Spiritual giant and champion for social justice are frequently used to describe the Right Rev. Cornal Garnett Henning, Sr.
Known locally and internationally as a passionate religious leader and human rights advocate, Bishop Henning passed in Los Angeles on May 15. His celebration of life service will be held on Wednesday, May 23, at 11 a.m., at First AME Church, 2270 S. Harvard Blvd. in Los Angeles.
Henning’s legacy in L.A. includes serving as pastor of Ward AME Church from 1972 to 1980 where he moved the ministry beyond the church walls to establish multiple community outreach and social service programs under the Ward Area Redevelopment Department.
His activism extended to the civic arena with two mayoral appointments as president of the Los Angeles Housing Commission and successive elections as executive vice president, president and chairman of the board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference of Southern California. Also, Henning joined with Dr. Henry Mitchell, Bishop Charles E. Blake and other clergy to form the Ecumenical Center for Black Church Studies.
Before Ward AME, Henning had served as assistant pastor at First AME Church of Los Angeles. He also led AME parishes in Tennessee and Kansas. In 1980, he was assigned as pastor of St. Paul AME Church in St. Louis, MO, and was elected as an AME bishop in 1992.
“He was an advocate for social justice and human rights wherever he served,” said Bishop Clement W. Fugh, presiding prelate of the AME Church’s 5th Episcopal District.
“His episcopal service took him to the 14th District (West Africa), the 19th District (South Africa), the 8th District (Mississippi and Louisiana), and the 3rd District (Ohio, West Virginia, Western Pennsylvania). The AME Church and the wider community were blessed through the leadership that he gave to New Orleans in the aftermath of Katrina,” noted Fugh.
In response to the devastation caused by Hurricane Katrina in 2005, Henning not only led the AME Church’s $3 million effort to restore damaged churches, but he was also appointed by then-President Bill Clinton to the National Bush-Clinton Katrina Fund, a committee responsible for directing the distribution of more than $70 million to revive the region.
“He was an outstanding preacher, an outstanding leader and an outstanding social activist. People in the U.S. and Africa were moved and lifted by his kind, warm spirit,” said retired AME Bishop T. Larry Kirkland.
While assigned to Africa from 1992 to 2000, Henning established the C. Garnett Henning, Jr. Memorial High School in Cote D’Ivoire, which was named in memory of his deceased son. In 1996, he founded AME University in Monrovia, Liberia, the nation’s second largest University with an enrollment 4,000 students.
In addition, Henning built Bethel AME Church in Accra, Ghana at a cost of $100,000+, constructed a $1.5 million annex to the Bishop Harold Senatle Center in Johannesburg, renovated the R. R. Wright School of Theology in Evaton, South Africa and worked with Bishop Donald G. K. Ming and Bishop Harold Senatle to reopen the Wilberforce Institute, which had been closed during the apartheid era.
“Bishop Henning had a brilliant mind and was a very, very close friend. I could depend on him to help me solve problems,” added Kirkland who credited Henning with providing valuable support in Kirkland’s elevation to episcopal service in 1996. “I visited him a week ago and we prayed together. A real soldier has now gone home.”
According to the Rev. Dr. Cecil “Chip” Murray, pastor of FAME from 1977 to 2004, Henning was ahead of his time. “Garnett Henning was a bishop who was in step with the ‘tomorrow’ that was being missed by many of our bishops of ‘today.’
“Today’s ‘power managers’ are primarily concerned with themselves. Bishop Henning was out-of-step with those who were not in step with their mission, which is to put the people first, to put God first. [He knew] if you put God first, God will take care of you, particularly if you take care of the people,” insisted Murray.
After retiring as bishop in 2012, Henning served on the ministerial staff of Ward AME and Pastor John E. Cager III recalled, “Bishop Henning was an ‘old school’ minister – a fiery preacher, outspoken activist and a caring shepherd. He personified class and dignity!”
Sharing her impressions of Henning, Jacqueline DuPont-Walker said, “I joined Ward AME under him. He embodied the mission of the AME Church being concerned about the whole person and the whole community. There was not an issue of social justice and social equity that he did not weigh in on. He was talking about apartheid long before there was an official movement. He and his wife founded “Room for One More,” which focused on Black children in foster care.”
“Garnett, as he is called by all who were a part of his large circle of friends and acquaintances, was an easy-going, brotherly kind of person who immediately put all who came into his presence at ease,” said Bishop Fugh.
A native of Memphis, Tennessee, Henning earned a Bachelor’s degree at Wilberforce University, a Master of Divinity degree at Payne Theological Seminary, and completed course work for a Doctor of Ministry degree at Eden Theological Seminary in Webster Groves, Missouri. Also, he was a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity.
Cherishing his memory is his wife, Ernestine; daughter, Carmen; grandchildren, Jahbrielle and Massiah Garnett; siblings, Herman, Yvonne and Anne; and many family and friends.