DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – It was an exhilarating Sunday service, one congregant recollected. Rev. Jerome McNeil, Senior Pastor of Christian Chapel CME Church, had the rhythm in his tone, and the spirit in his message, during a morning sermon.
"He walked down the aisle, like he always does", church member Cherry Bullard said.
But that walk would be the final steps of Rev. McNeil's life. The veteran pastor collapsed and died in front of crowded sanctuary of churchgoers.
"All of a sudden I heard a thud and I didnt know what it was. I looked around, and he was gone," Bullard said from her church office desk on Tuesday. "It hurts to even think about it, but he's in a better place."
McNeil, the leader of the church known as the Temple of Faith, was a 21-year pastor for the church. Christian Chapel has a 150 year history in Dallas, but the church's history is longer and richer.
Now surrounded by restaurants, apartments, townhomes and retail centers, the church was the centerpiece of an African American settlement known as White Rock Creek. The smaller Christian Chapel building still sits behind the much larger Temple of Faith, built under McNeil's leadership.
"He was just a great man", assistant pastor Linda Curry said.
Curry said McNeil never met a stranger, and was tied to the larger Dallas community well before his church calling. He was the first black administrator for a Dallas County agency, second in command for the Juvenile Department in 1981.
"We are hurting, but we are a family," Curry said of Sunday's death.
Added Bullard: "It's just hard to have sit here on Sunday listening to his sermon, not thinking that it was going to be his last sermon that I was going to be able to hear from him. It's just been hard to accept this, and yet I know he's gone, but I know he's in a better place."
McNeil will be buried on Saturday. His funeral will be held at Christian Chapel at 11 a.m.
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