Lines of mourners — and those simply curious — began arriving at New Birth Missionary Baptist Church Tuesday morning for a public viewing for Bishop Eddie L. Long.
The influential and controversial megachurch pastor died Jan. 15 of cancer at age 63.
Inside, two lines formed as people signed guestbooks before being ushered inside to view the body of Long, who lay in repose in the front of the cavernous Lithonia sanctuary. A human chain of ushers kept the line moving quickly — like a well-oiled machine.
Florist vans pulled up to the entrance as delivery drivers brought in plants and mostly white and off-white floral arrangements that were placed next to dozens more on display in the vestibule.
Nestled between two rows of flowers rested a coffin with carvings on the top and at its head, more flowers arranged in the shape of New Birth’s emblem.
Inside, Long lay dressed in red shoes and wore red and white clerical robes and a cape with gold trim. Around his neck rested a large gold cross, and there were several rings on his fingers.
Gregory B. Levett and Sons Funeral Home & Crematory was in charge of arrangements. The funeral program starts at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday at New Birth. Long will lie in repose 8 a.m. until 9:30 a.m. prior to the funeral.
Wesley Culpepper, who lives in DeKalb County, was there with his family.
“We’re very familiar with his work in the community,” Culpepper said. Although not a member, Culpepper said he and his family “simply wanted to pay our respects to him, his family and his church family.”
Lolethia Spencer also didn’t attend New Birth, but went to the visitation.
“He did a lot of good for people, especially young men he brought into the ministry,” she said.
On social media, well wishes came from around metro Atlanta and as far away as South Africa.
Nonhlanhla Ngcobo, a self-employed mother of four who lives in Johannesburg, South Africa, said in a Facebook interview that she has long wished to visit New Birth and still plans to do so.
She has been following Long for several years.
“My first encounter was when he held a service,” she said. “A guy had been arrested and talked about how his life changed because of Bishop Long. After that, the whole church gave him (the man) a standing ovation and began praying.”
When she heard of Long’s death, “it affected me badly. When a pastor dies, it comes as a shock to everyone, especially because he was not that old.”
Also on Tuesday, a resolution honoring Long was approved in the Georgia Senate.
Senate Resolution 43, sponsored by state Sen. Tonya Anderson, D-Lithonia, calls Long “a person of magnanimous strengths.”
Long, a former corporate salesman, is credited with building the ministry from 300 people to a high of 25,000. His ministry, though, was not without controversy.
Long was criticized for his stance against gay marriage and homosexuality.
Then, in 2010, he was sued by four male former church members alleging inappropriate sexual relationships. A fifth man became part of the settlement. Long denied the allegations.
There had been much speculation about Long’s health after he posted a video last year in which he appeared extremely thin. He never publicly disclosed the nature of his illness, although the church released a statement that he died after a battle with cancer.
“Nobody is perfect in this world,” Ngcobo said. “We expect him as a man of God to stand up and say I have sinned — if he did it. If he didn’t tell us, maybe he told God. He doesn’t have to tell us, really. That’s between him and God.”
Long is survived by his wife, Vanessa Long, and four children: Eric, Edward, Jared and Taylor; and three grandchildren.