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Bethel AME pastor Woods dies

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Bethel AME pastor Woods dies



The Rev. John A. Woods, pastor of Ann Arbor’s Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, died Tuesday night at University Hospitals. He was 75.

“Rev. Woods was, barring none, the most effective African-American in this community for the last 20 years,” said former Mayor A 1 Wheeler. “I say bar none because I want to make it clear how much I regard the man.

“He was a quiet and unassuming man who was sent here 25 years ago to a church which had problems, both with the physical structure and in the congregation. He was a builder and a healer.

“He led his congregation and the community, particularly the African-American community, in good deeds and good works.”

Woods suffered a massive stroke Friday and had remained in critical condition at the University Hospitals’ intensive care unit until his death. His two children, John Woods and Renee Brown, decided Sunday to have him taken off a respirator.

“It was hard. His last lesson to me was patience,” said his son. “For me and my sister, he epitomized what a father and a Christian and a man was all about.

“In the black community, he was known as the crying preacher. He was known for both his sense of humor and his compassion. He was always either laughing or crying,” John Woods said.

The son of Edward and Nora Woods, the minister was born on Feb. 14,1914, in Scotts, N.C., graduated with a bachelor’s degree from St. Augustine’s College in Raleigh, N.C., and later received a bachelor’s degree in divinity from Johnson C. Scott University in Charlotte, N.C.

Originally ordained as a Presbyterian, Woods moved to Detroit in the spring of 1944, founded a church there, served as chaplain and counselor at two Detroit Housing projects and also studied at the University of Michigan School of Social Work.

In the late 1950s and early 1960s, he headed a congregation in Richmond, Ind., and worked with the ministerial alliance there in organizing anti-discrimination marches before civil rights became a national movement.

He came to Ann Arbor in 1964 to take over a congregation which — according to a biographical statement the pastor had written several years ago — had been struggling to build a new church for 35 years. “The spirit was low, the hope gone,” he wrote of the congregation.

Under Woods’ leadership, the new Bethel AME Church was built at 900 Plum St. The congregation burned the mortgage in August.

While in Ann Arbor, he was active in the NAACP, Boy Scouts, Red Cross, Black Pastors’ Union, Council of Churches and numerous other pastoral organizations.

“He was always someone you could count on when someone else was in need,” recalled Wheeler. “When someone in the community died who was unchurched and a distant relative wanted a Christian service, we could turn to Rev. Woods to offer that service.”

Two years ago, the Ann Arbor City Council declared “Reverend John A. Woods Appreciation Day” to honor his service to the community.

Woods’ wife, Juanita, who had taught at Mack School and been a life-long partner in his works, died in April 1985.

Plans for funeral and memorial services are incomplete, but are being handled by Lucille’s Funeral Home in Ypsilanti.