Tuesday, September 27, 2011

In Memoriam: Dr. Robert H. Wilson

When one talks about his or her heroes, its difficult not to slip into hyperbole. If I fall prey to that fault, please forgive me...

About a year after coming to CitySquare (then Central Dallas Ministries), I was asked to serve as interim pastor for the Cornerstone Baptist Church of Christ. I love preaching. And I loved the prospect of being able to keep that gift 'sharp'. I still believe that the preaching ministry makes a difference in the lives of God's people. And I believe, still, that it is the instrument through which God instructs, inspires His people and the means through which He brings them into the Kingdom of God. 

But there was an ulterior motive as well...

The Cornerstone Church was organized by one of my preaching heroes, Dr. Robert H. Wilson, he was retiring and from a purely personal standpoint, I relished the idea of being able to preach behind the pulpit from which he held forth for better than a quarter of a century. Imagine my surprise when, I found out he would still be a member there and would be attending worship when he wasn't preaching elsewhere.

It was my great pride and privilege to experience his generous encouragement, on Sunday mornings and on Wednesday evenings when I would teach. But further, to have someone I had listened to on tapes and the old preaching albums when I began preaching nearly 30 years before, was incredible. He and his wife Elise were absolutely wonderful to my family and I've seldom known such gracious people as those at Cornerstone. 

Dr. Wilson has been a preaching legend in the Black Baptist Church for decades. His scholarship, his erudition, his elegant bearing and remarkable, intelligent, God honoring leadership has been the source of emulation for many preachers and pastors of my generation and before, for years. 

When I entered the ministry at the age of 18, a wonderful older woman, a co-worker of mine, gave me several albums of sermons, of the late Ceasar Clark and of Robert Wilson. To this day, one of the most creative and imaginative sermons I've ever heard is his 'The Jerusalem Watergate, A.D. 30: Uncovering the Cover Up', in which he compared the Watergate scandal with the Roman governments conspiracy to cover up the resurrection of Jesus.  Amazing!

Being with Dr. Wilson actually gave me the opportunity to let him know how much I appreciated the influence of his ministry. I was also able to give him on his birthday a cherished gift of mine, a biography of black preachers in which his biography is included. The book is out of print, but it was one in which I learned about his life. Almost 90 now,  he began preaching when he was 9 and pastoring when he was 16. 

But his most unique influence on me was his ability to write. He was the first black preacher I had ever known to write and to write regularly. Dr. Wilson had a weekly column in one of the minority papers in Dallas, the Post Tribune, entitled 'Thoughts I Think'. I had read that column ever since I was a teen-ager, and yes, he is indeed the inspiration that I have had for the writing that I have done over the past 20 years. 

Wilson came to Dallas from Jacksonville, Florida in the mid-sixties and succeeded another legend, Dr. E.C. Estelle at the St. John Baptist Church. Several years later he left St. John and organized Cornerstone. His was a ministerial career of great achievement. He was a great believer in Foreign Missions and was secretary of that department in the National Baptist Convention of America, Inc. for decades. He was the Executive Director of the Congress of Christian Workers, the Christian Education arm of the National Missionary Baptist Convention. 

Virtually everyone affectionately called him 'Dr. Bob', but getting to know him personally only increased my admiration for him as a person and as a preacher. He, his wife of 66 years Elise, his daughter Roberta and his son Robert, Jr., a friend since college, made us feel a part of the family. 

Several weeks ago, we went to see him and years of illness had left him a shell of his former self. Imagine again my surprise when after having been told that he remembered very few people he remembered me!

Dr. Wilson passed away yesterday, after a long, storied career in ministry and a legacy of boundless love for the church, the people he led, his colleagues in the ministry and his family. 

I used to tell me younger ministers that I felt sorry for them because they missed hearing some of the great preaching I grew up listening to. I was able to help correct that when I would have Dr. Wilson come and preach at New Mount Moriah when I was there. 

There are those of us who knew him, who started out wanting to preach like him. If we are wiser now, I think we only want to serve as well, if not as long. 

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