Church of God and Saints of Christ (COGASOC™)

Church of God and Saints of Christ (COGASOC™)

Temple Beth El
Chief Rabbi Phillip E. McNeil

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Rabbi Levi S. Plummer, G.F.A.

Active Leader: 1975-2001

Levi Solomon Plummer was born on June 1, 1921. His parents were Howard Zebulun Plummer and Althea Walker Plummer. As an infant, Levi was nurtured by a loving family who gave him boundless attention and affection. Levi was his parents’ first child. He was blessed by his grandfather, Bishop William H. Plummer, who prophetically stated that Levi Solomon Plummer “is a builder”. Not long after birth, Levi would suffer a very tragic experience. In July 1922, Althea Plummer passed away. But the void left by her death was filled by the loving care of his father, extended family and friends.

Bishop Howard was intrinsically concerned with Levi’s educational development. As a product of the Boston school system, his father knew that Boston was the place for Levi to have his academic roots nourished. As the summer of 1932 came to a close, a new chapter in Levi’s life began to unfold. He was preparing for his first journey away from the comfort and security of his home. He would travel to a place where dear and intimate friends of his father and grandfather would look after him as if he were their own son.

Educational Indoctrination

On September 25, 1932, Levi arrived in Boston. Bishop Howard had taken valuable time away from the multiplicity of his responsibilities as the Church’s newly appointed Leader because he wanted Levi to know that even though this journey would appear bitter at first, it would turn sweet in the belly of his experiences in life. He had wanted his son to know that no matter where Levi found himself, his father would be with him in spirit and in truth. During the journey to Boston, Levi had mixed emotions ranging from how much he would miss everyone to what it would be like in this new and strange land. Upon their arrival in Boston, his fears were diminished as they were greeted by Elder Braxton and his wife.

Levi attended services as was his custom and had a great deal of excitement about the 1933 Passover Memorial, but this commemoration would be significant in his life. During this memorial, two unforgettable things happened to Levi. First, at the tender age of 11, he was immersed by his father on April 19, 1933. Secondly, St. Levi was appointed to the honorable position of “Church Librarian”.

After graduation from high school, Levi remained a permanent resident in the Braxton household, working by day and studying by night as a part-time student at Boston University.

Levi was always multi-dimensional. Levi’s sense of responsibility and maturity also impressed his father. In light of these and other qualities, Bishop Howard ordained Levi to the ministry on April 20, 1942. His first ministerial appointment was as the assistant to Elder Braxton.

Having completed a portion of his academic requirements at Boston University, he decided to transfer to New York University in the fall of 1944. His “Village experience” also elevated his search for intellectual challenges which spilled over to his approach to Sabbath School. His astute intellectual capacity and interest in the Sabbath School led to his appointment as the General Sabbath School Superintendent of the Church in August 1944, succeeding Elder Preston Jackson whom he had assisted for several years.

His stay and studying in New York City passed rapidly. In the spring of 1948, the Board of Trustees and Faculty of New York University conferred upon him a Bachelor of Science Degree in Business Administration. This degree was well earned and well deserved.

Elder Levi had known Cora Delores Scott for some time. Following his heart, Elder Levi married Delores. To this union was born a son, Reginald L. Plummer, on September 6, 1949. In the same year, Elder Levi moved to Washington, D.C. with his wife and son. His goal, once again, was to relieve his father’s burdens by taking a job in the nation’s capital.

Prior to moving to Washington, he had expressed little interest in pursuing a seminary degree. However, as destiny would have it, he decided to enroll in the Howard University School of Religion. He was a very personable student, and very impressive as a speaker. His popularity, coupled with his intellect, led to his election as the president of his senior class. He graduated in 1952 with a Bachelor of Divinity degree.

When he returned to Belleville, he immediately immersed himself into Church affairs, working as his father’s administrative assistant. He had customarily assisted his father in preparing the themes and programs for services during the Passover and annual business sessions. Heretofore, during the Passover services, he had only assisted his father in performing liturgical and sermonic responsibilities.

Traditionally, only the Chief Executive Officer presided during the entire Passover Memorial. Those who attended the 1953 Passover witnessed a break in this tradition. During this gathering, for the first time in the history of the Church, the Chief Executive, did not function as the presiding officer. Bishop Howard Z. Plummer instructed Elder Levi to preside over the entire proceedings, including: preaching the traditional Seder eve sermon; preaching the daily sermons; presiding over the entire Seder liturgy; and, preaching the closing sermon on the last day of this memorial. All of these duties were performed by Elder Levi Plummer with a dignity, grace and eloquence that made his father rejoice. On the last day of the Passover, April 20, 1953, Elder Levi was consecrated to the Bishopric by his father.

