Gail M. Brown, Editor
When motorists drive past Black’s Chapel Church and Westhaven Memorial Funeral Home on Robinson Road and see numerous cars in the parking lots, most of them generally assume that there is a major funeral going on.
However, this past Saturday evening that was not the case. The family-owned and operated funeral home was holding its annual Christmas fellowship of giving back to the community.
During the event, the owners – a sister-and-brothers trio team: Audrey Wiley, Anthony Davis, and Freddie Davis – hold what is considered by many a spirit-filled fellowship service, featuring a local minister and the “popular” gospel choir they organized called the Westhaven Memorial Choir.
In addition to the fellowship service, the entrepreneurs give away numerous holiday gifts and toys to families in attendance. Over the years the event has grown by word of mouth and hundreds of people show up each year for the service where they could take home such items as dinette sets, televisions, digital cameras, radios, games, dishes, toys and much more.
“This year at our Jackson give-a-way, I think we gave away about 350 gifts,” said Anthony Davis, one of the owners, who also is a teacher at Siwell Middle School in southwest Jackson. “We’ve been holding this event since we became owners of the funeral home in 1996. The people have been so good to us, and we show our appreciation by giving back.”
When asked how they come up with the gift ideas, he told The Mississippi Link: “We just think of some of the things we would like, so that’s what we buy.” Davis admitted that their sister Audrey mainly does all the shopping for the giant give-a-way.
He said she generally kicks her shopping spree off on Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.
Attendees are given a ticket as they enter the event, and if their ticket number is called, the family is blessed with a gift.
“I was hoping to get one of those dinette sets this year,” said longtime Jackson citizen Minnie Powell, who has attended all but one of the annual Christmas fellowships. “I won an eight-piece microwave dish set,” said Powell. She said her brother, a member of Mt. Nebo Baptist Church, got a “baby doll.” “He’ll probably give it to one of his little granddaughters,” she said.
Mt. Nebo’s pastor, the Reverend John Wicks, delivered this year’s holiday fellowship spiritual message. Ward 4 Councilman Frank Bluntson served as emcee.
“Traditionally, the late great Bruce Payne had served as the emcee of the program, and Audrey asked me to serve after he died,” Bluntson said. “I was so honored to do it. I always ask the standing-room only crowd to pause for a moment of silence in Bruce’s honor.”
Payne was a veteran gospel radio broadcaster, who earned the acclaimed title as “Mississippi’s Dean of Gospel Music.”
Regarding the event itself Bluntson had this to say: “I can’t even think of an adjective that fully describes the outstanding humanitarian service that Audrey and her brothers do for the community. “I wish you could see the joy on the people’s faces, even the ones that don’t receive anything.
“The service and the choir are enough to bring joy to anyone’s heart. Not only that, but after the service and the give-a-ways, they provide a dinner in the fellowship hall for everyone. I’m talking about chicken, dressing, a full-course meal, not finger food.”
According to the family, they hold the same kind of Christmas fellowship events at their Hazlehurst and Utica locations.
In a recent interview, Anthony Davis shared a heart-felt success story his brother Freddie shared with him about a fellowship in Utica:
“There was this little girl whose mother had died, and she had to live with her grandmother. The girl had been asking her grandmother for a bike for Christmas, but the grandmother had to constantly tell her she could not afford it. They attended the Utica fellowship and she won a bike. Freddie said that girl was so happy, she shouted so hard; she shouted all the way down the aisle and out of the sanctuary.” People still talk about that little girl’s excitment.
See highlights of the Westhaven’s recent Jackson fellowship on Page 5.