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On Palm Sunday we drove out to 119th St. and Ashland Ave., on the South Side of Chicago, to hear Johnnie Colemon preach. It was worth the ride.

Ms. Colemon is the minister of the Christ Universal Temple, a sprawling edifice that includes an auditorium seating more than 4,000 and a full-service banquet facility. When we attended the 10:30 a.m. services, just about every seat in the auditorium was occupied by her mostly black parishioners. They were as enthusiastic and upbeat a group as I've ever seen, all decked out in fur coats and colorful dresses and gold lame.

Rev. Colemon, a tall, imposing woman, also is founder and president of the Johnnie Colemon Institute, the teaching arm of the Universal Foundation for Better Living. The institute, among other activities, confers masters certificates to those attesting to "master" all conditions in their lives.

If you heard her preach you'd know she'd accept nothing less from you. Her church believes that "it is God's will every individual on earth should lead a healthy, happy, prosperous life."

"Be determined to have victory within your own soul," she began, in a quiet voice that soon took on urgency. "I refuse to be a victim of circumstances any longer. Praise God, I am healed, right here, right now. ...

"You're one with God, and God never forgets about himself. I am healthy, I am healed, praise God."

With that the curtains opened and a hundred-member choir added their voices as a background to Johnnie Colemon's electrifying torrent of words: "There is a change taking place within me, I feel good all over. ... Receive and accept your healing right now. Bask in it for a minute."

And then the choir sang: "God is so wonderful to me. He's everything I hoped for, he's everything to me."

Then Joe Hall got up to make some announcements. "Don't forget Friday night buffet, all you can eat still only $8.95 ... ... audio and videocassettes of service ... Tele-pray ministry, dial 568-1789, recorded message of hope ...

There's no doubt that the institute is a very astute marketing machine, but there's also no doubt Johnnie Colemon preaches a very powerful message-and in a way her very success confirms her message of prosperity for all.

I do not say this cynically. "I really, really really know who I am," Ms. Colemon quoted Jesus saying as he rode on a donkey to Jerusalem the first Palm Sunday.

And then comes the clincher: "There comes a time, young people, when you have to say no, this is not what I want to do. You may have to say this more than once. Your body is the temple. Clean it out. You've got to get up 30 minutes earlier to put on your spiritual clothes."

Johnnie Colemon runs a tight ship-she even chastised her flock when they left in somewhat confused order. But it was obvious they hung on her every word (-as did we.)

And what's wrong with a ray of hope on a nippy Chicago morning?

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