Celebrating a living legend

BY CINDY CARTER, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG – The years have gone by and through them all Bishop Preston D. H. Leonard has been a leader to the St. Petersburg community and a friend to everyone he has met.

Focused on Christ, Bishop Leonard was honored by the Christ Gospel Church of St. Petersburg, located at 2512 22nd Ave. S, for continued service to the community through his work with the church. For two days, all those who have been touched by Leonard praised him first at a banquet at the Ulmerton Rd. Holiday Inn, then again on Sunday at his anniversary service at his home church.

“Bishop Leonard can take anyone and make them feel like a million dollars, make them feel ever so good,” said Master of Ceremony Elder Willie Cuyler, Pastor of Tabernacle of Praise in Monticello.

One-by-one friends, family and parishioners reflected on the love, joy, and spiritualness that Bishop Leonard has brought to their lives. With the Bible as his guide and the Holy Ghost as his director, the good bishop has held church wherever he could. Over the years he’s praised the Lord in a trailer, a school bus, even under an oak tree, but no matter where the house of God, Bishop Leonard’s message was always crystal clear.

“Whatever he said was the gospel and you better not go against it,” said Sister Katie Levy, the adult essay winner based on the influence of Bishop Leonard. She met him over 50 years ago when attending church behind 16th Street Middle School, now known as John Hopkins Middle. “He had a unique way of reaching out to everyone.”

He would even pick up his Sunday school pupils and bring them to church himself.

Not just content to touch the lives of the locals, Leonard jumped at every opportunity to help those struggling to survive in other countries. The presiding Bishop of Christ Kingdom International Fellowship and the International Bishop of the Christ Gospel Churches of Jamaica and Haiti, Leonard has made his mark in distinguishing himself as a legend.

The evening continued with Betty Keys singing, “There’s Not a Friend Like the Lowly Jesus,” her rustic tones filled the church and raised the energy level a few notches.

“When my two girls passed, the Bishop was there. When my husband of 60 years passed and went on to be with the Lord, the little church where everyone is welcomed, the Bishop was there,” said Keys.

She remembers her six children scrunching in, taking up a whole seat at church. She felt welcomed and heartened by the love and goodness shown to her children.

Davion Green, a student at University Preparatory Academy, was the Elementary School essay winner. At just nine-years-old he already has grasped that his attitude, good or bad, will eventually affect his altitude in life. “If you have an attitude, then your altitude is low,” he said. He learned this from Bishop Leonard. And Middle School essay winner Ja’Shanna Lyons, a sixth grader at Thurgood Marshall Fundamental Middle School spoke on Bishop Leonard’s leadership and prayer tips.

But the house was rocked with high school essay winner Ky’Andre Moore. A 10th grader at Lakewood High, Moore connected with Leonard’s auspicious vibe, making it easy for him to connect with Christ. He pointed out the bishop’s sense of humor and unwillingness to be anything but humble in his accomplishments. Some of which are quite impressive.

“Bishop Leonard is one of the best men I’ve ever met,” said Moore who hopes to emulate him some day. “I hope to become half the man he is.”

Twice he’s dined at the White House. “It didn’t make me any better,” said Leonard who regardless of his accomplishments will always view himself as a regular guy. “All of those things don’t make you any bigger, Jesus is the best thing.”

Dr. Mark Thompson, an old friend who now resides in Detroit, came down to take part in the celebration and speak. “You are the most miserable person if you can’t rejoice with other men,” remarked Thompson who forged a bond with Leonard decades ago.

He spoke of leaving jealousy at the door, having no place in the Kingdom of God, and of making your home a spiritual place.

“Sometimes when you go home your family is your worst critic,” he said. True power over one’s life begins at home. He encouraged everyone to find strength in their family, live what they preach, denounce derogatory speech concerning other and to work on strengthening God’s bond in your home with believers and nonbelievers alike. “If you really want to see how strong your gospel is check out your home.”

As the evening wound down, table members played a game about Bishop Leonard’s life. Leonard spoke for a few minutes about one of the question topics concerning his grandfather who lived 33 years as a slave.  Living to be 121 years old, Leonard fondly recalled his grandfather’s words of wisdom when it came to retirement.

“Never stop learning and never tell your mind you’re going to retire,” said Leonard, “because once you get thinking about retiring than your head stops working.”

And even though Bishop Leonard has a cadre of ministers at the church that do most of the preaching these days, he remains active and involved in the betterment of the community and its residents.

“As long as I can move, I’m going to move for God,” he said. A promise a community can rely on.

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