When Suzanne Kelly thinks of stories that exemplify her father, the first ones that come to mind have nothing to do with the challenges of growing up Black in Jim Crow-era North Carolina.
Nor do they have to do with how he took over as pastor of Christ Temple Apostolic Church and moved the small congregation from St. Paul's Rondo neighborhood into a bigger building in Roseville. (Against the predictions of those who expected the church to fail in the suburbs, it grew, and paid off its mortgage in 10 years.)
For Kelly, the stories that linger longest about her father have to do with servant leadership. Bishop Charles J. Foye believed deeply in the redemptive power of Christ, and he showed it through prison ministries, food and clothing drives, volunteering at the Union Gospel Mission, and ministries for recovering and current addicts.
"He was always someone willing to give second, third, fourth chances to people," Kelly said. "He wasn't someone who condemned you if you did wrong, or if your lifestyle wasn't what you'd been taught. He was always willing to welcome you back to the fold and to pray with you."
Foye died last month after a yearlong battle with an aggressive form of brain cancer. He was 80.
When the AIDS crisis was a new and scary thing in the 1980s, Foye saw a denialism in the African American community and a disdain for those who had it. Foye's nephew was among those who contracted the virus. Instead of shunning the man, Foye embraced him. He nursed him and bathed him. At his church he created a ministry for those with HIV and AIDS.
"He began to talk about how AIDS was affecting the African American community and members of our church, and how we couldn't keep sweeping it under the rug," his daughter said. "He was constantly trying to educate us and not shy away from tough issues that church members were facing. And he never sought credit for that. I remember watching and thinking, 'This is what Christ's love is.' "
Foye is survived by his wife of 43 years, Christina. The two never had an argument. They led annual marriage retreats, and several attendees spoke at his November homegoing ceremony about how he helped their marriages.
Foye's ministerial work continued after he retired in 2012. He was a "community elder" in St. Paul schools, mentoring troubled youth in schools such as Ramsey Middle School.
When the pastor of a Milwaukee church got sick and died, Foye offered helped. He served as interim pastor for two years, making the 700-mile round trip twice a month with his wife. He asked for no money and put 30,000 miles on his car.
"The one lesson he wanted individuals to follow — and he'd sing it all the time — is, 'I can't lose my soul,' " said Jeffrey Smith, who was assistant pastor under Foye before becoming pastor. "If they had a relationship with God, he would provide them with the strength to get through troubles, heartaches, whatever may pass. Those lessons he taught us and that agape love will continue to live on because he spread it in the thousands of lives he reached."
In late September, Foye went into home hospice. A small circle of church members and family frequently visited, although the coronavirus pandemic made it far fewer than it would have been. He was inundated with calls and texts, though, and stayed peaceful until his final day. He died in his sleep, on a Sunday, Oct. 25, with his wife holding his hand. Along with his wife and daughter, Foye is survived by his son, Christian D. Russell, three sisters, four grandchildren, one great-grandchild, many nieces and nephews, and many more "young-uns" who called him "Dad" and "Granddad."
His life was founded on faith: His earliest memory was when he got double pneumonia as a toddler, his mother prayed and prayed, and he lived. When he was a teenager, he had a born-again Pentecostal experience. After moving to Minnesota in 1978 to work for the Army Corps of Engineers, he called to a new vocation, and became a minister.
"Because we are such strong people of faith," said Foye's daughter, herself a minister, "and because he so strongly talked about preparing yourself for when you make this transition, it is really a time of celebration."
Reid Forgrave • 612-673-4647