Bishop William Lee Bonner



When the Africans were brought to America, chains were not only placed on their physical beings but also on their minds and spirits. The Africans enslaved in America were stripped of their cultures, languages and names. These slaves were to speak English, experience re-socialization and given the name of their slave owners.

The name Bonner is of Norman-French origin, and means prosperity and good bearing.  The first Bonners went to Britain during the 11th century after the Norman Conquest.  The first Bonner arrived in America from Britain in 1678.  It was in the late 1790’s that Bonners immigrated to Georgia from the colonies of Maryland and Virginia.  It is probable that the African ancestors of William Lee Bonner worked on these Bonner plantations.

Bishop William Lee Bonner was born to Emmett and Janie Bonner on November 12, 1921, in Milledgeville, Georgia in Baldwin County, which is northeast of Macon.  During the Civil War, Milledgeville was the state capital for Georgia.  When William was born, Miller S. Bell was its mayor.  Segregation was formally introduced in the late 19th century in Georgia.  This is the environment where William and his siblings Leola, Emmett Jr., Louise and Richard would receive the introduction to American education and socialization. They received their initial education in a one-room Nazarene school.

William observed many in the African-American community resist Euro-American domination and during his early life saw these individuals targeted by the Ku Klux Klan.  During the 1920’s many African-American Georgians supported Marcus Garvey’s (1887-1940) “Back to Africa Movement”.  Within their communities, they established their own social institutions, schools and churches, in the backlash of discrimination.

Emmett and Janie saw to it that their nuclear family was one of discipline and nurturing.  They raised their children in Judeo-Christian principles and attended the Oak Grove Baptist Church.  William would later join the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church (CME).  In the CME church, he would become Sunday School Superintendent.  Being raised in the House of the Lord and divinely chosen to be a shepherd at the age of 14, he received a divine call to minister the gospel, a call that he would later fulfill in life.

William was 8 years old when the Stock Market crashed on October 28, 1929.  This led to the Great Depression in the 1930’s.  The farming industry suffered greatly during these troubled times.  Emmett was able to support his family primarily by farming and from Mr. Wat Evans dairy.  During the depression, many farmers found that dairying gave them a steady income.

Emmett taught his sons farming, a vocation that William decided was not for him.  Therefore, he would find employment in the construction industry.  One day while working on a building at Central State Hospital, he fell off a scaffold and received neck injuries.  His injuries were serious and his prognosis was not favorable.  While in the hospital, an Euro-American missionary witnessed to him of Christ’s power to save those who are lost.  Her words convicted his spirit and lead him to be converted.  Upon his conversion, he was miraculously healed.  With his hospital discharge, he traveled to Atlanta and found employment with the Davison Construction Company.

In 1941, while in Atlanta he heard music coming from a church on Lee Street.  It was a Church of Christ of the Apostolic Faith, pastored by Eder Isaiah Bollinger.  Bonner again heard the voice of God speak to him saying “I have a baptism that you are to be baptized with.” While Elder Bollinger was preaching Bonner went straight to the pulpit and told the Elder he wanted to be baptized.  At that time the pool was empty, but as Elder Bollinger saw the sincerity in Bonner’s heart the saints with buckets filled the pool with water and he was baptized.   Bonner began to fellowship with this church and when time came for the national convocation at the mother church in New York City, Bonner was eager to go.

William was excited about the new life he found at the Pentecostal Church.  He began to see that the baptism of the Holy Ghost was still available for those that believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and that the fullness of the Godhead in the Lord Jesus Christ is their inheritance.  A national convention was taking place in New York City’s village of Harlem and some of his fellow church members were going.  William decided to go with them to this annual holy convocation of The Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, presided by Bishop Robert Clarence Lawson (1883-1961).  William was so inspired by the convocation and Bishop Lawson that he decided not to return to Atlanta but stay in New York.

It was at the mother church, Bishop Lawson’s Refuge Church of Christ of the Apostolic Faith that William received the birth of the Spirit, with the evidence of speaking in tongues as the Spirit of God gives utterance.  This Christian experience gave him a greater love for God and for His work.  Bishop Lawson saw the gift that was within William and offered him a job as his personal chauffer.  William accepted the position and Bishop Lawson became his mentor.  William soon was made Junior Pastor at the Refuge Church of Christ.  When the time came for the Refuge Church of Christ to move from 133rd Street to 124th Street and Seventh Avenue, Bishop Lawson changed the name to Refuge Temple.  It was during this period that William (now Elder Bonner) was appointed to be Bishop Lawson’s assistant pastor at the Refuge Church on Greene Avenue in Brooklyn, NY.

