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Pastor Cecil Wiggins
The Rev. Cecil Wiggins, who grew Jacksonville’s Evangel Temple Assembly of God from 80 members in 1964 to a powerhouse congregation with 1,700 attendees, died Saturday. He was 87.
Rev. Wiggins reached people through personal evangelism and cutting-edge radio and TV programs. He started a ministry, Samaritan House, that provides a food pantry and clothes closet for about 80 families a week. He brought “Heaven’s Gates, Hell’s Flames,” a Christian play that has traveled the world, to Evangel for 28 years.
He took teams on multiple mission trips to build churches in Central America, South America and Europe. Under his guidance, Evangel placed a heavy emphasis on missions and ranked No. 21 among the 10,000 Assemblies of God churches in the United States in giving, with $800,000 for 2017 alone. Since the 1980s, Evangel has given about $12 million to missions and supports about 140 missionaries and ministries monthly, said his grandson, Jordan Wiggins, who is missions pastor.
Rev. Wiggins had “extremely creative” outreach efforts, including focusing ministry to business leaders in Northeast Florida, according to a 2010 Florida Times-Union story.
After several decades, Evangel outgrew its 1,000-seat sanctuary and built a 3,200-seat one that opened in 2000, Jordan Wiggins said.
For many years, Rev. Wiggins was one of the sectional leaders of the Peninsular Florida District of the Assemblies of God.
“Civic, business and government leaders knew him as a man of integrity,” Jordan Wiggins said. “When he gave his word, it was his bond.”
Rev. Wiggins was born in 1930 in Evergreen, Ala. As a high school senior he felt called to the ministry and attended Southwestern Assemblies of God College in Waxahachie, Texas, his grandson said. He was an evangelist for a year before pioneering a church in Demopolis, Ala. Later he pastored in Memphis before coming to Evangel in 1964. He was lead pastor at the church at 5755 Ramona Blvd. for 45 years and pastor emeritus for eight years after turning over the reins to his son, the Rev. Garry Wiggins, in 2010.
The Times-Union cited his “reputation for the promotion of conservative biblical values through progressive use of media.”
“His love for everybody that he met was very impactful,” said another grandson, Shawn Kisser, who heads the church’s multimedia division, which now includes live screening to thousands of people across the world. “Everybody saw his love whether it was a homeless person he met for the first time or a loved one that he had seen grow up. He was a very loving and compassionate man.”
Evangel staff member Chris Screws, who said Rev. Wiggins played an instrumental role in his life, added that he was impressed not only by his communication skills in the pulpit but his life outside it. “I watched him over the years give so sacrificially, humbly and anonymously,” said Screws, adding that he always knew people by name. “He would take his own personal money and give according to the need. “He was so great with the crowd of hundreds,” Screws said. “But he cared about every individual that made up that crowd. I think that’s why the church has been so special.”
Even after his “retirement” eight years ago, Rev. Wiggins was still in the office almost every day and remained active ministering, teaching, calling people and making hospital calls.
A viewing will be from 5 to 7 p.m. Wednesday at the church. The service will follow at 7 pm. A graveside service will be Thursday at Riverside Memorial Park, 7242 Normandy Blvd.