The tributes to Thomas M. Menino rang out in Mattapan on Thursday night with a spirited prayer service at Morning Star Baptist Church, where clergy and elected officials praised the city’s longest-serving mayor for his unwavering commitment to the poorest neighborhoods.
Bishop John M. Borders III, pastor of the church, told the approximately 50 people gathered that Menino was a constant presence in the area, including during crises.
Borders recalled that Menino urged him to hold a community meeting at the church in the fall of 2010, after four people including a 2-year-old child had been fatally shot on nearby Woolson Street in a crime that shocked the city.
During that meeting, Borders said, “people were hurting, and crying, and angry” and demanding to know what officials would do to make the neighborhood safer.
“Thomas Menino was right in the middle of it all” that night, Borders said, adding that the mayor regularly told him, when speaking of public safety efforts, “John, it’s about the children. It’s about the kids.”
Borders also noted that years earlier, when his congregation was struggling to obtain a bank loan for construction of the church’s current building, “Thomas Menino made a few phone calls” and urged financial institutions to reconsider.
“He said, ‘Look at their finances again,’ ” Borders said. “Look at the importance of the church in that community.”
The pastor also offered advice during the celebratory service, which was originally planned as a get-out-the-vote rally before Menino’s death, for candidates seeking statewide office.
He said that if the hopefuls truly care about inner-city neighborhoods in Boston, “then you need to walk the streets like Thomas Menino did.”
One of the gubernatorial candidates, Democrat Martha Coakley, attended the service and addressed the crowd. She said in brief remarks that Menino proved “it’s not so much how you look or how smart you sound, it’s what you do.”
Coakley’s Republican rival, Charlie Baker, did not attend. Other elected officials in attendance included Councilor at Large Michelle Wu and state Representative Evandro Carvalho, a Dorchester Democrat.
Baker said he was suspending campaign events on Thursday and Friday because of Menino’s death. Coakley also canceled events Thursday, saying she would probably resume campaign activities on Friday, but she said she attended the Morning Star service when she heard later that it was being held.
Thursday’s service included singing from the Morning Star choir and a remarks from the Rev. Jeffrey Brown, associate pastor of Twelfth Baptist Church in Roxbury, who worked closely with Menino’s administration on efforts to stem youth violence.
Brown said Menino always spoke from the heart and added: “When you’ve got a leader with that kind of sincerity, you’ve got a real jewel. Can I get an Amen?”
The crowd responded with an enthusiastic “Amen.”
Borders, the Morning Star pastor, also spoke directly to Menino’s widow, Angela, who was not in attendance.
“We lost our mayor, but you lost your husband,” Borders said. “Your children lost their father.
“Just allow yourself to grieve . . . and know that the whole city and the whole country is praying for you.”
Also among the speakers was the Rev. William E. Dickerson II, pastor of the Greater Love Tabernacle in Dorchester.
Dickerson praised Menino for his support for “those who were less fortunate in Boston. . . . We have lost a political giant.”
Dickerson also shared a poignant moment from earlier in the day, when he first learned of Menino’s death.
Dickerson was driving home from Natick, he said, where he had testified before the Parole Board on behalf of an inmate seeking release.
He said he received a text message from his wife that said simply, “My mayor is gone.”