Bishop John L. Meares, founder of Evangel Cathedral—a mostly Black congregation in Upper Marlboro—was memorialized this week in services that drew thousands. Meares died May 23 at the age of 91.

Meares began the church as tent revival meetings, where members of the community would come for miracles, healings and to be saved.

He then leased the old Turner’s Arena on 14 and W streets in Northwest Washington. From there, Meares moved the church to an old government warehouse on U Street, N.W. The church would then move to the York Theater on Georgia Avenue in Northwest before it settled into another home on Rhode Island Avenue. It was then, in 1989 that Meares stepped down as senior pastor and consecrated his son, Don Meares as the new head of the church.

In 1991, the church moved to its current location in Upper Marlboro. Now, Evangel Cathedral is one of the largest churches in the metropolitan area, and it also owns and operates Camelot, the full service banquet facility located on the church’s property.

Despite the church’s popularity and reach, it hasn’t always received positive press. In 1987, ex-members of the church launched a lawsuit against the church in a controversy that was covered in JET magazine, which ran a story about how members went into severe debt to tithe properly at the church.

According to JET, people donated money because “white leadership” at the church told them “God would put a curse on them.”

A viewing service for Mears was slated at Evangel Cathedral at 8 p.m. on June 2 with the home going service 11 a.m. on June 3.