His father held several Masonic offices, both state-wide and nationally. Bishop Levi, having earned the distinction of becoming a 32nd Degree Mason, was able and did help his father in preparing Masonic messages and performing other official duties. Additionally, Bishop Howard was the only President of the Hampton Institute Interdenominational and Interracial Ministerial Conference to be elected for 3 consecutive years. The President of this prestigious conference was responsible for an annual 5 day conference held in June on the campus of Hampton Institute (later renamed “Hampton University”). The President’s staff was required to do everything from scheduling speakers, to making preparations to accommodate and feed several thousand during the conference. During his father’s tenure, Bishop Levi had the privilege of inviting and meeting with ministerial giants such as the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the Reverend Dr. Gardner C. Taylor, and the Reverend Dr. Howard Thurman. He also interacted with budding giants such as the Reverend Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, the Reverend Dr. Samuel Proctor, and the Reverend Dr. Mordecai Johnson.

On September 28, 1957, Bishop Levi S. Plummer was officially installed as the Overseer of the Providence, Rhode Island Tabernacle. Thus began a productive and innovative pastoral assignment in which he was to leave a lasting impact upon the local congregation and the community.

A Builder’s Paradise

When Bishop Levi arrived in Providence, the local congregation had owned their own edifice for several years. Bishop Levi envisioned a bigger and better facility with a multiplicity of functions including but not limited to providing outreach assistance to the community at-large. He was determined to realize this vision and set into motion a plan of action to build a new sanctuary. After eight years of hard work and negotiating with City officials, the Providence Redevelopment Authority sold a lot to the church on Dodge Street, June 16, 1964. Three months later, ground was broken for the construction of an elaborate edifice which was dedicated on July 4, 1965.

Although much of his time was devoted to pastoral responsibilities, his concern for humanity extended beyond the Church and into the community. As a religious coordinator for the Providence NAACP Chapter, he led the first Prayer Pilgrimage on the steps of the State House to urge passage of the Fair Housing Bill. Additionally, he rigorously protested against the unjust evictions of minority groups within the city. He chaired the Providence NAACP Membership Committee and served two consecutive years on the Board of Directors, and he served on the City’s Human Relations Committee and assisted the local police on the streets of Providence in their efforts to curb teen delinquency. As an affiliate of the Urban League, Bishop Levi chaired the Committee on Leadership Development.

He served on the Preamble Committee of the Constitution of the Rhode Island State Council of Churches. He worked with former Rhode Island Governors, Dennis Joseph Roberts, Senator John H. Chaffee, Judge Frank Licht and Mayor Walter H. Reynolds in helping to establish civil liberties. He teamed with the late Bishop Russell J. McVinney, head of the Catholic Diocese and the Right Reverend John Seville Higgins, head of the Episcopal Diocese in eradication social and economic injustices.

His intimate concern for equal housing and his outrage at society’s failure to correct this evil was documented in an interview with the Providence Evening Bulletin, March 19, 1965. The reporter wrote:

“Providence is a city of the South which has been trapped in the North. It’s one of the most segregated northern cities in the United States.” The speaker was the Right Rev. Levi S. Plummer, regional prelate of…the Church of God and Saints of Christ. A slender, neatly dressed Negro with well trimmed beard, Bishop Plummer said that he had lived in Philadelphia, New York and Boston, attending Boston University for several years and that it was his experience in those cities which led to the conclusion that Providence is among the most segregated northern cities. “The housing barrier here is almost impregnable…It’s like the iron curtain, I’m for a fair housing law but it won’t solve all of the problems. The white man needs to get rid of his prejudices and grow up.”

In conjunction with his activities in Providence, Bishop Levi continued to work closely with his father regarding national and international Church affairs. He introduced many innovative and provocative changes to the Church with the blessings and support of his father. In collaboration with his father, he brought further enlightenment to the congregation through the inclusion of certain scripturally validated observances, ceremonies, calendar dates, and terminology. Among these modifications, was the use of the term “Rabbi” (teacher) in place of that of the term “Bishop.”

Leadership Years

On the Eve of the Passover, March 25, 1975, in the home of Rabbi Howard Z. Plummer, Rabbi Levi S. Plummer was instructed to put on the four-cornered hat which was presented to him. This hat has special significance as it is worn only by the Leader of the organization. Rabbi Levi nonetheless obeyed the instructions of his father and tried it on. This episode unfolded in the presence of Rabbi William E. Stewart, Elder Joseph Stephenson, and Elder Samuel McCollum. Rabbi H. Z. Plummer, after seeing the hat adorned on his son’s head said to Rabbi Levi and those present, “My work is finished.”

