The Late Otha Miema Kelly born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, September 12, 1897 was the fifth son of Louis and Sarah-Jane Kelly. He attended the Monroe Public School in Forest County, Mississippi where he excelled as a student. His Baptist father and Methodist mother provided a home for their children in which the presence of God was very real.
In November 1912, the Holy Ghost fell in that home. Otha’s father and mother were gloriously filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke with other tongues as the Spirit gave utterance. On March 15, 1913 at 15 years of age, Otha himself was saved under the preaching of one I.E. McFadden, a graduate of Alcorn College, who lifted his sights beyond the confining boundaries of Mississippi’s piney woods. Through Elder McFadden, he came under the influence of the spellbinding preaching of Bishop Charles Harrison Mason.
On March 15, 1917, he left Mississippi for Chicago, Illinois. There he met the late Bishop William Roberts, the late Mother Lillian Brooks Coffey and became a member of The Church Of God in Christ. He received the Baptism of the Holy Spirit in a revival conducted by Elder S. H. Jones of Nashville, Tennessee. With all of his heart, young Otha Kelly threw himself into the work of the Church Of God in Christ in Chicago, Illinois.
In November 1918 just as World War I was ending, he attended the Convocation in St. Lows, Missouri with his pastor, Overseer William Roberts. On the last day of that Convocation at a water baptismal service, two things determined the course of his life: the dynamic message by Bishop C. H. Mason and the meeting of young Miss Maudell Bottoms. C. H. Mason became the model he would follow the rest of his life. Maudell Bottoms was the girl that he would marry on February 12, 1920 and live with for 50 years until her death in 1970.
In 1924, he was appointed vice-president of the Youth Department of Illinois. A year later he became president. This was the beginning of a steady climb through the ranks of officialdom in the Church Of God in Christ; the church to which he would give all his energies and whose spirit he would embody so completely. He served in Illinois as youth leader, evangelist and pastor until 1930.
In 1930, he logged 20,000 miles as an evangelist, landing in New York City on Christmas Day 1930. Early in 1931 he was given a struggling little mission in Rockaway Beach, New York. He pastured in Rockaway Beach until 1935.
In 1934, after prayerful consultation with Elder Frank Clemmons and others, Bishop C. H. Mason appointed Elder O. M. Kelly Overseer of Eastern New York. Beginning with 16 missions, he prayed and worked until God brought Eastern New York Jurisdiction to its present strength of 170 churches and Missions, hundreds of preachers and missionaries and thousands of saints organized into 22 districts. He served The Church of God in Christ in every conceivable capacity. Every organization and every department of the denomination has been served by Bishop O. M. Kelly. He has built churches from the ground from Lexington, Mississippi, the birthplace of the denomination to New York City and Long lsland, New York. It is not strange that he was thought of as “Mr. Church of God in Christ”.
Bishop Mason closely observed O. M. Kelly’s career from the early 1920’s. In June 1951 when he himself was 85 years of age and in need of strong help for the rapidly spreading denomination, Bishop C. H. Mason chose Bishop O. M. Kelly of Eastern New York, Bishop J. S. Bailey of Southwest Michigan and Bishop A. B. McEwen of Tennessee as an Executive Commission to oversee the work of the denomination. In the years of Bishop Mason’s decline and following the years of his demise, Bishop O. M. Kelly was a tower of strength whose dedication, commitment and loyalty helped to assure the Church’s continued growth.
From his election as Presiding Bishop of the Church of God in Christ in 1968, Bishop J. O. Patterson found in Bishop O.M. Kelly a loyal, wise, sober, strong, unequivocating support. It is for this reason that he recommended to the General Assembly that Bishop O.M. Kelly be named First Assistant Presiding Bishop of The Church Of God In Christ in 1976. The General Assembly unanimously consented.
From 1935 until his death, Bishop Kelly pastored the Mother Church Of God In Christ bringing it from a tiny storefront at Fifth Avenue and 137th Street through a number of storefronts to a church structure at 128th Street and Park Avenue and finally to a beautiful and spacious edifice built from the ground up on 130th Street between Fifth and Madison Avenues in Harlem. He burned the mortgage in 1972. Kelly Temple today is a powerful testimony to his leadership ability.
O. M. Kelly and Mrs. Maudell Kelly had two children that they loved dearly;
his oldest child, a daughter Dorothea and a son, James Clifton. After
the death of Maudell he was united in Holy Matrimony with another beautiful,
saintly woman, Mrs. Bessie White Kelly on October 9, 1971. For 11 years
she loved him, served him, and prayed for him with all her strength and
It is given rarely to an individual the privilege of capturing the imagination of his age and thereby becoming a symbol of the hopes, aspirations and dreams of his fellows. By the grace of God, Bishop O.M. Kelly became the voice of reason and strength for the Church Of God In Christ. His strength was our strength, our strength was his strength, and his courage was the courage he drew from the Faith he proclaimed. He was Mr. Church of God in Christ.
One eminent divine put it well when he said the time and place of a man’s life on earth are the time and place of his body, but the meaning and significance of his life are as vast and far-reaching as his gifts, his times, and the passionate commitment of all his powers can make it.
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