UNITED HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL PEOPLE
UNITED HOUSE OF PRAYER FOR ALL PEOPLE TIMELINE
1904 Marcelino Manuel da Graca immigrated to the United States from Brava, Cape Verde Islands; he subsequently Americanized his name to Charles M. Grace.
1919 Grace founded a church in West Wareham, Massachusetts.
1921 Grace opened his second church in New Bedford, Massachusetts, and named himself its bishop.
1926 The United House of Prayer for All People officially took its name in Charlotte, North Carolina.
1925-1935 The church rapidly expanded up and down the East coast; an internal publication called Grace Magazine was established; fire hose baptisms began; Bishop Grace became nationally known.
1938 Grace began his investment strategy in high profile real estate.
1939-1940 Grace made a call for new ministers, and many young men within the church responded to the leadership opportunity.
1944 A critical essay was published about the House of Prayer that impacted public perception of the church for the long-term.
1940s-1950s The structure of House of Prayer stabilized, and Grace decreased his role in day-to-day church operations.
1960 Walter McCollough was elected bishop following the death of Grace.
1962 A disgruntled group broke away and founded the True Grace Memorial House of Prayer.
1970s-1980s Through new programs, McCollough emphasized social gospel ideals and self-sufficiency for church members.
1991 Samuel C. Madison was elected bishop following the death of McCollough.
2008 C.M. Bailey was elected bishop following the death of Madison.
The United House of Prayer for All People, which takes its name from Isaiah 56, is a church theologically situated within the Holiness-Pentecostal tradition but which has maintained its denominational independence and has often been stigmatized as a “cult.” Its founder, Charles M. “Daddy” Grace (1881-1960), immigrated to the United States from Cape Verde, an Afro-Lusophone archipelago, where he had been reared in the Catholic Church. Grace started his first church in Massachusetts in 1919; two years later he opened a second church and began referring to himself as a bishop. In the mid-1920s Grace began a cycle of evangelizing tours in the southeastern United States, holding tent meetings filled with lively music, testimonials, preaching, and faith healing. He brought assistants with him from town to town to advertise, play music, fill seats, and otherwise facilitate the services. Grace wanted people to come together out of devotion to God and commitment to a fellowship rather than because of the charm of a leader, therefore he left it to those who were interested to sustain things when the tent meetings ended and he and his assistants left town. Under a fledgling ministry appointed by Grace, the brand new members were responsible for creating and maintaining a worship space and a spiritual community, and this gave them power, a degree of autonomy, and a deep investment in their new religious home. This was the blueprint for the early House of Prayer as it grew through the 1920s and 1930s: Grace remained a self-financed itinerant preacher, and new Houses of Prayer steadily arose up and down the East coast as people responded to his religious message. He was revered as the spiritual head of the church and was lovingly called “Daddy.”
By the time of Grace’s death in 1960 there were several hundred Houses of Prayer across the United States, with most located on the East coast. The church had property holdings in the multiple millions of dollars, yet Grace’s inconsistent record-keeping created a legal mess for those charged with seeing the church through the transition to new leadership. Many lawsuits were filed regarding assets, taxes, property, and inheritance rights, and these took years to be resolved in the court systems. Nonetheless, under new bishop Walter “Daddy” McCollough, the House of Prayer maintained its focus. The new directions McCollough took in his leadership, especially regarding social gospel work, pushed the church toward greater acceptance by the public at large. Though it is a smaller organization today, with a little over one hundred churches nationwide, the United House of Prayer has remained an independent religious organization with a definitive identity and multiple generations of members.
The House of Prayer arose at a time when the distinctions among Holiness, Pentecostal, and Nazarene theologies were beginning to distill, and a detailed examination of its theology would show that its beliefs and practices have, over time, borne marks of each of them. Today, the House of Prayer is most theologically similar to the Pentecostal faith, as a trinitarian form of Christianity characterized by the fluidity of experiential forms of worship, rooted in the direction of the spirit, and very much connected to the significance of spiritual gifts. House of Prayer members believe God can bestow spiritual gifts of all sorts but glossolalia, or speaking in tongues, is considered paramount among them. The creed specifies that a person “must be born again of the Holy Ghost,” and tongues-speaking is the evidence of a person’s true salvation; it is the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Stages of salvation are considered to be successive, and so only those who have been sanctified are able to receive the Holy Ghost.
