Bishop Iola B. Cunningham
Bishop Iola B. Cunningham was born in Lancaster, South Carolina to the late Frank and Delphine Bell. She was reared in a good Christian home with spiritual guidance in her upbringing. She was educated in Great Falls, South Carolina. Before moving to Washington DC, she was given in holy matrimony to the late Virgust Cunningham. She had a desire to further her education and was blessed to graduate from Martha Washington Vocational School, majoring in tailoring and interior design.
With her Christian background, she soon became a member of the Tenth Street Baptist Church. Her duties at Tenth Street involved; teaching Sunday School and the Annual Leadership School, and serving as a member of the Senior Choir, Spiritual Advisor of the Youth Department. These duties only marked the beginning of a dedicated and devoted Christian.
In July 1963, Iola Cunningham was led by the Lord to organize a prayer band in her home. the prayer group consisted of five members. Many were added and much good was accomplished. Graced with His approval, God called and anointed Iola Cunningham to preach the Gospel. She responded to His call and was licensed on May 26, 1964, by her Pastor, the late J.L. Henry of Tenth Street Baptist Church. Later, Evangelist Cunningham, receiving tutoring in the Ministry from the late Rev. Frank Killingsworth, DC, Founder and Supervising Elder of the Kodesh Church of Emmanuel, was also ordained by him on June 12, 1965. She then served in the evangelical field as an associate minister under her former Pastor, the late Dr. Henry and the late Rev. J.T. Jennings, Sr. of Tenth Street baptist Church.
Her previous experiences, her duties and her training all led to a new dimension in her life. On January 2, 1970, God called her to Pastorship. She held several revivals, which included a street revival the entire month of August 1970, and two revivals at the Salvation Army's Chapel in November 1971 and June 1972. It was during the June 1972 revival when Rev. Iola B. Cunningham publicly announced the birth of a new church in Washington, DC and named it Bethesda Kodesh Church of Immanuel. Bethesda remained under the Kodesh Church for seven years. However in 1980, by request, the Office of Recorder of Deeds granted Bethesda her independence under her new body - New Life Gospel Church.
On June 19, 1983, Pastor Cunningham was consecrated and set apart to Office of Bishop and Supervising Elder by the late Bishop C.R. Christian and Bishop Calvin Herbert. Asked "Why the Lord ordained her to those offices?" Only the Lord Himself could answer the question - for He knew that "not many days hence" there would be churches born under the New Life Gospel body.
Bishop Cunningham's greatest blessing occurred as she visualized her 20 year old vision come to pass-- the vision of building a new edifice for "souls of men crying in the wilderness" in the Kenilworth Avenue, NE Corridor. Bishop Cunningham is the first female minister to build a church from the ground up in Washington, DC and God has blessed her to do so at this special time in her life.