R.D. Henton said he felt God calling him when he was a 14-year-old in division class at Wendell Phillips High School.
He became an old-school, fire-and-brimstone, call-and-response preacher whose Sunday services at Monument of Faith Church throbbed with syncopation and proclamation.
He prowled the stage, wiping his face with a handkerchief and dancing at what he called the “PULL-pit.” An organ played and an electric guitar strummed as he shouted, “We don’t have time to come to church, but we got time to sin!”
All around him, women churchgoers were “gettin’ happy,” overcome by the spirit as they shook, danced and almost fainted.
He ministered to his congregation—and especially the sick–with the power of prayer. “There were many, many testimonies of people being healed,” said his son, Pastor Mark Henton.
His sermons helped him become one of the earliest successful TV preachers. His death in October was lamented by influential Bishop T.D. Jakes, the Dallas minister whose empire has expanded to best-selling books, stage plays, movies and 2 million Twitter followers.
“The loss of Apostle Richard D. Henton will leave a gaping hole in our world of faith for years to come,” Jakes said in a statement to the Chicago Sun-Times. “His impact on many of us has been considerable. My heart goes out to his family, church and friends.”
“Apostle Henton” started his TV ministry in 1978. He would go on to appear on WJYS, WEDE, The Word Network and the Total Living Network. After he worked for 68 years in ministry — 50 of those as a pastor — his writing and sermonizing resulted in a library of 6,000 books, CDs and DVDs for sale through his Breakthrough Ministries.
“He was one of the most popular TV preachers from Chicago,” said Robert Marovich, author of “A City Called Heaven: Chicago and the Birth of Gospel Music.”
Gospel legends Claude Timmons and Delores “Honey” Sykes of the Duncanaires performed at his church, Marovich said. His congregation also was moved by the singing of Marvin Winans, and Albertina Walker and Shirley Caesar of the Caravans.
In 1964, R.D. Henton started the independent, pentecostal Monument of Faith Evangelistic Church at 6848 S. Racine. It expanded and relocated to 7359 S. Chappel before its current site at 2750 W. Columbus. He also bought a motor home to preach at revivals across the country.
Others who were moved by his ministry started their own houses of worship, his son said: “He’s had 45 to 50 churches grow out of his church.”
His charisma, command of the Bible and judicious management were such that his two divorces did not affect the church, his son said. He is survived by his third wife, Helen.
With his brocade vests, the pastor always looked sharp. Over the years, his hairline reversed from balding to luxuriant. The change, which wasn’t discussed, was less attributable to vanity than the desire to look good onscreen at a time when few African-Americans were on TV, his son said. “He was always conscious about it, because he understood that people will judge you,” he said.
In addition to his son Mark, he is survived by another son, Pastor John Henton; his daughters, Amelia Henton and Melodie Henton-Herrera; a brother, Vernal Henton; 13 grandchildren, and six great-grandchildren. His sons Richard and Phillip died before him.
His life will be celebrated during Founder’s Day services at the church beginning on the third Sunday in February 2016.