During William’s employment as Bishop Lawson’s chauffer, he met and fell in love with Bishop Lawson’s secretary, Miss Ethel Mae Smith (1918-1999).  They were married by Bishop Lawson on November 18, 1944.  To this union two children were born, Ethel Mae (Bunny) Bonner-Archer (1946-2006) and William Lee (Billy) Bonner, Jr.

In 1946, Bishop Lawson sent William to pastor a small store-front church in Detroit, Michigan.  This church was originally affiliated with the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World; but, through Elder Mann, they were aligned with the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith.  This church was named the First Detroit Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ.  Under William’s pastorate, the congregation multiplied and is presently known as Solomon’s Temple on East Seven Mile Road.  It was in Detroit that the 29th national holy convocation would be held and hosted by Elder Bonner in 1960.  This was the last convocation that Bishop Lawson (1883-1961) would attend before his death and appointed Elder Bonner as Bishop over the states of Louisiana, Alabama and Georgia during this convocation.

In 1961, with the death of Bishop Lawson, Bishop Bonner was appointed to the Apostle Board, the highest governing body of the denomination.  Bishop Bonner also served as supply pastor of the mother church, Refuge Temple in Harlem.  His success as supply pastor lead to his permanent pastorate of the mother church.  He had a remodeling program and the church became one of the most modern churches in Harlem.  The name was changed from Refuge Temple to the Greater Refuge Temple and it experienced tremendous growth.

From 1961 to 1987, he was the pastor of two churches: Solomon’s Temple in Detroit and the Greater Refuge Temple in New York City.  It was in 1987, that Bishop Bonner would become the founding pastor of Refuge Temple in Jackson, Mississippi.  This church uniquely designed by Bishop Bonner is known as the Space Age Church.  In 1991, another church would be added to his pastorate, the Refuge Temple Church of Washington, DC.

In 1992, the international convocation of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith would be held in Columbia, South Carolina.  Columbia is one of the largest cities in South Carolina.  It was chosen to be the state’s capital in 1786 and it became a charted city in 1854.  It was in 1860 that South Carolina seceded from the United States and the city of Columbia, for a period, served as the Confederate meeting place.  After the Civil War, Jim Crow Laws were passed in 1865.  It is ironic that during reconstruction, South Carolina state legislators would include former slaves, yet it would not be until the 1970’s that visible traces of segregation would disappear.  It was in the state of South Carolina and in the city of Columbia, that Bishop Bonner prophetically saw a Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ work.

Bishop Bonner asked Elder Richard S. Johnson and Mother Peggy Johnson to assist him in establishing a Columbia work. He also asked Brother Alexander and Senior Missionary Shirlene who relocated to Columbia from the mother church to assist him. Elder Johnson was the founding pastor of Faith Temple that was located on Two Notch Road.  Elder Johnson was instrumental in finding the site for the work.  It was in January, 1993, that the Bishop’s Conference would be held in Columbia and at the close of the conference, Bishop Bonner had the ground-breaking ceremony of January 30, 1993 on Argent Court and Hyatt Avenue, in the Windermere Neighborhood of Eau Claire.  Bishop Bonner would hold services at the Holiday Inn and on July 20, 1993 moved these services to Faith Temple and organized Refuge Temple.  This was a unique fellowship with both churches working together.  Bishop Bonner and Elder Johnson agreed that when the Refuge Temple building would be completed the two churches would unite as one. Bishop Bonner would serve as pastor and Elder Johnson would serve as assistant pastor.  This work is Bishop Bonner’s crowing jewel and serves as the Southern Regional Headquarters of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith.  On Argent Court, a Temple has been erected as center for worship.  His ministry later included the Refuge Temple Family Life Center, Adult Community Apartment Complex, W.L. Bonner College and the R.C. Lawson Library.  This site was formally twelve acres of illegal drug activity and is now a beacon of light, erected on a five million dollar complex.  This complex was named by the Board of Apostles as the W.L. Bonner Educational Center and Cultural Complex in honor of Bishop Bonner’s work and legacy. 

Bishop William Lee Bonner went to rest from his labor on Friday, April 3, 2015, at his Detroit, Michigan home surrounded by his family. His earthly body now rest at Woodlaw Cemetery, Bronx, New York, however his spiritual body now he rest in the bosom of Abraham awaiting the trump of God at the rapture of the church. The Refuge Temple Church and the Southern Regional Headquarters of the Church of Our Lord Jesus Christ of the Apostolic Faith, Columbia, South Carolina, was the last pastoral endeavor established by Bishop Bonner and serves as his lasting legacy to the body of Christ. Blessed are the dead in Christ for their works do follow them.

The W. L. Bonner  College
The Retirement  Center
The R. C.  Lawson   Library
The Family  Life  Center

And I am not finished yet! So  I  would  like  to  say  to  all  Ministers,  Give  it  your  best!


