When T.J. Bristol looked into the casket of Zachery Tims Jr. during Friday's wake at New Destiny Christian Center, he saw peace and serenity on his pastor's face — and a little smile.
"They put a smile on his face and that made me hold back the tears," said Bristol, who turns 32 today. "It made him look like he was at peace, like he had completed the work God wanted him to do. He looked like he was happy, very happy."
The sanctuary was ablaze in bright light, Bristol said, and Tims' casket was on the floor in front of the sanctuary's stage.
Bristol arrived an hour before the start of Friday's viewing for Tims and found a crowd already forming. He said he joined the church about three years ago after Tims' outreach ministry saved him from life on the streets.
"Most pastors, they just deal with their own members inside the church. I saw he wasn't just a man of God but a man of people, and he made me not want to be the way I was. I'm a better man today," said Bristol, who works for the church and delivers newspapers.
Bristol was among the thousands of church members who went to see their fiery and inspiring preacher one last time as he lay in state at the Apopka megachurch he built from scratch with his former wife.
It would be the first time, and for many their last, to see Tims since his death at 42 a week ago in a New York City hotel room. His funeral is scheduled for 11 a.m. today at First Baptist Church of Orlando — the only sanctuary in Orlando capable of seating the 6,500 people expected to attend.
Friday, though, was for his congregation, and they came in the midday heat to stand in lines that curled around both ends of the steeple-less beige and green-trimmed building that looks more like a humble warehouse than an exalted church.
Beneath a blistering sky with billowing, gray-bottomed clouds, they waited with sunglasses and umbrellas, dressed in suits and shorts, flowery print dresses, with children in their arms and tucked in strollers, mothers and daughters, husbands and wives, in couples and alone.
The lines started forming before the viewing began at 3 p.m., and by 4, the two lines from each end of the worship center had nearly converged at the front.
Many of the cars in the grass parking lot attested to the success of Tims' followers — the Mercedeses, BMWs, Jaguars and Lexuses far outnumbered the pickups, vans and clunkers needing a paint job.
Luis De Jesus came from Kissimmee to stand in line for an hour and a half to pay his respects to a man he admired but had never met. Those he met in line reaffirmed for De Jesus the kind of ministry and message Tims preached.
"I saw people that were in shock, but I also saw a great love and commitment to a pastor. All of them were affected by a man, a young man, who dedicated himself strongly and deeply to this community," said De Jesus, 52, pastor of Casa De Jubilo in Orlando.
Inside the sanctuary, De Jesus said, people wept quietly as they passed by the casket. Tims' ex-wife, Riva Tims, and three of their four children were seated in the front row by the casket, which was opened to show a man dressed sharply in a dark gray suit, tie, white shirt and polished shoes.
"He looked to me like he was at peace; he was resting," De Jesus said. "The overall emotion was respect for him."
Bristol said he was returning for the "In Memory of Dr. Zachery Tims" service at the church Friday evening and then today's funeral at First Baptist,
"I'm not missing anything. I'm going to everything," he said. "I honestly feel he is watching. I don't want to fail him. His legacy has got to live through us."
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