Long an inspiring fixture in the Orange Mound community, Bishop W.A. Sesley, founding pastor of Morning Star Church Worldwide Ministries, a non-denominational Christian church, died Thursday after a brief illness. He was 82.
“My father was always involved in community projects and organizations to make life better for so many others,” said Tonja Sesley-Baymon, Sesley’s daughter and president of the Memphis Urban League. “He loved the Lord, his family and Morning Star. But he always made time for his family.”
Sesley-Baymon said her father had suffered a stroke in September.
“While he was in rehab, and actually doing well, Dad suffered another stroke last Monday; not the past Monday, but that Monday before,” she said. “The doctors said he had suffered some TIAs (transient ischaemic attacks or “mini strokes”) as well. There were just too many hits to the brain.”
Sesley grew up in Orange Mound and graduated from Melrose High School in 1956. He was an employee at Hunt Wesson when he acknowledged a call to the ministry.
His first sermon – “God Is Able” was preached on the fourth Sunday in March, 1964. In January, 1965, he established Morning Star Missionary Baptist Church. The name was changed to Morning Star Holiness Church in 1973, with the last name change in 2000.
Pastor Andrew Jackson, founder of Faith Temple Ministries, said Sesley had been a close friend for five-plus decades.
“Our families took vacations together,” said Jackson. “We did mission work in Haiti together for several years. We were a part of the PCCNA, Pentecostal Charismatic Churches of North America. … We fed 3,000-5,000 people at the Fairgrounds or the Cook Convention Center each year.”
Pastor Melvin Charles Smith of Mt. Moriah East Baptist Church in Orange Mound said he and Sesley would have celebrated 50 years of friendship next year.
“We had both heard of each other and had seen each other in passing, but we had not met. But we finally did meet on Nov. 20, 1972, and we have been friends since that time,” said Smith. “Sesley was always very serious about his ministry, very serious about his call.”
Smith and Sesley were among a group of pastors that would meet routinely on the last Wednesday of each month. Learning that Sesley was in the hospital, Smith said, I went to the hospital to visit with my friend and encourage him, something he has done for so many others.”
Sesley’s family stayed by his side.
My father was a man of faith,” said Sesley-Baymon. “So many times he had prayed for others and they were healed. I remember when I had a cyst and was going in the next day for a procedure to remove it. Dad prayed for me, and I went in to the hospital the next day. They could find no cyst anywhere. He was not only my pastor, but he was my friend, as well. I thank the Lord for that.”
Local event and news photographer, Tyrone P. Easley, said, “Bishop Sesley was always a great friend to me. … When he and I were in the same place, he would smile. And that smile let me know that he thought very highly of me. That was precious. I will miss seeing him so much.”
U.S. Congressman Steve Cohen released a statement after learning of Bishop Sesley’s death.
“He was a golden-throated warrior of the gospel and a pastor whose grace extended beyond his church family,” Cohen said. “His was a life well lived in service to others.”
Sesley leaves six children, five grandchildren and a great-grandchild.
Bishop Sesley will lie in state Oct. 29 from noon to 6 p.m. at Morning Star Worldwide Ministry, 3161 Park Ave., with a memorial service at 6:30 p.m. The celebration service is set for Oct. 30 at 11 a.m., with visitation from 8 a.m. to 10 a.m. Entombment will be in Memorial Park Cemetery. Harrison’s Memorial Chapel, Inc. has charge.