BALTIMORE, Md.–“It’s five minutes to three,” Rev. Marcus Garvey Wood announced to the crowd of family and staff gathered in his office, in a nod to punctuality that has been among the hallmarks of six decades in the pulpit. “The concert’s about to start.”
With that, the 92-year-old spiritual leader eased from behind the desk that used to belong to Dr. Martin D. Jenkins, late Morgan State University president, and walked with a slow but deliberate gait into the packed sanctuary at Providence Baptist Church.
He was followed by his handpicked successor and co-pastor, the Rev. Dr. Douglas Summers, not wanting to miss a note of the jubilee that was being held in his honor.
The concert marked the finale of a weeklong celebration of Rev. Wood’s 60 years of service as pastor of Providence Baptist Church. Themed “The Man, The Mission and The Message,” events included a traditional prayer service on Sept. 21 and a celebration service, as well as the concert, on Sept. 23.
The week began on Sept. 16 with a Sunday afternoon tea honoring the first lady of the church, Mrs. Bessie Wood. The couple, who met at a church Rev. Wood pastored in West Virginia early in his ministry, has been married for 65 years. They have two children, four grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
At age 89, Mrs. Wood is still actively involved in the life of the church.
“It’s been wonderful,” Mrs. Wood said. “I’ve had a good time in Baltimore, enjoyed the members and friends. I’ve been good to them and they’ve been good to me.”
The highlight of the week’s festivities was a luncheon on Sept. 22 at the Pikesville Hilton, where Maryland Gov. Martin O’Malley was one of the speakers.
Tributes poured in from the highest levels in government, including a letter from President Barack Obama, who said, “At moments like this, we are reminded of the abiding truth that each of us has the power to create a better world for ourselves and our children when we do God’s work here on earth.”
Other commendations came from city and state officials. Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) recognized Rev. Wood’s work in the civil rights movement.
Rev. Wood made his mark in civil rights history when he became one of 11 young ministers in the first class to integrate Crozer Theological Seminary, then located near Chester, Pa. Among his classmates was Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. They graduated from the seminary in 1951.
Rev. Wood, in his autobiography, “And Grace Will Lead Me Home,” credits his years at Crozer, where peace and nonviolent protest in a liberal theological environment was taught, for spurring both him and Dr. King into the paths both took in their ministries.
The term “visionary leader” is often overused in the modern church world but for Rev. Wood, it’s an understatement.
From missions work at home and abroad, to reaching out to the Baltimore community with homeless, food and HIV/AIDS ministries, Rev. Wood says he believes in involving the congregation in the community.
“I was excited coming to Providence,” he recalled. “A larger church in a lager city means more talents available in a congregation, more people who could do more things.”
“I see members as possibilities,” Rev. Wood said.
Among his accomplishments at Providence was the building of a solar-heated, handicapped-accessible church. The facility, which opened at 1401 Pennsylvania Ave. in 1981, was way ahead of its time, when alternative forms of energy were just being discussed and the American Disabilities Act requiring buildings to accessible didn’t exist. It was the first solar-heated church in the state of Maryland, according to the church’s history.
At the time, says his granddaughter, Monica Wood, “Grandpa was looking at the fact that the time was coming where he would need such facilities,” she said, “and he was considering the future of the church and cost savings solar heating would provide.”
After reading in a local newspaper about the lack of services for seniors in West Baltimore, Rev. Wood opened the Providence Adult Day Center in 1993. The center, which operates next door to the church, provides a safe environment for seniors to come for hot meals, have their medications monitored, get some exercise and engage in companionship under the watchful eye of trained staff.
Nearly a decade later, Rev. Wood would make what most observers felt was his most audacious step by creating a succession plan in 2000 and bringing in his successor, Rev. Summers, then a young pastor from Winston-Salem, N.C.
Bill Davis, a 46-year member of the church, who serves as a deacon, remembers the day when Rev. Wood brought his succession plan first to the deacon board.
“He said he had spent considerable time in prayer, and that he had someone who he thought would be a good co-pastor to work with,” Davis said. “We knew Rev. Wood was getting up in age and couldn’t carry the load of a pastorship. But we didn’t think about the route of a co-pastor. That’s when we knew the Lord was in agreement with his plan.”
But Rev. Summers did not replace the elder pastor; he works alongside him as co-pastor, handling the heavy load of preaching the sermons.
“Oh no,” Rev. Summers clarified. “Rev. Wood is still in charge. He still presides over every service.”
“I’ve resigned twice,” Rev. Wood responds. “They won’t accept my resignation.”
When asked what his plans are next, Rev. Woods joked, “I think I’ll become a layperson,” as he headed off to the concert.