Wilbur Thornton Washington


Wilbur Thornton Washington


Wilbur Washington


Russell Gasero, archivist for the RCA reflected on Wilbur and said, "I knew Wilbur for quite a few years and always thought of him as a model of pastoral leadership. I recall him stating once that he was often forgotten or passed over. I spoke with his daughter after his death and she remarked that he was ready, in fact, more than ready. He said he had been ready for some time and God had forgotten him and needed to remember—because he was ready.

I remember hearing him preach in Oakland, California, and I never heard anyone say “Jesus!” with such power and such passion—that is exactly who Wilbur was—power and passion in everything he did combined with that element of grace that made him so soft-spoken in meetings. Wilbur served as the first African-American president of the General Synod, elected in 1988. His presidential address was delivered in 1989 and can be heard here (there are small parts missing since we used cassette tapes at the time and they had to be flipped to the other side as time ran out): http://images.rca.org/docs/archives/Washinton_PresAddress_GS.mp3"

Wilbur was born in Palmyra, New Jersey, on January 19, 1924, the son of Howard and Julia. Attending Tuskegee Institute from 1942 to 1943 and West Virginia State College from 1943 to 1944, he ended up at Rutgers College and obtained his BA in 1949. He enrolled at New Brunswick Theological Seminary and received his divinity degree in 1952. Wilbur also studied at Chicago University and at the Pacific School of Religion and was awarded a DD by Central College in 1992 and by New Brunswick Theological Seminary in 2016.

He began in the Presbyterian Church, was licensed by the Presbytery of Cleveland in 1953 and then ordained in 1954. He then transferred to the RCA and was received by the Classis of Illiana in 1954.

His pastoral ministry began at the Pembroke Reformed Church in St. Anne, Illinois, the year of his ordination. Leaving Pembroke, he went to the west coast to serve the Community Reformed Church in Oakland, California, in 1959. About a decade later, he left Oakland to begin a teaching career at Central College in 1969 where he remained until 1980 when he came to New Brunswick Theological Seminary that same year. He was caught in the severe budget crisis that hit in 1985 and he left to pastor the First Reformed Church in Jamaica, Queens, New York where he remained until 1998 and was president of synod during that pastorate. He did interim work following his retirement including the Fort Washington Collegiate Church and the Community Church of Glen Rock, New Jersey.

Wilbur held other leadership positions in the RCA and the wider church: he was president of the Particular Synod of the West (now Regional Synod of the Far West) from 1969 to 1970, and the president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches, Caribbean/North American Area, from 1991 to 1992. He even had a brief stint on the staff of the RCA as the Associate for the Development of Black Leadership with the General Program Council in 1980.

Wilbur was active in many ways on all levels. If you want to know him better, listen to the worship he led at the RCA and South Africa conference at NBTS in the fall of 2007. His sermons in shoes is a wonderful reflection for that day and continues to have relevance for the present day (the sermon begins at about 9:43): https://vimeo.com/190729275


Russell Gasero


James Hart Brumm, "Equipping the Saints," Historical Series of the Reformed Church in America


William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.





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Date Added
December 20, 2016
Russell Gasero, “Wilbur Thornton Washington,” RCA Photos & Resources, accessed May 25, 2022, https://rcaarchives.omeka.net/items/show/19.