Rabbi Howard Z. Plummer arrived at the tabernacle on this Seder night approximately thirty minutes after Rabbi Levi had come in, and was greeted on the rostrum by Rabbi Jehu A. Crowdy, Rabbi William E. Stewart and other pulpit dignitaries. Looking at his son, Rabbi H. Z. Plummer, said, “Son, take over.” Thus began the reign of Rabbi Levi S. Plummer as Executive Head of the Church of God and Saints of Christ.

Rabbi Levi, as he is affectionately known to the Congregation, was always progressive, innovative, and God-centered in his thinking. With a firm grasp on the essence of the vision of Prophet William S. Crowdy, he understood that if Belleville was to be a “home” for the Saints, Belleville had to be developed, there first had to be homes, and Belleville had to become self-sufficient. To help facilitate this effort, Rabbi Levi set up the “Redevelopment Committee” in August of 1976, which was comprised of members from the Board of Presbytery, General Tabernacle Trustees, Belleville Widows and Orphan’s Home Trustees, department and auxiliary heads, and interested persons selected from the “think bank.” This was part of the administrative plan of Rabbi Plummer, to, in his words, “organize, deputize, and supervise,” when he returned to Belleville in 1975.

At the 1977 Passover, Rabbi Levi announced to the Congregation “Phase One” of the building plans for Belleville, and initiated the Belleville Temple Building Fund program. The theme selected for this occasion was an encapsulating and inclusive one, “In Our Lifetime, For a Lifetime.” From 1977 to 1980, a series of “pledge drives” were initiated which raised over $1 million for Phase One. The enthusiasm for this project aroused and excited the Congregation to the point that they routinely encouraged each other with the salutation “Peace and pledge.” October 16, 1979 saw the dreams, hopes, and aspirations of a predominately African-American Congregation come to fruition as ground was broken for Phase One of the Temple Complex. It was the idea of Rabbi Levi to build the multi-purpose building (Phase One) first. This facility would provide classrooms for possible off-campus classes for the surrounding colleges and universities, and conference rooms for community meetings. The large open area of the Social Hall makes it ideally suited as a facility for banquets, utilizing the modern, up-to-date kitchen and its equipment. While preparing for the construction of Phase Two, the Church would be in position to derive funds by offering this facility for use. Rabbi Levi would later remark that it was on the “backs” of his “old, faithful members” that the Temple was built.

All during this time, the health of Rabbi Howard Z. Plummer was in decline. History will record the extraordinary life and great accomplishments of this man, however, on February 24, 1980, the life force of this spiritual giant, who was a father and friend to countless many, and the father of Rabbi Levi, expired. At the funeral of Rabbi H. Z. Plummer, Rabbi Levi, even though a member of the family and in mourning for his father, gave encouraging remarks to the Congregation and offered words of hope as the Leader of the Church.

Even though Rabbi Levi had been the recognized Leader of the Church for some years now, there had never been any public or formal confirmation of his leadership status. However, on April 7th, the last day of the 1980 Passover, after a week of spiritual edification, a Confirmation Ceremony was held which publicly affirmed Rabbi Levi Solomon Plummer as the Chief Executive of the Church. The Rabbinical Council, represented by the eloquence of Rabbi Jehu A. Crowdy, and members of the Board of Presbytery, proclaimed their support and allegiance to Grand Father Abraham, Rabbi Levi S. Plummer.

The Congregation at-large began to experience a gratifying sense of self-worth and pride at the Dedication of Phase One of the Temple Complex which was held November 8, 1980. Rabbi Levi, realizing that “an idea whose time has come,” and “people working together for a common cause,” were powerful ingredients for success, seized the moment. He challenged the Congregation not to rest on its laurels of completing Phase One, the Social Hall of the Temple Complex – that there was more building to be done.

Phase One of the Temple Complex is a spacious multi-purpose building capable of seating 1,000 or more, comfortably, for most occasions. It was constructed with a restaurant style kitchen, outfitted and accessorized with state of the art equipment, spacious rest room facilities, conference rooms, and storage rooms on the first floor. The second floor of Phase One houses the general office of the organization as well as an Executive Office, several classrooms, and an additional conference room.

