QUINCY — As an aimless young adult, the Rev. Bishop E.L. Warren had a spiritual moment — what he considers an awakening — that would alter the path of his life.
Warren grew up in an impoverished St. Louis neighborhood near St. Louis Avenue and Union Boulevard.
“My folks were poor. We grew up with gunshots in the backyard and drugs everywhere,” Warren said. “My brother gets into a fight and gets cut and stabbed. That was just kind of the norm down there. Carrying weapons was what we did.”
Warren was used to the chaos of that environment. It was all he knew as a child. He had the church, but it was more of an obligation than a calling.
“It was just something I was doing. I was still partying pretty strong on the weekends and doing all the things that folks do at that age,” Warren said.
Without a place in the world and doubting the prospects of any sort of future, Warren realized his lifestyle had only one outcome: tragedy.
“I had a real epiphany, a real awakening kind-of-thing in the year 1978,” Warren said.
“It was a real awakening, so much so that I stopped being rowdy and doing the things young people do and really got serious about my relationship with the Lord.”
Shortly after, Warren found himself caught in the middle of what he called a “racial riot” in St. Louis.
“A young Italian man had been stabbed to death, and so these Italians determined that the first black we see, we're going to kill him as revenge. I knew nothing of this,” Warren said. “I'm coming out of the office I work for. Get to the car. These guys come to the car and stick a pistol through the window.
“They're trying to pull the trigger because they want to kill me. I want to believe God prevented it because the gun didn't go off, and I got out of there. But again, I had already committed to the Lord. If I hadn't, that's probably the end of me right there. I'm probably a gunshot victim.”
Warren began taking leadership roles in the church, first becoming minister of music for the church in which he was raised.
“Very soon after this awakening, I met (Lady Ella),” Warren said of his wife of 38 years.
“She was a very pure young lady. She was more compatible with where I was going.”
He courted her for less than two years before the couple was wed. He proposed on their second date.
“December 1980, I accepted the pastorate and have been here since that time,” Warren said of moving to Quincy and forming Cathedral of Worship with Lady Ella.
He enrolled in the first theological school he could find, St. Louis Christian College, which was just up the street from his home.
“I didn't know it was denominationally Christian,” Warren said. “I just thought Christian meant Christians go there.”
In 2006 though, Cathedral of Worship became an extension campus of Life Christian University.
“While I was building the campuses, I was enrolled in the classes,” Warren said. “It took 10 years to go from ground-level to phD in theology. Most people can get it done in six or seven, but I'm doing that, still pastoring and still running campuses, while I'm taking and teaching courses.
“When you're young, you always feel like you can conquer the world. Coming into it, I thought I could just strictly do it based on my relationship with the Lord. I made a lot of mistakes early on, because I didn't have any training, but I was zealous. I was sincere. That alone helped us to grow.”
Outreach has been an unwavering principal in both Warren's life and the history of the Cathedral of Worship. Warren and the church have carved out particular niches doing missions work in penitentiaries and impoverished African nations. Cathedral of Worship has a presence in most penal facilities across the region.
“Our thrust has always been to go beyond these walls. We go into 23 prisons on an ongoing basis and minister the word of God,” Warren said. “Eighty percent of the population in the Department of Corrections are people of color. We couldn't ignore that. We felt like they need to see people of their same hue.
“A lot of the people on our prison team either have been incarcerated or have loved ones that either have been or are. They have a real passion to be a part of that kind of ministry. Probably a dozen of the people in this church were at one time incarcerated. That's the complete loop of the program. You go in minister, hope that when they get out they stay out and get involved, if not in this ministry then in some ministry. To me, that's seeing the whole circle.”
Warren is a published author. He writes a new educational workbook for the church's leaders each year, referencing the “unmentionables of ministry, the things you don't get in seminary.”
He has also written several books, some of which reflect events in his personal life.
“My daughter got pregnant the first year of college, without a husband. That's when I realized that I had shown my children love but never told them I love them,” Warren said. “I didn't want any pastor to go through the pain I felt when my daughter called me and said, 'I'm pregnant.' I wanted to give them the principles of how to support your daughter when they do something you think is a blemish on your ministry.
“I had some pastors leave my organization because they thought if the bishop's daughter is pregnant without a husband, why should we stay under his leadership. I chose to stay with my daughter and let those people go. I regret that I didn't tell her I love her, but I'm very proud of how I handled it. I felt like that was the right thing to do.”
Warren has ministered in 23 countries, six Bible colleges and 23 prisons. He has written six books. Cathedral of Worship is now an international church with satellite churches in nine states and several countries around the world.