Chances are, Bishop Ingo Beard started planning meetings a little earlier than you did. Beard began when he was a junior — in high school.

Beard's pastor at the time, O.T. Jones Jr., charged his Church of God in Christ flock with organizing an off-site meeting for its young people. It was 1976 and Beard — age 17 — and a friend went looking for a place to have what Jones called “The Dating Game for Young Christians.”

It was an eye-opening experience in more than one regard.

“We contracted the Howard Johnson's in Philadelphia,” Beard recalls. “We were surprised to learn, after signing the contract, that we couldn't bring our own beverages. We didn't know! We also had to meet with the food and beverage people and order rooms for people. It was all new to me.”

But Beard, who is now the executive meeting planner for the International Fellowship of Churches Inc. in Philadelphia, took that initial experience and built on it. Word traveled quickly that the young man had a knack for planning, and soon he was organizing music events all over the state for the 120 churches in his denomination's jurisdiction.

“Most of my training in meeting planning has come out of the church by going places and doing things,” he says.

At San Diego State University, Beard was elected president of several campus groups and did their meeting planning, too.

“My major was public administration. But to me, putting together the meetings, prayer breakfasts, and setting up retreats — that was a natural thing we did in church. I never knew then that what I did so naturally could have been a career!”

When Beard left college, he went into full-time ministry and founded the Center of Praise Ministries International, also in his native Philadelphia. “We went all-out on an evangelistic drive. We were doing meetings and conferences all over the United States and the Bahamas,” he says. “Then I was called to pastor, and we opened the Word and Truth Center.” This September, Beard celebrates his 10th anniversary as the church's senior pastor.

Beard coordinates, along with a planning committee, the International Fellowship of Churches' “Power Conference” annually in Daytona Beach and Bethune-Cookman College.

“Praise Celebration” is another of Beard's annual events, drawing more than 100 participants. It's usually held in Philadelphia.

“We also plan our pastors and leaders' retreat at Founders Inn in Virginia Beach. That's one of my most favorite places,” he says.

Complicating Beard's life for the past six years has been a physical ailment that might keep others at home and down. Not him.

“In 2000 I was stricken with renal failure, and I've been on dialysis ever since, three times a week, three to four hours a treatment,” he says, “and I still manage to be busier than I was before. It has not come to me as a pity party or regrets for what's going on. The Lord has Bishop Ingo where he wants me. I thank God for this condition. The condition has not dictated my faith in the Lord.”

Some days, because of his treatments, Beard tires. Other times, he is Bishop Ingo-izer Bunny

“The people at my church — and my mother — try to slow me down,” he says. “My mother is my partner in ministry. She's 89 going on 59. She'll be 90 in August, and she still keeps me in check. She lives in Houston with my sister, but she calls me every day. My church family keeps me in check. My armor bearer, Brother Mike Griffith, takes care of me and makes sure I get where I need to get. I thank God for my support group, my church, my family. I'm able to minister to other people on dialysis, or with dialysis.”

Beard remembers his first RCMA world conference, in Tulsa, Okla. Discovering so many people who did the things that he did, as well as the attendant support the members gave each other, was a revelation.

“I could not imagine there was a place to go where they were teaching what I do,” he says. “There was professionalism going on! The tutorial classes were absolutely awesome. I needed to take this class and that. And they had ‘Behind the Scenes’! The ministry that goes forth, and the entertainment, is absolutely first-class. I try not to miss a year because the industry changes continually. I would not even go to some of these cities unless it was for RCMA.”

Anything For the Family

Beard's talents as a budding planner came in handy for his family, too.

In 1976, the same year he planned his first church event, his mother's side of their family organized its first official reunion in Williamston, N.C.

“We have family property down there, and until that year everybody would come for a visit and pile into the family room,” Beard recalls. “The family was thrilled that somebody — me — would call the local Holiday Inn. I asked the manager if we could get this amount of rooms at a group rate.”

The answer was yes, and the family reunion has never been the same.

“It was no longer just my mother and her sisters and brothers showing up,” Beard says, laughing. “It was all my grandparents, their grandchildren, their great-grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.”

Once Beard knew what he was doing, it became his duty to train his younger cousins to get the reunion planning done. The family now has relationships with multiple hotels because the family has grown even larger.

So if you're ever in Williamston over the Fourth of July weekend, you'll see “Welcome Norman & Candie Hoggard-Wilson Family Reunion” on the sign outside.

“I talked this spring to the manager of the Holiday Inn, and she said, ‘Bishop, we've been working together for more than 30 years now. Isn't that amazing?’”

Ingo Arnaz Beard

Age: 46

Born and raised: Philadelphia

Family: Single

Education: Attended University of Texas at El Paso, graduated from San Diego State University

Hobbies: “I am a homebody. I enjoy my home; I enjoy being at home. I collect things from all over. I love to do interior decorating. A lot of friends tell me my home is a palace.”