The Rev. Thea Jones, 71, Evangelist

Posted: May 09, 1992

The Rev. Thea F. Jones, 71, the evangelical preacher who for many years ministered over the airwaves from his old opera house headquarters in North Philadelphia, died Tuesday at Germantown Hospital and Medical Center. He resided in North Philadelphia.

Dr. Jones liked to tell the story of how Jesus Christ appeared to him one day in the front seat of his Plymouth sedan. It was early in his pastoral career while he was driving through his native South, during a period in which Dr. Jones described himself as "vaguely restless and dissatisfied."

"I felt Jesus riding with me. He spoke to me, called me son, said humble yourself and fast and pray, and then he'd grant me his power to heal the sick and to cast out devils," Dr. Jones said during a 1980 interview.

Shortly after that experience, he said, he held services in a small Tennessee town, and "66 deaf and dumb people started hearing and talking, 52 blind people saw, and 16 crippled people got up and walked away all in one service."

He would tell every gathering: "It's not me that heals; it's the Lord."

Born in a log cabin in Knox City, Ky., the only child of a poor Appalachian couple, Dr. Jones described his childhood as "dirt poor." His daily menu was corn meal, and he told of how he once beat up another boy to get the lad's bologna sandwich.

He found religion while in his early teens - right about the time his late father went to prison.

" 'Murder,' they said," Dr. Jones related in the 1980 interview. "It was sad. But he wasn't a bad man. Very mild and meek, sweet-tempered."

He received his schooling in the South, and was ordained in the Church of God at age 23. He first served at a church in Cleveland, Tenn., then in Memphis, where he shortly came to head the Ministerium Association in Memphis.

He came to Philadelphia in 1954, and held his first meeting inside a huge tent at Second Street and Erie Avenue - which blew down during a severe storm.

The following year, Dr. Jones moved to something far more substantial: the Met - the old Metropolitan Opera House - at Broad and Poplar Streets. He purchased the landmark for $250,000, an astounding figure in 1955. Built in 1908, the Met provided seating for 5,000 and natural acoustics so good that the Philadelphia Orchestra recorded there for many years. Renamed the Met Church, it was the perfect forum for the soft-spoken Dr. Jones, who liked to say that his sermon delivery fell somewhere "between Oral Roberts and Bishop Sheen." He was not a fire-and-brimstone preacher, he said, but carried a soft message of "love and sweet compassion."

He went on television the same year, with weekly live telecasts that aired on various channels in the Philadelphia market until 1986. At its peak, his television ministry maintained a mailing list of 150,000 supporters.

Dr. Jones seldom badgered his viewers for money. He offered the audience membership in his church for $10 a month, but would tell viewers: "If you don't have $10 a month, send us $5 or $3. But when you get $10,000 unexpectedly, send a little extra."

Increased costs forced him off the air in 1986. But his services continued to pack the enormous Met, where some Sundays Dr. Jones would conduct several services so that everyone who wished to could attend. He ceased conducting services inside the Met about two years ago because of escalating maintenance costs and began preaching at the Majestic Temple at 942 N. Broad St.

Surviving are his wife, Helen R.; sons Byron and Lavoy; stepdaughter, Roslyne Gasc; stepson, Theodore L. Blumberg, and several grandchildren.

Visitation will start at 9 a.m. Tuesday at the Hatcher Evangelical Center, 1038 W. Sedgley Ave., followed by services at 11 a.m. Entombment will be at River's Edge Memorial Center in Philadelphia.

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