Bishop Grace first made his name by performing healings, and belief in divine healing has remained present in the church. The early House of Prayer, especially, was unique in its extensive use of proxy devices for faith healing. Members could choose from a long line of products bearing Grace’s name, such as Grace Toothpaste and Grace Writing Paper, some of which were said to hold preventative and curative powers. For example, members could purchase the healing cloth, a small square of fabric blessed by the bishop. The most significant proxy device was Grace Magazine, the official publication of the church, which could be worn or carried on the body to promote physical healing and could be read and studied for wisdom about healing. Some people made potions of the magazine, soaking it in water and drinking it to heal their ailments. In this aspect, the early House of Prayer must be counted among a select few religious groups whose unusual avenues to healing defy easy categorization. However, through the decades Bishop Grace gradually de-emphasized faith healing, as did the bishops who succeeded him, such that in the present day it represents only a minor element of House of Prayer theology. Reliance on Western medicine has never been shunned.
An oft-cited House of Prayer belief that has garnered much controversy is the concept that the bishop is God incarnate. Public focus on this belief can be traced to the first academic accounting of the church written by Arthur Huff Fauset (1944). In a quote from an unidentified member found in his essay, the bishop was elevated to the level of God. However, the quote was used exploitatively: it was de-contextualized, edited, and improperly positioned by Fauset as a kind of official faith statement on the part of the church institution. It was reprinted many times elsewhere, leaving readers with the impression that all House of Prayer members believed their bishop was an incarnation of God on earth, despite explicit statements to the contrary made by Daddy Grace himself. A real answer to this question is far more complex, and must reflect the huge variety of members who have believed different things about the nature of the bishop over long periods of time. Most likely stemming from the Catholic roots of the founder, the House of Prayer believes in Apostolic succession; officially, the creed states that they believe in “one leader as the ruler of the Kingdom of God,” which suggests the bishop is a divinely sanctioned human leader of God’s church on earth. Some members, both past and present, further ascribe a prophetic quality to the bishop; as one member explained it, the title “Daddy” signifies that “Jesus is present in the bishop.” It is not uncommon to hear prayers made to the bishop as well as through the bishop, and this continues to muddy the answer of what members believe about the nature of the man who serves as their leader.
Worship services and special events in the House of Prayer include space for demonstration of spiritual gifts, and there is also a strong emphasis on music. The primary form of music in the House of Prayer, called “Shout,” may in fact be its most unique cultural contribution. Shout is a genre of lively religious music played primarily by brass instruments and which specifically highlights the trombone. Its theological basis is found in Psalm 150, which calls on people to praise God with exuberant music, while its name comes from a reference in the sixth book of Joshua. Taking these two Biblical verses together, Shout music symbolizes victory of God and God’s people, and when the horns play the congregation is exhorted to respond by glorifying God. The music is God’s music, intended not only to be heard and enjoyed but to stimulate a spiritual experience: members’ catching of the Holy Spirit. Shout is as important, and sometimes more important, than any message an elder could preach, and so Shout bands are a vibrant and crucial part of the ritual life of the church.
Convocation, which signals the official end and start of each church year, may be the highlight of the church’s ritual calendar. Its scriptural basis is found in the books of Exodus and Leviticus. Convocation is not a single event, nor does it happen in only one place; rather, it is a series of events that occurs in several regions where Houses of Prayer are located. The convocation season, therefore, lasts approximately three months and requires extensive travel by senior ministers, the bishop, and other important participants. A typical convocation week in a given region will involve music performances, guest speakers, a mass baptism, a visit from the bishop, and opportunities for church auxiliaries (clubs) to present themselves publicly in performances and/or parades.
Baptism is often the most significant part of convocation, and it occurs once a year in every region at the end of the convocation
week. Members look forward to it as an opportunity to be forgiven for trespasses committed in the past year and to start afresh with God. According to the House of Prayer creed, water baptism is a ritual of purification from sin, rather than a one-time rite that designates a person as a member of the Christian church. Since the 1930s, the House of Prayer has been known for its occasional practice of fire hose baptisms, in which the bishop would baptize attendees in one fell swoop beneath the gushing stream of a fire hose, rather than individually in a pool. The spray, adjusted to a relatively light setting, was directed upwards into the air, thus baptism occurred as the water fell down from the sky upon the faithful. Because these took place on city streets, fire hose baptisms were public events often attended by spectators. Outsiders sometimes found it distasteful and in several instances ministers from other faiths considered it so offensive that they tried to stop the event. The spectacle of fire hose baptisms made them a regular source of publicity for the church in the Daddy Grace years, but under the second bishop they were largely phased out and today occur only irregularly.