1921:  Born to Emmett and Janie Bonner.
1942:  Arrive in New York City.
1943:  Received the Gift of the Holy Ghost
1944:  Became Jr.  Pastor at Refuge Temple NY.
1946:  Arrives in Detroit, MI (Orleans St. Church).
1959:  Hosted Youth Congress.
1959:  Rebuilds 2nd Church (Halleck & Dequindre).
1960:  Hosted international Convention.
1960:  Appointed Assistant Pastor of Green Avenue Church.
1961:  Took his first trip to Africa.

Pastor Bonner was one of 3 original Apostles who rebuilt the Church in Bokay Town and in London, England.
Presented the “12 Recommendations for the Common good”’
Appointed as   the Supply Pastor in New York City.

1963:  Completion of Refuge Temple in New York City.
1966:  Moved the church form Halleck and Dequindre to 2341 E. 7 Mile road. Also known as the “The Ark church.”

1971:  Began his first   Radio Ministry.
1972:  Acting Presiding   Apostle. First hotel based Convention held in Detroit, MI. NY Division in 4 districts: Diocesan Bishops/ Jr.  Bishops/Leadership/ Growth
1973:  Pastor  Bonner  becomes  the  official Presider  of  the  Church  of  our  Lord    Jesus  Christ,

Established the Niger, Ethiopian “Save the Children” Campaign.
Established Apostolic Commission for the World Evangelism.
Established Formal Foreign Missions.

1974:  $100,000.00 Ethiopia gift for famine.
1975:  Appointed  Dean Charles Wright as  Dean  of  Church  of  Christ  Bible  Institute. Dr Spellman as President. Retirement program for Widows and Pastors.
1976:  Sent 50 Jr. Bishops to establish churches.
Organized Holy Year of Renewal.
Literature / Lecture program to reiterate standards of Holiness and Apostles Doctrine  from the Word of God.
Started the Apostles Newsletters and Lifting Up the Standards publications.
1977:  Began other spiritual publications and began 2nd   phase of church expansion.
1978:  Built new school in Congo Town, Africa.
Began Television Ministry.
1979:  500 souls saved in Liberia, West Africa.
Indianapolis Memorial for Bishop R. C Lawson
1981:  Introduced the “Blessing Plan” (Deuteronomy 28:1-14)
Changed the name of the church in Detroit from “Church Of Our Lord Jesus Christ” to Solomon’s Temple.
1982:  The renovation of Solomon’s Temple was completed.
Hosted the 51st International Convention in Detroit.
Introduced the “10Year Plan”.

1985:  Listed in the “Who’s Who in Religion” book.
1986:  Built and dedicated the “W. L. Bonner Cultural Center in Detroit.
1988:  Built the refuge Temple Church of Jackson, Mississippi.
1989:  Pentecostal / Apostolic Fellowship Crusade.
1991:  Built and dedicated the “Refuge Temple Church of Washington, DC
1992:  Established the 6 year plan for Promotion of Bishops and Apostles.
1993:  Built the Refuge Temple Church of Columbia, SC
1994:  Built the W. L Bonner Retirement Center in Columbia, SC.
1995:  Built the Refuge of Columbia “Family Life Center”.
Established the fully accredited “W. L. Bonner College” in Columbia, SC.
Appointed the “ Chief Apostle” of the Church of our Lord Jesus Christ.
1998:  Built dedicated “Bonner’s Lake “in Columbia, SC.
1999:  Built  and  dedicated  the “ R. C Lawson  Memorial Headquarters  and  Cultural Center ‘ in  New York  City.
Built the “Royal Palace Mall in Detroit, MI.
Opened the Library of Pentecostal History in Detroit, MI.
Tribute to honor Bishop W. L Bonner and Rally night with all Pentecostal
Organizations at   the National
Convention held in Detroit, MI.
2002:  Built and dedicated the “Lawson Library” in Columbia, SC.


A $10 Million  Dollar  Empire  in  New  York
A $9 Million Dollar Empire in Detroit,  MI
A $1 Million Washington, DC
A $5 Million Dollar Empire  in  Jackson, MS
A 20. Million Dollar Empire in  Columbia, SC

TOTAL …………………………. $44 Million Dollars     


Bishop William L. Bonner

Bishop J.I.Clark

Bishop Matthew A. Norwood
Bishop J.P. Steadman
Bishop Frank Solomon
Bishop Henry Ross
Bishop Wilbur Jones
Bishop Gentle Groover


Bishop T.E. Woolfolk, Executive Secretary
Bishop Fred Rubin, Recording Secretary
Bishop Raymond Keith, Corresponding Secretary
Bishop Clarence Groover, Financial Secretary
Elder Richard Williams, Treasurer

The Late Bishop R.C. Lawson

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