Blakes’ funeral draws hundreds to celebrate minister’s life

There is a tradition in the African-American church that the funeral services of a confirmed Christian should not be marked by sadness but instead by joy. On Tuesday, the family, friends and congregants of Bishop Robert Blakes Sr. kept that tradition alive with a rollicking celebration that honored a man many of them called “Prophet.”

Blakes died April 11 after a battle with heart problems, and his funeral service was held Tuesday at the Pontchartrain Center. Hundreds of people, including dozens of ministers, attended the service, which featured tributes to Blake from his family, congregants and musicians.

Mayor Mitch Landrieu expressed words of appreciation for Blakes’ work in the city as the leader of New Home Full Gospel Ministries, and Bishop Paul S. Morton performed the eulogy.

Florentine Clark echoed sentiments expressed by several speakers when she said one of Blakes’ most obvious qualities was his love for his members and anyone he encountered. He affectionately referred to both men and women as “baby,” and Clark said that whenever she was feeling down, Blakes could always seem to sense it.

“If there was anything I knew about the man, it was that I knew that he loved me,” Clark said.

Blakes came to New Orleans from Woodville, Miss., more than 50 years ago and became pastor of the New Home Missionary Baptist Church in 1965, according to his biography. When Blakes took over the church, it had about 30 members. Now there are thousands in seven different locations in New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Hammond and Houston. His sons Robert Blakes Jr. and Samuel Blakes head some of the other locations.

One of Blakes’ most unique characteristics was his use of the moniker “Prophet,” a title he told others he adopted after receiving a special calling from God in 1977. In New Orleans, Blakes was well-known for healing services that residents flocked to be cured of ailments, and he was one of earliest members of the “Full Gospel” movement popular in the city.

Pastor Leroy Phoenix, who leads New Home’s Algiers location, said he met Blakes when he was somewhat ambivalent about God, but Blakes’ fire and dedication touched him. Phoenix referred to Blakes as his “spiritual father,” adding that his life would have been totally different if he hadn’t met him.

That was a common theme throughout the service. Bishop Fred Caldwell lauded the work Blakes did in the community, noting that mourners trekked to Kenner because they understood they lost a great man. Caldwell said Blakes wore many different hats, but all of his roles impacted people tremendously.

“We’re in here today because this man touched our lives,” Caldwell said. “What would your life be right now if you didn’t know him?”