In spite of the impressive stature of the building, Phase One was not the sanctuary. The sanctum sanctorum had to be built, and Rabbi Levi unveiled his plans for “Phase Two” of the Temple Complex, the Sanctuary. The architectural drawings and the model of Phase Two displayed a breath-takingly beautiful house of worship. Enthusiasm and interest again rose to a fever pitch to help this “Solomon” build a Temple for the Lord. Subsequently, a series of fund-raising endeavors were undertaken between 1982-84.

Ever searching for avenues to assist the Congregation to grow spiritually, socially, intellectually, and culturally, Rabbi Plummer convened the 1984 General Assembly on the prestigious Ivy League campus of Yale University in New Haven, CT. The guest speaker at this General Assembly was the renown Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker, an accomplished speaker, a recognized theologian and author, and a close friend of Rabbi Levi and his father, the late Rabbi Howard Z. Plummer. Seeing that the Centennial of the organization was only a few short years hence, the Congregation rallied around the theme “Centennial Horizon.”

December 26, 1985, became a date of historic note in that, on this date the contract was signed with Duke and Associates for the construction of Phase Two. On Friday, March 14, 1986, at 11:35 a.m., renewed excitement was kindled as the groundbreaking ceremony for Phase Two was held. During the weeks and months that followed, many were amazed at the awesomeness and the aesthetic beauty of the building as the various stages of its construction were completed. Everything from the Torah and Holy of Holies, including the Menorahs that are fixed on walls, to the Eternal Light that hangs in the center of the pulpit was done at the design and direction of Rabbi Levi. Even the sanctum sanctorum, the crowning jewel with respect to the furniture of the Temple, was designed by and its construction supervised by Rabbi Levi.

With the cooperation of the architects, who followed the instructions of Rabbi Levi to the letter and labored beyond the call of duty, the Sanctuary was completed in the Spring of 1987, just prior to the Passover, and on April 11, 1987, the Dedication Ceremony for Phase Two was held. The Dedication Ceremony began with Rabbi L. S. Plummer’s reading of a passage from the 24th Psalm. Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker was chosen to be the speaker for this historic event. He spoke from Leviticus 8:23 and used as a subject “Three Drops of Blood”.

The theology of Rabbi Levi was not narrow in scope, but broad and expansive. Not one to be “fenced in” by denomination or religious persuasion, he viewed himself as a “cosmic” being, serving a “cosmic” God. He once said that “the religious keyboard of my religion is so big and broad that if the essential what-ness or core of the major religions of the world is God-centered, then a harmonious melody could be produced.” His life and his ministry were wrapped up in the statement, “Thou shalt love the Lord Thy God with all Thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength, and Thy neighbor as Thyself.” This is the ethical principle in which he believes and practices. On one occasion he made this statement: “This is the bottom line, I go through life trying to help people find their blueprint for the betterment of humanity. If I can do this, then my living will not be in vain.”

In his teaching, Rabbi Levi explained that “there are three aspects about religion, which is the essential what-ness of religion. First, when you hear the truth, it issupposed to disturb you and make you realize your undoneness, your is-ness, and show you how far you are away from your ought-ness, where you ought to be in your life. Second, religion should have a steadying influence. It should provide you with an anchor in troubling times. Third, it should have a redemptive and salvational influence. That’s what you should get from every sermon from the pulpit or song from the choir.”

It would be a statement of accuracy to articulate that a connective link among Bishop William H. Plummer, Rabbi Howard Z. Plummer and Rabbi Levi S. Plummer, was and is a primary concern for the care and safety of children and the elderly. In 1986, largely due to the insight of Rabbi Levi and his compassion for the elderly, application was made to the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) to build a Senior Housing Complex which would be of great benefit not only to the experienced citizens of our Congregation, but would fill a housing need for the elderly throughout the Belleville, Huntersville, and Pughsville communities. The Senior Housing Complex was completed in 1989, and the 52 unit single housing complex was named William H. Plummer Plaza because of the tremendous work done by Bishop William H. Plummer concerning the plight of the elderly, and his dreams for older citizens.

The organization and development of the Church of God and Saints of Christ is a truly rich history and is interwoven in its leadership down from Prophet William S. Crowdy. This richness bespeaks the extreme necessity to compile the fertile legacy of the Organization in written format. Much of the Church’s history, heretofore, had been passed down from “mouth to ear” and by the same token some of the history has been either lost, misrepresented or erroneously repeated. The task of gathering and compiling the necessary history of the Organization was assigned to the “Historical Committee” organized in 1987 by Rabbi L. S. Plummer. In the process of researching dates and events, and gathering factual information along with verifiable documentation, the date that God revealed Himself to Prophet William S. Crowdy, September 13, 1892, was discovered.

