Clinging tight to his freshly signed poster, Paine College student Ian Spencer glanced excitedly toward the celebrity table.
“I can’t believe I just met Thelma,” he said.
Best known for her five years on the 1970s sitcom Good Times, Bern Nadette Stanis joined fellow cast members Jimmie Walker (J.J.) and Ralph Carter (Michael) as guest speakers Wednesday evening at the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church’s Sixth Episcopal District conference.
“Good Times is my all-time favorite show,” said Spencer, 37. “Never in my wildest dreams did I think I’d meet Thelma, Michael and J.J. face to face. These are great people, and I’m just so thankful for the opportunity.”
The event – with a theme of experiencing God through faith, family, spirituality and love – took place at Paine College’s Health Education Activities Learning Complex.
An estimated 1,200 people attended Wednesday’s program, including representatives from more than 300 Georgia churches.
“It’s our honor to be here,” Carter said. “I grew up in a faith-filled home, and that helped make me who I am today. My mother was strong, but at the same time she was very loving and nurturing.”
Stanis’ message to those in attendance revolved around unity.
“Life’s about family,” she said. “It’s about love. It’s about everyone staying strong and staying connected.”
Jetson Maness, a presiding elder, said he was a loyal Good Times viewer from 1974 to 1979 and was “beyond honored” to have the former cast members attend their annual conference.
“To be able to hear (Stanis, Walker and Carter) speak about their personal faith and spirituality is truly special for our conference,” he said.
Although the Good Times series finale aired 35 years ago, Maness says lessons from the television series have remained with him.
“From struggles to happiness, we learned a great deal from watching Good Times,” said Maness, who was James Brown’s pastor for half a decade. “The teachings they shared during those years were tremendous.”
Donnell Holt, of Augusta, echoed Maness’ message.
“Having grown up in the inner-city, I definitely relate to the show,” the 32-year-old said. “It’s very comical, but at the same time it teaches you things. It shares great lessons.”
The Christian Methodist Episcopal Church conference concludes Thursday with a 10 a.m. service led by Dr. Frederick D. Haynes, the pastor of Friendship-West Baptist Church in Dallas, Ga.
The service is open to the public.