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  • Hector Amezcua /

    Kings chaplain Sherwood Carthen, right, meets with Jabari Smith in 2004.

  • Renee C. Byer /

    Bishop Sherwood Carthen announced the Difference Maker Awards. Over a thousand people joined in a Martin Luther King, Jr. Celebration at Capitol Christian Center in Sacramento Sunday night. Photo taken Jan. 16, 2011.

Bishop Sherwood Carthen, 54, was influential church and community leader

Published: Wednesday, Sep. 25, 2013 - 11:14 pm
Last Modified: Tuesday, Oct. 1, 2013 - 4:04 pm

Bishop Sherwood C. Carthen, a prominent Sacramento church and community leader whose influence reached beyond the pulpit to city streets, City Hall and the Sacramento Kings, died Wednesday. He was 54.

The cause of death was unknown. A leading figure in the faith community, Carthen appeared at a public event Tuesday with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson and other pastors to kick off a fundraising campaign to help homeless people.

“Today we lost a special friend, a loving father, a committed husband and a great leader who led not only with powerful words from the pulpit, but by extending his ministry beyond the walls of the church,” Johnson said in a written statement Wednesday. “My prayers are with his family.”

Carthen was senior pastor at Bayside of South Sacramento since the church opened in 2005. A charismatic man with a rhythmic and emotional style of preaching, he drew more than 2,000 worshippers to services each weekend. He started the congregation as a satellite of Bayside Covenant Church in Granite Bay and previously served as pastor at Family Worship Center on Florin Road.

At 6-foot-4 and more than 350 pounds, he was a commanding leader who spoke out with a compassionate heart on public health, welfare and political issues. He founded and was director of Our Family Community Foundation, a nonprofit group helping parents and children find educational, tutorial and social opportunities.

As a leader in the National African American Tobacco Education program, he promoted efforts to eliminate tobacco use among blacks. In the 1990s, he broke a silence in the African American community around HIV and AIDS with a public call for understanding and compassion for people with the disease.

Carthen was also a leader in grass-roots efforts to reduce neighborhood violence in Sacramento. He marched against drive-by shootings and hosted public forums on crime and social issues. He worked with coalitions of residents, church leaders and law-enforcement officials to develop the Ceasefire project, the Cops and Clergy initiative and other programs to reduce violence by reaching out and offering alternatives to gang members.

“He had the respect of all his colleagues in the clergy and the respect of young men and women on the street,” said DeAngelo Mack of the Sacramento Violence Intervention Program. “He was all about the community.”

Religious values guided Carthen as a leading voice in United Pastors of Sacramento, a coalition of African American churches. In 1992, he led a church-based coalition opposed to a Sacramento ordinance granting recognition to same-sex couples as domestic partners and ran unsuccessfully for City Council. He was one of a growing number of African American clergy speaking outside the pulpit on political issues, including support for City Council candidates and Johnson’s proposal to change the city charter.

“Whatever influence I carry, I’m grateful for that,” he told The Bee last year. “But just because I lead a church, that does not preclude me from endorsing a candidate.”

A former athlete who once dreamed of playing in the NBA, Carthen volunteered for many years as chaplain to the Sacramento Kings. Widely known to fans, workers and NBA players at Sleep Train Arena as “The Rev,” he led pregame Bible discussions and prayers for the Kings and members of opposing teams.

“As chaplain of the Kings, Bishop Carthen has mentored countless Kings both past and present,” team minority owner Phil Oates said in a written statement. “He was an outstanding preacher, but an even better friend to all.”

Born Sept. 2, 1959, in Oklahoma, Sherwood Clay Carthen graduated from McClatchy High School in 1977. He earned an associate degree from Sacramento City College and attended William Jessup University in Rocklin. He previously worked as a manager at the state Department of Motor Vehicles.

He lived in Elk Grove with his wife, Charlene, who survives him. Information about services was not available Wednesday.

“From ministering the word of God to fighting crime through the Cops and Clergy program as well as being the chaplain for the Sacramento Kings, he had an undeniable passion for changing lives,” said the Rev. Les Simmons of South Sacramento Christian Center. “He was a dear friend and mentor who lived his life by the principles he taught. He was an agent for change.”

Call The Bee’s Robert D. Dávila, (916) 321-1077. Follow him on Twitter @Bob_Davila.

Read more articles by Robert D. Dávila

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