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A public funeral service for pastor R.J. Washington was held Saturday at the Titus Harvest Dome, the church he led since 1990.
Washington died Tuesday morning at age 54. Washington leaves behind a wife, three children, other family members, a large congregation and a legacy of lasting love for his community.
Thousands of people attended Washington’s service. The line to get inside stretched around the church more than an hour before the service began.
“A God-first man, who taught many others to be the same.” That's how many described the man who helped grow Titus Harvest Dome Spectrum Church to what it is today.
Three people attended Washington’s first ministry in 1985, according to rjwashington.org. Titus Community Outreach Harvest Center was built in 1990, where Washington attracted a non-denominatioal congregation of 8,000 people.
The church moved to the Titus Harvest Dome Spectrum, a larger facility on Atlantic Boulevard, in 2002.
“I have been in many churches where you see people jump and shout and when you meet them on the street, they are not the same. This man of God. I can say from my heart that he was the same. When you see him in the store, he's the same man that preaches on a Sunday morning,” Bishop Reginald Warfield said.
Washington taught people the importance of their faith. There was the connection he was able to build with his congregation not just here at the church, but on four different continents that he preached on, and for years on Channel 4, where his services aired.
“When I met him, he always said, no matter what position he's in, or wherever he spoke, he always said, ‘Always pray for me,’” Warfield said. “He never thought he was the highest or big time. He had a warm spirit from the day I met him. He was always the same and he had the love of God in his heart.”
At Wednesday evening's weekly Bible study, church members discussed who will lead the congregation after Washington passed away.
"Our goal is to continue the vision. It's always been about trying to win souls for the kingdom; loving, helping, and serving our fellow man. And the church will follow the vision of Apostle Washington," said Abraham Lincoln Washington, his brother. "We're going to continue to shepherd the flock, so many people that Apostle Washington has touched all over the country. Locally, it will be my privilege to be able to serve this congregation, serve the first family and to do all we can to give the city direction."
Although Washington's death has been hard on loved ones, church leaders and members of the congregation said they will continue his legacy of transparency and love for Jesus Christ.
"Tonight gives us a chance to praise God for his life. We get to tell God thank you for how he had touched us through him," Abraham Lincoln Washington said. "So many people have been touched by Apostle Washington's love, laugh and his concern for people."
Washington graduated from C.H Mason Bible College and Florida State Community College. During his career, Washington preached on seven continents, according to his biography.
A Jacksonville pastor said Washington was an early inspiration in his career and called him a father figure in his life.
"He was my leader in the gospel. He taught me deeper knowledge. He taught me it was all about the soul's difference in people’s lives," pastor Toye Whitaker said. "I'm able to take what he taught me and what he instilled in me and instill the same thing in my children. He was a positive influence in showing what a pastor, what a real man, a powerful man of God, should be."
Washington's brother will serve as the church's interim pastor. But congregation members said the legacy he left behind is one that will always be remembered inside his church. There will be a private, family-only burial for Washington on Monday.