From the earliest years, Grace was careful to create basic structural elements to unite all of his churches. The name United House of Prayer for All People was established in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1926, and Grace incorporated the organization in Washington, DC the following year. A set of bylaws outlined the power structure and delineated rules, and these were occasionally reviewed and revised in gatherings of senior ministers. Under Grace’s leadership the behavioral expectations for members were particularly stringent compared with American culture at large, though they were not unlike other groups in the broader Holiness-Pentecostal tradition, and this has remained a general truism even as the church has evolved through the decades. Various national church publications reinforced basic ideals and provided a way for members to connect with the broader church community. All of these structural pieces were in place within the first decade of the church, and they helped bring new members into the fold in a unified way.
Bishop Grace made a call in the 1939-1940 church year for new ministers, and many young men in the church stepped up; women, according to Biblical interpretation, are not eligible for official positions of congregational ministry. Grace’s personal oversight of the ministers’ training in these first decades certainly helped to keep the church united in focus and practice, despite the missions being located up and down the East coast and in more distant spots such as Detroit and Los Angeles. Ministers are commonly referred to as Elders, and those who are most senior in responsibility are titled Apostles. As these new ministers grew into their roles in the 1940s and 1950s, Grace increasingly handed over management of everyday affairs to this new tier of leadership.
As a religious leader, Grace was known as the peoples’ “Daddy.” He was a father-figure, and the title “Sweet Daddy” was a sign of adoration and respect. The United House of Prayer as an institution has been and remains, in many ways, a reflection of the thinking and culture of the founder, from the colorful personal style of the successive bishops, to the annual cycle of church events that mirrored Cape Verdean festivals, to the financial systems that Grace endorsed. Significantly, Grace also constructed a framework in which the church bishop has ultimate control and veto power over all decisions related to finance, ministerial assignments, and church initiatives. This nearly unlimited power of the bishopric is another reason why some would consider the House of Prayer to lie outside of mainstream religion.
Walter McCollough succeeded Daddy Grace as bishop when Grace died in 1960. McCollough, who had joined as a teenager in
South Carolina, had been serving as pastor of the church headquarters in Washington, DC. McCollough became a vibrant presence within the church, maintaining the bishop’s rigorous travel schedule and transforming his personal style to fit the established norm. As he grew into the role of “Sweet Daddy” and was embraced by members, some products and church auxiliaries assumed his moniker, such as McCollough Magazine and the McCollough State Band. Meanwhile, he moved the church away from some of its more showy activities such as grand parades and fire hose baptisms, and he also eased some of the more strict membership requirements. He worked to improve the church infrastructure, and was particularly careful about matters of money, property, and taxation, making sure that church business affairs stayed in efficient working order. In the 1970s and 1980s, he facilitated the construction of several low-income apartment complexes, and he made himself an asset to the political forces in the District of Columbia such that he created a voice for himself on local issues. Under his leadership the House of Prayer opened day care centers, cafeterias, and elderly homes, and he encouraged social outreach programs such as tutoring programs, food banks, youth employment programs, voter registration drives, and informational speakers. McCollough’s transformations in House of Prayer reputation and rhetoric brought it more in line with ideals of mainline African American churches, thus helping it move away from the social margins.
Samuel C. Madison became the third bishop of the United House of Prayer after the death of Walter McCollough in 1991. Originally
from Greenville, South Carolina, Madison joined the church as a child and became a pastor in approximately 1940. Over the years he served in churches in the Carolinas, Virginia, and Philadelphia, ultimately being appointed to the M Street Church in Washington, D.C. in 1969 and becoming the church Senior Minister in 1986. He was 69 years old when he was elected bishop in May, 1991.
Assuming the title of “Precious Daddy,” Madison followed the organizational footprint left by McCollough. He continued national building initiatives, including large-scale renovations of older spaces and the construction of new living spaces and commercial facilities. Bishop Madison promoted education by expanding internal programs such as the scholarship fund and the ministry training program, and he encouraged expansion of the church’s highly regarded music programs. Madison largely stayed out of the public limelight, but within the church was revered as an excellent speaker and lively religious figure.
The fourth bishop C. M. Bailey, from Newport News, Virginia, was born and raised in the House of Prayer and served as a pastor
from a young age. He rose through the church ranks, serving as a pastor in Virginia, Georgia, and Pennsylvania and in other leadership positions that required heightened responsibility, ultimately being appointed Senior Minister under Daddy Madison in 2006. Bailey was elected bishop after Madison’s death in 2008. Although it was considered the least-contested election of a bishop in House of Prayer history, the choice of Bailey bothered some members enough to cause small numbers of apostate defections. The long-term impacts of Bailey’s leadership remain to be seen.
