This week's Chicagoan: Derrick B. Wells, pastor and senior minister at Christ Universal Temple | Chicagoans | Chicago Reader

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This week's Chicagoan: Derrick B. Wells, pastor and senior minister at Christ Universal Temple

"There is no occasion wherein I am outside of the presence of God. This interview is a God experience."

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A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.

"I did not grow up in church. I had an aunt who attended Christ Universal Temple, and when she came home she would give cassette tapes of the services to my grandmother, and she'd play them, and I'd hear this voice coming from my grandmother's room. It was a high-pitched kind of voice, but it was very powerful. I don't remember the content, but I remember the conviction.

"I was not born with a silver spoon. I was raised in a single-parent family. My mother was a welder by trade. My sisters and I loved our mother, and she loved us. But you know, when your mother has to work long, hard hours to provide for three children, that leaves some potential for gaps in your development.

"When I was about 19 years old, I knew I needed to find a new and different trajectory, to see what else life held in store. I was a young man in trouble, and I knew that was not really where I wanted to be.

"I called my aunt and asked her if I could go to church with her at Christ Universal Temple. She agreed. The first Sunday I came, three people walked in front of the congregation. One of the people was a lady. The top part of the service had singing and announcements and such, but not until it was time for the sermon did I get to hear this lady. And once the lady opened her mouth, it was not the voice I had heard on my grandmother's tapes.

"I came back the next week. There was some singing and worship, and then a woman got up and said a couple words, and that wasn't her either. I came back the following Sunday, and there was some singing and some worship, and a lady got up, and she opened her mouth, and that was the voice. All I really wanted to hear was the voice.

"That lady was the Reverend Dr. Johnnie Colemon, who founded our church in 1956. It is a New Thought Christian church, which means that we concentrate on the principles that Jesus taught, and our focus is primarily upon teaching people how to live better lives through the renewing of their minds.

"We believe that the nature of Creation is good, so that's what we focus on. When you come here, you will hear about how special you are. We teach you about your divine capacity and how to apply it so that you can begin to live a better life. We pray and meditate upon God and those aspects of ourselves which are good. All of those things begin to transform our consciousness, and that begins to create new experiences for us.

"There is no occasion wherein I am outside of the presence of God. This interview is a God experience. Sometimes experiencing God feels like bliss. Sometimes it feels like peace. Sometimes it feels like love. Sometimes it feels like you're getting on my nerves. Whatever I'm experiencing at any moment may not be consistent with what we might consider as nirvana or as Christ consciousness, but given that God is the only reality, I'm always feeling God's presence. The question is whether or not I'm conscious of it."

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