The city of Chicago has hiccuped some the world’s leading Black-owned companies that made an impact on the business world. Many decades after the Great Migration of Black southerners, the dedication to our faith carried over state lines and created a northern bible belt revival of churches taking refuge in cities such as Chicago.
From A.M.E., Apostolic and Baptist,Protestant, C.O.G.I.C. and Catholic faiths–our churches play a significant role in maintaining stability in our Black communities. In 1956 one church in particular planted their roots in Chicago, developing a base that grew to reach hundreds of thousands over the next 55 years. Christ Universal Temple was established by one of the first women pastors in Chicago, Reverend Dr. Johnnie Colemon. Her vision and leadership created an international organization of affiliated New Thought churches and study groups called the Universal Foundation for Better Living from 1956
As a member of the New Thought Alliance (I.N.T.A.), Rev. Colemon achieved the tasks of building five structures to spread the “Better Living” teachings, including three churches and two institutions which houses the Johnnie Colemon Academy. As her congregation increased, once know as Christ Unity Temple—she constructed one of the first mega-churches in the 1970’s. Located on the far South Side, the beautiful white building can be seen from Interstate-57 and sits on the 100- acre campus at 119th and Ashland Ave. It is the pride and joy of the community.
After Rev. Colemon retired in 2006—and before her passing in December 2014—Rev. Derrick B. Wells was installed in 2011 as the Senior Minister of CUT, carry- ing the tradition of Rev. Colemon while incorporating a spark of renewed energy. Four years later, his leadership has brought the multimedia mega church to the next level in his role as senior minister of one of the largest and leading faith institutions in the region. Growing up Wells had his doubts on where exactly his path would lead him. Though he went to occasionally went to Catholic church as a child, he didn’t fully come into religion until adulthood.
“I can say to you with more equivocation I don’t remember a single solitary thing Father Cassan ever said, but I do remember treats after church. Whenever we had to go to church, I was excited about the treats. That was just about the extent of my religious upbringing,” Wells said.
Growing up, he unfortunately made poor choices that landed him in Cook County jail. While inside those walls, he began to understand, the shift in his path.
Wells said, “It helped me to become aware that this was not an experience or an environment that I was meant to be in long term…After that paradigm shift, I came out looking for something new.”
While searching for a church home or faith leader- ship, it didn’t strike a chord in him and so he continued his search to connect. As a kid, he heard his mother listen to Rev. Colemon’s sermons on tapes, and one day something propelled him to really listen to her message.
“I could hear the conviction in her voice. I could hear the conviction of the voice that was coming through the speakers from my grandmother’s room, and I was urged to find that voice,” he said. “My aunt attended Christ Universal Temple at the time so I called her and said ‘Will you come and get me? I’d like to go to church with you’. She did and the rest is history.”
“I just had not heard certain words or certain concepts like conscious mind and subconscious mind associated with a church or theological experience. So, as a thinker and a scientist of sorts it really, really intrigued me. I didn’t know that it was the hook at the time but just in retrospect and now that I look back on it, I’m seeing how excited I was to hear intelligence presented in a way that was absolutely reflective of God and I just loved it. I ate it up.”
“I began taking classes. I began volunteering. I decided that this experience was not going to be a spectator sport for me but rather that I was going to engage and see what would come out of it,” he said.
Over the next seven years, he took the teaching training course and served as a staff minister. Once he was ordained, he went on to serve on the board of directors where he decided to be considered for his current role.
Longtime church member and facilitator Bruce Montgomery comments, “Rev. Derrick Wells brings a unique style of honesty, humility and relevance to his teaching and preaching the principles of spirit and truth that engages audiences of all ages to grow and prosper.”
When you go on CUT’s website, there are various pro- grams that help groups find what best fits them. Whether it’s the Diamonds on the Move, which welcomes the 55 and up members, the Toastmasters Club—a program that encourages public speaking and leadership development. The Johnnie Colemon Institute provides ministry training for students seeking resources beyond Sun- day service, which has become the leading blueprint for other Christian organizations.
From having one of the leading musical programs that include classical trained vocalists and musicians to its signature ‘Burning Bowl’ programs, which allows visitors to release the emotional burdens of the previous year to define fresh and positive goals of the new year, CUT continues to keep it fresh.
A senior executive at a Chicago marketing agency, Ella Britton is the co-chair of Professionals Reaching Out (PRO) and member of CUT.
“Rev. Wells’ messages work for my spirit and my life. I also love how “real” he is. I can talk to him about anything without concern of being judged, because all he wants to do is help me to live a better life through the renewing of my mind and the embracing of my God-given inner power. I value his friendship and his counsel,” Britton said.
Pastor Rev. Derrick B. Wells is no stranger to humility. He is currently working towards his doctorate and he credits church and business leaders who have made a tremendous impact on their congregations and communities. The influence of elders who have adopted him keeps him grounded and never minces words in keeping him on his toes. As he works toward growing new programs such as working with Dave Ramsey on the Financial Peace University which is designed to assist people on achieving money management and practical choices.