By Mark F. Gray, AFRO Staff Writer,

Described as a no-nonsense spiritual leader whose primary focus was on developing strong male leadership and strengthening the family unit, the Rev. Dr. John A. Cherry, and founder of the megachurch known as the From the Heart Ministries Worldwide passed away Feb. 16 in Fairfax, VA.

Cherry, 79, gained prominence after taking Full Gospel A.M.E. Zion Church in Prince George’s County’s congregation with him to establish a multi-million dollar religious organization. However, the divorce from the A.M.E. Zion church was a contentious legal affair that involved a massive lawsuit.

Rev. Dr. John A. Cherry, who founded From the Heart Ministries Worldwide

The leadership of the A.M.E. Zion church challenged whether the proverbial start-up church could keep the assets it earned while under its governance. Rev. Cherry lost his claim that the assets of the church– including the two sanctuaries, several school buildings and a Lear jet– now belonged to his new congregation.

Those legal battles would continue after a March 2000 Prince George’s Circuit Court ruling favor of the denomination, ordering From the Heart to turn over the properties. But the Maryland Court of Appeals overturned the ruling in July 2002 and ordered a new hearing in Circuit Court.

From the Heart was also delivered another legal setback when Prince George’s circuit judge ruled in 2006 that Rev. Cherry should return a significant portion of the $40 millions of dollars in real estate assets it claimed but allowed From the Heart to retain ownership of some personal property, including the jet, furniture, cars and television equipment. In 2008 Maryland Court of Special Appeals reaffirmed the previous ruling saying that Cherry agreed to abide by the A.M.E. Zion church’s laws.

When he broke from the denomination, most of his congregation followed to become members of From the Heart. Rev. Cherry previously led the church for 18 years and grew it from a small following of 24 people who would meet in a Suitland storefront to a 24,000-member church with three sanctuaries in Temple Hills, Clinton, and the original in Suitland.

Cherry is survived by his wife, Diana, of 49 years, his son the Rev. John A. Cherry, who was installed as pastor of From The Heart in 2006 and daughter Sharon Mitchell, who runs the day-to-day operations of the megachurch’s empire.