Bishop Norman Wagner, Pentecostal leader, dies

He was described as a visionary and was committed to service.


YOUNGSTOWN — Bishop Norman L. Wagner, longtime pastor of Mount Calvary Pentecostal Church on Oak Hill Avenue and past leader of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World, died Saturday. He was 68.

The Youngstown native graduated from South High School and Youngstown State University before earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in theology from Aenon Bible College in Columbus and Indiana Bible College in Indianapolis. He was installed as pastor of Mount Calvary in June 1971 and went on to author several books and establish a senior citizens complex, Calvary Christian Academy, and a television and gospel choir ministry, which brought him national recognition.

When Calvary Christian Academy closed in 2001, Wagner led the opening of a charter school, Legacy Academy for Leaders and Arts that year and still served as chairman of that school.

He was a guest at the White House on several occasions, including a 1982 luncheon at which President Ronald Reagan recognized 100 “Outstanding Black Clergymen in America.”

In 1976, The Vindicator named him one of the 10 most progressive pastors in the city.

He leaves his wife, Dr. Rita Helen; two daughters and a granddaughter.

Mayor Jay Williams, who attends Mount Calvary, said Bishop Wagner was charismatic, committed and a man of intelligence and integrity. He was committed in his service to God and serving others, and you couldn’t know him without coming away with a desire to serve others, the mayor said.

Wagner was known across this country and the world, yet he was a humble man committed to his ministry and his mission to serve, Williams said. His loss “is indeed incalculable” to his church and the community, Williams said. He added that he and his wife, Sonja, who also attends Mount Calvary, are “eternally thankful for the indelible impact that Bishop Wagner had on our lives. We will seek to honor his family and his legacy through our work serving others.”

Jason Whitehead, the mayor’s chief of staff and an assistant pastor at Mount Calvary, described Wagner as a “visionary” and “an exceptional religious leader of his time.”

Wagner was bishop of the Pentecostal Assemblies of the World’s 13th Episcopal district, which is the state of Texas, Whitehead said. As a national evangelist, he was much sought after as a preacher and teacher in Pentecostal apostolic circles, he said.

He had also served as a bishop in Europe for Assemblies, with his diocese being the European Council of Nations, Whitehead said.

His death is “a tremendous loss to the ministry,” Whitehead said, noting that impact will reach far into the community as well. Wagner was perhaps one of the best known ministers of any color in this area, he said.

Wagner’s service as pastor to his church would have reached 39 years in March. He grew up in Mount Calvary, Whitehead said, explaining that his mother had been a charter member of the church.

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