This date became one of prodigious significance in the history of the Church of God and Saints of Christ. Plans were made to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the Almighty God revealing Himself to the Congregation’s spiritual emancipator, Prophet William S. Crowdy. To do proper justice with respect to the gravity of this historic date, an entire weekend celebration of this momentous event was observed from September 11-13, 1992. The Rev. Dr. Gardner C. Taylor, who was featured in Ebony Magazine as one of the fifteen greatest Black Preachers, and in Time Mazagine, as the Dean of the Nations Black Preachers, and a personal friend of Rabbi Levi and the late Rabbi Howard Z. Plummer, was the special guest speaker on the Sabbath. He used Genesis 8:1 as his text and spoke from the subject, “God Remembers.”

The building and renovation projects in Belleville continued to progress under the watchful eye of Rabbi Levi. It became necessary to embark upon Phase Three of the building plan, the Rabbi’s bayeet, the place where the Leader of the organization would reside. With his vision and the cooperation of the Saints, this architectural gem was completed December 5, 1990.

All during the year of 1992, extensive renovations were made to the “old Tabernacle”. New roofing, and structural improvements to the interior of the building were completed. Beautifully tiled floors were installed in the vestibule, the rest rooms were refurbished and decorative ceiling fixtures were installed. A ticket taking booth was constructed at the entrance of the tabernacle, considering events where tickets might be sold. This building now, instead of degenerating into a state of disrepair due to non-use, became a revenue-generating facility.

It had also been determined that there existed a need for quality childcare in the otherwise neglected Belleville, Huntersville, Pughsville area. The population in this area continued to grow because of continuing development. Child care facilities were available on the periphery of this community, but none existed in and for the Belleville community. Therefore, the seed of a child development center on the Church’s land, operated by the organization, to better the outlook of youth residing in the community was planted in 1994. The members rallied behind the vision of Rabbi Levi and supported this ideal which would have an immediate impact upon the Church and the community, but would also have far-reaching implications for both. The old “Girls Dormitory” was renovated at a cost of over $500,000 to make it structurally sound and suitable for child care use. Consequently, the Levi Solomon Plummer Learning Center was able to open its doors in the fall of 1996.

While Rabbi Levi did not seek acclaim or recognition for the significant achievements of his ministry, acclaim and recognition have come. On December 3, 1981, he received the Philanthropists Award for Man of the Year along with Dr. Mason Andrews; the author, V.C. Andrews; actor, Danny Thomas; news anchor, Jim Kincaid; and Jacques Cousteau.

Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity, Inc., also showed its appreciation for the accomplishments of Rabbi Levi’s ministry at its Sixteenth Annual Recognition Banquet, April 28, 1996. Reverend Henry G. Baker, the presenter of the Citizen of the Year award to Rabbi Levi, was utterly astounded “that one man could accomplish so much and yet, it is incomplete” (speaking of his accomplishments). More than 150 members of Temple Beth El were in attendance at this banquet which prompted Reverend Baker to remark “I don’t know how one accomplishes such a following in terms of persons that would come and be with you on a day like today, you are obviously loved.” Rev. Baker repeated a statement made by the late Dr. Benjamin Mays about the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., which he applied to this Man of God who refers to himself as “the echo of prophecy”, “How often do ordinary men stumble upon eternal greatness by humbly servicing mankind for no personal gain or self-aggrandizement?”

At the 1997 Passover Memorial, Rabbi Levi announced Project 2001, a 5-year fund-raising plan for the redevelopment of Belleville, our International Headquarters in Suffolk, Virginia. Over this five year period, the Congregation raised over $2 million to support the redevelopment effort, including new edifices and a master plan for the Belleville area. On August 11, 2001, the Congregation celebrated the culmination of Project 2001, and over the next couple of months, the master plans for Belleville were approved by the Suffolk Planning Commission and the Suffolk City Council.

On Sunday, November 18, 2001, Rabbi Levi Solomon Plummer was called home to his rest at approximately 8:15 a.m. EST after 26 years of devoted and meritorious service as the Chief Executive of the Church of God and Saints of Christ. Rabbi Plummer was 80 years old. The service to celebrate the life of Rabbi Levi was held Sunday, November 25, 2001 at 10 a.m. at the Tabernacle in Belleville, Virginia with Chief Executive Rabbi Jehu A. Crowdy Jr. presiding. He was buried in Hebron Cemetery with the previous leaders of our Congregation.