For decades, Bishop Lawrence T. Wooten has helmed an anchor of faith and hope at the corner of Dr. Martin Luther King Drive and Union Boulevard as senior pastor of Williams Temple Church of God in Christ.
On Saturday, June 27, that very intersection became a celebration station to honor Wooten for his commitment to his community and his faith.
Wooten, also a renowned leader within the Church of God in Christ, was honored for 20 years of service as the EMWI Jurisdictional Bishop of the Church of God in Christ.
Dozens of cars adorned with signs and balloons paraded in front of the church as Bishop Wooten and his wife, First Lady Shirley Wooten, waved to supporters honking their horns.
“I was totally surprised today, Amen,” Wooten said later. “When all of you showed up, it was totally by surprise. God has been good to me.”
Bishop Wooten was elected to the board of the Church of God in Christ in 2000. As a Jurisdictional Prelate oversees more than 40 ministries in the region. Elected COGIC General Board secretary in 2012, he is the fourth-highest ranking member of the denomination.
Founded in 1897, the Church of God in Christ has 6.5 million members in 12,000 churches across more than 100 countries.
St. Louis has a rich history with COGIC that dates to the denomination’s origins. One of its earliest congregations, Kennerly Temple has the distinction of a “mother church” within COGIC. The city played host to their annual Holy Convocation for nearly a decade – the only city to do so outside of COGIC’s headquarters in Memphis– which draws tens of thousands from around the globe. COGIC’s governing body has historically included several leaders and influencers from the St. Louis region.
“It has been 20 years that our leader has served this jurisdiction,” said Bishop Nelson Watts Jr., pastor of El Bethel COGIC Church. “And now he is the secretary on the General Board. I think that is a great achievement.”
Wooten has been the pastor of Williams Temple since 1979. The father of 6, grandfather of 10 and great-grandfather of 7 holds a doctorate degree and is a retired public-school administrator.
“He’s been the pastor since I was 12 and we’ve always been in the church,” said his daughter Kimberly Wooten. “He’s always giving to people. He’s 79 now and we have to look out for him.”
Three of the 12-member COGIC General Board have been impacted by COVID-19 and Wooten’s wife recently returned from caring for her mother who was diagnosed with the virus but has since recovered.
The Saturday morning gathering in the parking lot of Williams Temple practiced social distancing by sitting six feet apart from each other and wearing masks. The celebration included singing, dancing, and gloved hands raised in worship. The St. Louis Fire Department recognized him by draping a huge American flag in front of the church.
Wooten was honored with a plaque from the Church of God in Christ by a group of area bishops – and a medal and proclamation from St. Louis Board of Alderman president Lewis Reed
“You all have blessed this city so much just by your presence,” said Reed. “Not just for the things you do out in front of the public but the things you do when the public isn’t watching.”
Reed, who said he considers himself a personal friend of the Wootens, praised them for their positive influence on the region. “With all of the challenges we have, can you imagine what the city of St. Louis would be like without the Wootens here holding this church together and making sure people stand with God?”
Across the street from the large church sits Bishop LM Wooten Family Life Center.
“After Williams Temple came to this corner, this corner became known as the Miracle Corner,” Watts said.
St. Louis Metropolitan Police Department Chief John Hayden said Wooten’s impact reaches beyond the neighborhood corner. Wooten, who lives in Florissant, served as a member of the Board of Police Commissioners for St. Louis County beginning in 2014, during the time of Ferguson protests over the police killing of unarmed teen Michael Brown in Ferguson.
“He got appointed at a time of a lot of chaos,” Hayden said. “But who was the person that God put in place to steer law enforcement at the time? Let me tell you something, our response to protest has changed, has evolved since 2014 – both county and city. This man’s influence on how police respond to the community, he has to be given credit for that. Bishop Wootens’ influence in that process has changed law enforcement forever.”
In abbreviated remarks due to rain, Wooten said he was thankful to God for the opportunity to serve.
“I just want to be a servant to the people,” he said.