Della Reese finds divine inspiration

January 06, 1993|By Los Angeles Daily News

As she stepped to the podium, her white ensembl shimmering in the lights, Della Reese appeared ready to belt out a smoky jazz tune.

Instead, the 61-year-old singer-actress and former star of the short-lived television sitcom "Royal Family" surveyed the crowd and began to speak.

"What you sow is what you reap," the entertainer shouted to a audience of about 100, sitting attentively in folding chairs in an unheated building near Culver City near Los Angeles. "Let me say it again. What you sow is what you reap. Everything comes full circle. So if you've stepped on somebody's toes, you'd better be sure someone is going to do the same to you."

Della Reese the singer, Della Reese the actress is also Della Reese the minister. And on Sunday, she was preaching to her congregation at the Understanding Principles for Better Living, a church she founded in July.

"I never intended to become a minister," she said while sitting behind a glass-topped desk in her Bel Air home that she shares with her husband-manager Franklin Thomas Lett and seven dogs.

"I wanted to teach these principles. But I had so many requests for people wanting me to officiate weddings and funerals and such that I finally asked God and he told me to do it," she said.

Reared in a Southern Baptist church in Detroit, Ms. Reese, the youngest of five girls and one boy, is a self-proclaimed rebel.

"I was put out of every church I went to because I questioned everything," she chuckled as she recalled her childhood. "I would join the choir and then after awhile start asking questions. I couldn't understand why they made God sound so fierce and angry, making it sound like he was out to get me, and that I had to follow all these rules. I knew he was loving and liked me the way I was."

Ms. Reese moved in and out of churches until she finally stopped going altogether when she was in her 20s.

"What was the point?" she said. "I just couldn't agree with what they were teaching."

But all that changed in 1979 after a blood clot ruptured in her brain.

"The doctors said I was going to die," she said, showing the area where the aneurysm occurred. "They told me I would be blind. They told me I wouldn't be able to walk properly again . . ."

She paused, leaned back in her chair and smiled broadly.

"Well, I didn't die," she said as she erupted in a boisterous laugh. "I can see just as well as anybody else. And I walk just fine, thank you. I knew then that I had to tell the world. So I decided to become a teacher."

She credits her recovery to God and the principles she learned through the teachings of the Rev. Johnnie Colemon, who founded the Universal Foundation for Better Living, a nondenominational "new thought" movement based in Chicago.

Her church is one of 22 affiliated with Ms. Colemon's Universal Foundation for Better Living.

She receives no salary from the church. In fact, she puts a lot of her own money in to keep things going, she said.

Ms. Reese said that people might drop in at a service because of who she is, but she doesn't mind. "I don't care what brings them in," she said. "As long as they get the message."

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