The majority of major issues faced by the House of Prayer took place in the church’s foundational decades. As a public figure, Grace was divisive and controversial; after his death, most of the external criticisms dissipated and public fascination with the church tapered off. Though the church continued on without significant changes, in the absence of a controversial leader it became less distinguishable from mainstream religion. Explosive growth of Pentecostalism during the second half of the twentieth century also contributed to the church moving away from the socio-religious margins. Pentecostals, however, did not really change: it was American society that changed, finding the charismatic style of worship increasingly familiar and comfortable. Regardless of its independent history, the United House of Prayer should be contextualized within these cultural and attitudinal shifts because the church falls within the Holiness-Pentecostal tradition.
One concern frequently expressed by outsiders has been the “focus” on money within the church. It has always been true that a major activity permeating House of Prayer functions is fundraising. Followers work year-round on projects to raise money for church work, and much time is set aside in services for the public donation of funds. Because the hierarchy works as a top-down system, money raised is handed over to authority figures and redistributed. Outsiders frequently accused Daddy Grace of squandering church money on his own clothes, homes, and automobiles, and critics assumed members were duped into handing over hard-earned money to support the whims of the bishop. However, a different perspective is that within the House of Prayer money is not banished to the private sphere as it often is in other forms of Christianity. Money is overtly recognized as being a practical necessity for furthering the work of the church, and therefore to raise it is to participate in God’s work, and to donate it publicly brings one honor. As head of the church, the bishop is trusted to determine how the money should best be used and apportioned. For the House of Prayer there has never been any shame in being public about money, yet this cultural difference has often caused outsiders to bristle.
Furthermore, the bishop is the most significant figure in the church because he is the conduit to God, therefore members generally feel that he should be supported in a comfortable lifestyle on par with the importance of his job. As the church grew in prominence, it made sense that the bishop’s life should be representative of the best it had to offer. In the late 1930s, Grace began to invest in high profile real estate. In some cases he invested in land or buildings that were used directly for the church, but he also bought numerous mansions for his own living quarters and large apartment buildings filled with rent-paying tenants. Often his transactions made headlines in major newspapers and magazines because it was considered newsworthy that such imposing properties had been purchased by a man of color. This investment strategy strengthened the church in many ways: it created publicity, which often meant an influx of new members; it built actual wealth, as the properties were typically resold later at a profit; and it brought pride to many members, whose self-respect was tied in to the reputation of the church. Although Grace was inconsistent with property titling (some he purchased in his own name, and others in the name of the church corporation), at his death all of the real estate was left to the church and thus became a virtual endowment that ensured long-term financial stability. However, Grace’s years spent acquiring so much real estate was another reason outsiders believed something was awry with money management in the House of Prayer.
Grace’s persona also contributed to the marginalization of the House of Prayer, because his personal style was nothing less than flamboyant. He wore flashy clothing, adorned himself in jewelry, and grew his fingernails several inches long and painted them in red, white, and blue. When his church was stable enough to support itself, he took on the accoutrements of an important leader such as luxury automobiles, a chauffer, and a bodyguard. His successors, likewise, accepted much of the mantle of the bishop’s persona, yet it did not cause much uproar for any of them. This may reflect changes in social attitudes, or it may be that Grace simply rubbed outsiders the wrong way while his successors did not.
Much of Daddy Grace’s early life is cloaked in mystery because he deliberately obscured his own background, rarely speaking in concrete terms about the years before his ministry. Perhaps the most challenging thing about him for Americans in the first half of the twentieth century was his “confusing” racial identity. Grace’s upbringing was in the Afro-Lusophone culture of Cape Verde, where identities of race were more complicated and stratified than they were in the United States. In America, his brown skin automatically classified him as Black, but Grace never considered himself part of the African American community. Instead, he defined himself using Cape Verdean terms, saying he was Portuguese by nationality and that he was of the white race. For people raised in the United States context who typically did not understand how racial categories might work in another culture, Grace’s statements were confusing and bordered on inflammatory. Grace, nonetheless, never wavered from his self-identity nor modified it to fit American norms. This too is part of what made him a controversial religious figure, as it was a cultural gap that could not be bridged in that period of American history.
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Marie W. Dallam
20 May 2013