From lines of bishops in flowing red vestments to female church ushers dressed in crisped white uniforms, Bible Way Temple was packed with people to celebrate the life of Apostle James E. Silver who was eulogized as a “General of the faith.”
In the 1920’s Apostle Smallwood E. Williams went from preaching at a fire hydrant to founding the Bible Way Church of the Lord Jesus Christ that would grow into a worldwide organization that primarily serves people of color. Prior to his death in 1991, Williams selected Silver to pastor the mother church of an organization that expanded to more than 100,000 members in 330 congregations across the US, on the continent of Africa, England and in the Caribbean.
“Bishop Silver was a light in the community when it was so heavily needed,” said Maryland Senator C. Anthony Muse, who is also Bishop of the Ark of Safety Christian Church. “He wasn’t so heavenly minded that he was of no earthly good. His labor was not in vain.”
Muse was one of the many church leaders who spoke during a four-hour funeral that brought out more than 1,000 people out to a sanctuary that has been a hub of religious and political life for decades. The church is located at the end of I-395 at the corner of New York and New Jersey Avenue Northwest.
There were many speeches alongside that down-home, foot-stomping gospel performed by the Bible Way Mass Choir that Silver loved so much. One of his favorite songs was “God Is My Everything.”
Yvonne Williams, chair of the church’s Board of Trustees and daughter of Apostle Williams, said her father selected Silver to succeed him before he died because he was a man of “great integrity,” and for 22 years he served with “humility and faithfulness.”
While Silver was a top leader in an organization filled with tradition and ordinances, he was well known for his jokes, passionate preaching and his humble skill sets that included cooking, fixing car engines, lending out money and flying people in his Cessna airplane.
Apostle Floyd Nelson Sr., Chief Apostle of the International Bible Way Church, Apostle Huie Rogers Chief Apostle of the Bible Way Church World Wide, and Apostle Lawrence Campbell of the Bible Way Church of Danville, Virginia took turns paying tribute to Silver.
Silver’s friends, grand- children, children and wife of more than 60 years, also shared passionate, touching testimonies.
“Uncle James leaves behind a good name. He lived uptown but he didn’t mind coming downtown and across town to help somebody,” said Elder Rayvon Twitty.
Silver was a native American Cherokee Indian of the Haliwa Saponi tribe. He was born April 2, 1929, in Nash County, North Carolina and was one of nine children. In 1946, at the age of 17, Silver moved to D.C. where he met Mildred Twitty, who would become his wife of 69 nine years. The two would have two children, Michael and Barbara.
Silver’s first job was with the D.C. Government as a street sweeper. He later became a mechanic supervisor. During his life he had many jobs that included being a chef at the Navy Yard, a maintenance man at an apartment complex and an entrepreneur with several businesses, including radio and TV repair, cab driving, and owner of Silverline Bus Company.
Silver was baptized in 1957 and in 1961 he answered the call to preach. In 1970 he was named as pastor of the First Bible Way Church of Louisa, Virginia. During this time he continued to grow in the ministry, started a radio broadcast and, was eventually appointed to chair the Ministers and Elders Board of the Church. In 1991 Silver was named as the Interim Pastor of Bible Way after Williams death and the next year the church named him as the Pastor.
Mother Vera Silver drew many laughs when she talked about Silver as her constant companion who didn’t like to lose debates at home. She said she knew how to handle him by giving him the silent treatment until they both laughed. “It takes a special kind of woman to be married to a preacher. He let the Lord use him the way he was,” she said.
Silver went on many missionary trips to Africa and started many ministries locally. He also spoke out on issues that were not always popular, but he didn’t back down. In 2013 the leaders of Bible Way named Silver’s grandson, Bishop Ronald Demery as the third pastor of Bible Way. During his eulogy Campbell told the congregation “you are in good hands” and in speaking of Silver said, “The church has a great heritage. He died in a faith that he believed in.”
Silver died on Feb. 13 after a long battle with cancer. He was 88.