And when Marvis Frazier became Minister Frazier, the first man to congratulate him was his father, Joe, the legendary former heavyweight champion of the world.
The two men hugged each other in front of the congregation for almost two minutes, sobbing and patting each other on the back.
"I think most of you can see the change in the life of Marvis Frazier," Samuel Prince Fulton, the pastor of the church, said before the ordination. ''I think most of you can see that his decision to serve the Lord has elevated him just a little higher."
After those words, Frazier, sitting in the front row, walked up to the pulpit, a Bible in front of him, an ornamental star towering in back of him. The Pentecostal minister stared at the congregation. Then, in a loud, deep and powerful voice, he began to sing, "There's a lily in the valley, as bright as the morning sun. Amen, amen, amen."
With the congregation joining him verse for verse, Frazier smiled broadly.
"I give honor to my Lord and savior, Jesus Christ," said Frazier, who had been a deacon in the church for almost 15 years. "The Lord didn't have to wake me up this morning. He didn't have to start me on a new journey. But he did, and I'm here, and I feel so good. I just love the Lord."
Along with his parents, Joe and Florence Frazier, other loved ones shared his joy, including his wife, Daralyn, 34, and his two daughters, Tamyra, 10, and Tiara, 8, both of whom sang in the choir.
"God is getting tired of your foolishness," Frazier, who retired from the ring in 1988 with a record of 21-2, told the church members. "It is time for us to get real for the Lord. He won't show us the way without us picking up the good book and finding it out for ourselves first."
The church is in the heart of North Philadelphia, just a couple of miles
from the gym Frazier's father owns, a place where streets serve as baseball fields and porches serve as social halls. It is so small and intimate, with its dark blue carpet and sky-blue walls, that it looks almost like a living room. Church members handed out cardboard fans, provided by a neighborhood funeral home, during the service.
"The boxer has yet his gloves on," the Rev. Fulton said after the ordination. "The only thing that has changed is the arena."
It may be a long way from boxing to preaching, but Frazier made the transition seem effortless. He saw no contradiction between trying to savage men and trying to save them. Well, he added, maybe there was one distinction, if not a contradiction.
"I was a little bit nervous beforehand, but I figured preaching couldn't be as hard as facing Larry Holmes and Mike Tyson," Frazier said of the men who handed him the only defeats of his career. "Then again, now I'm fighting the devil, and those two can't be badder than the devil, can they? So I wasn't that nervous."
Always religious, Frazier said he had thought about preaching for about 15 years.
"I think the Lord was asking me to join him," said Frazier, who said he would remain in boxing as head of the regional district of the Golden Gloves. ''But I kept ducking him."
Then, last autumn, when he felt the calling becoming more and more powerful, Frazier asked for three signs, three "confirmations."
The first, he said, came the next afternoon, at a meeting of a social group aimed at helping troubled youngsters in Gloucester County, where a woman addressed him as "Reverend." The second came later that day, when a friend asked him if he had become a preacher yet.
"I couldn't believe it," Frazier said. "I thought they were joking. I was no preacher. What were they talking about? I said, 'I'm glad you see it, man, but when the Lord calls me, I'll know.' "
For Frazier, the third confirmation, which came the following weekend, was the most profound - and the hardest to dismiss. The Rev. Fulton told him that he had never advised anyone to become a preacher - ever. But the pastor had a
dream the night before, a dream so powerful that he was willing to break his own unwritten rule.
"My wife and I were teaching Sunday school down at the church when the pastor called me into his office," Frazier recalled. "I wondered what I had done. I felt like a little kid who did something bad - and didn't know what it was. He said, 'Deacon, I don't normally do this, but the Lord is calling you to the ministry.' He said the Lord spoke to him in his sleep. He said the Lord told him I would make a good preacher."
While the news stunned Frazier, it also uplifted him, as if he had just awoken from a glorious dream.
"It felt mighty good," Frazier said. "But it also scared me. I thought, 'If the Lord is calling me, why do I feel so inadequate?' "
Frazier said he wrestled with his feelings of inadequacy for about a year, finally resolving to become the minister that his friends and relatives thought he should become. He began taking courses at the Deliverance Bible Institute in North Philadelphia, and he began dreaming about the day he would deliver sermons, not punches. That day came yesterday, when the pastor stopped calling him "Deacon" and began calling him "Minister."
"I'm so proud of him," his father said, smiling broadly. "I'm proud of him no matter what he does."
And so too, it seemed, was the entire congregation.