It was February 3, 1938.The "Germantown News" section of the Philadelphia Tribune announced that a young Rev. J.A. Wright would be conducting a revival beginning the following Sunday, at Grace Baptist Church. Mrs. Frances, an evangelistic singer, would be assisting him, along with other musical groups.
The coverage was straightforward, bare facts, 50 words or less. Three months later, on May 5, 1938, the same newspaper announced installation services for the young minister. Again, the coverage was straightforward. One month later, on June 9, 1938, the same newspaper announced that this young man had traveled to Virginia, to get married. They expected him back on Sunday, when he would conduct a baptismal service…just the bare facts, journalistic style, with no attempt to place these events in historical context.
Of course, the unnamed reporter had no way of knowing the significance of these events within the context of the unfolding of this 30 year-old minister’s life. Only hindsight could provide this, hindsight that Dr. Jeremiah A Wright, Sr., would provide, fifty years later, when he was 81 years old. Dr. Wright, in The Pilgrimage Of A Pastor, takes his reader on a fascinating journey through the most significant events of his spirit-filled life.
Dr. Wright’s warm, elegant, personality rises from the pages, and enables readers who never met or talked with him, to come away with the feeling that, indeed they had gotten some good fatherly advice fro him, as well. He carries the reader through the phases of becoming a pastor, getting married, leading a congregation through building campaigns, ground breaking ceremonies, and mortgage burnings, while ministering in the context of adversity, being a husband, father, son, sibling, grandfather and great-grandfather.
The following excerpts give a flavor of his colorful personality and faithfulness to God’s call:
Getting Started: "As children, the five of us lived with our parents, in a three-room frame house, with a kitchen detached. There was a stove downstairs in mother’s room, and one upstairs in the girls’ room. The room upstairs in which the boys slept was without any heat. During the winter we slept close together to keep from freezing. We would put on outer clothes and shoes in mother’s room, while we stirred the fire and put on fresh wood…
The 'Graded School' as it was then called, was three miles away. Our only means of getting there was by walking…We had to be old enough to walk three miles to and from school before we could attend it." (p.7) In 1929, I was salutatorian of my class…I can still remember the joy which flooded my heart, as well as the glowing pride which possessed my mother and spilled over on my younger sister and brothers…Only two others from my community had accomplished such a feat." (p. 11)
In September 1929, my father, whose name was James Allen Wright, took me to Virginia Union University, Richmond, Virginia…When we arrived on campus, he left me in the automobile and he went into the bursar's office to transact business…One month to the date of my arriving at Virginia Union University, I was on my way into the dining room…Dean Barksdale met me at the door and asked, 'Mr. Wright, do you have your meal ticket?' I said, 'No Sir'. With the firmness of an army sergeant, he said, "You can't eat if you don’t have your meal ticket.' In that traumatic moment, the lights went out for me; no ticket, no money, no friend to turn to for food. My hunger intensified by the thought of being unable to eat…In desperation, I cried unto God for help, and He heard my cry. That crisis experience, which wrung tears from my eyes and drove me to prayer, was the beginning of my journey of faith and trust in God…" (p.3)
Preparing for the Pilgrimage: "Three students…brought me food enough from the dining room to last me for three meals. By the time I had consumed what they had brought me, I had managed to secure a job working in the dining room…In addition to working in the dining room, I secured a job cleaning several classrooms in the administration building…In order to have a few pennies of my own to spend, I kept Dr. Gordon B. Hancock’s car clean, fired his furnace and kept his yard clean…After the first year, President William J. Clark told me that I was behind in my payments to the University, and that I could not return the following fall, unless I could catch up and keep up with my bills…I worked at Sparrows Point, Maryland, for the Bethlehem Steel Company, where my father was employed, until the end of January, 1931, and returned to Virginia Union University in February, 1931, for the second semester…After my second leave of absence from Union because of lack of funds, I returned and lived on campus…until I had completed my studies here…" (p. 21)
"In June, 1936, I was graduated from Virginia Union with the Bachelor of Theology degree. However, I knew that I was not yet adequately prepared for my life's work…I then set out to reach the second milestone in my academic preparation…I remember in the spring semester of 1937, I was carrying eighteen hours, including practice teaching, in order to finish that June…I made an 'A' in all six of my subjects and graduated at the June 1937 commencement with the Bachelor of Arts degree."
This was the historical context that the unnamed author of the 1938 Philadelphia Tribune articles most certainly did not know. Neither could the reporter have predicted that Dr. Wright would go on to pastor Grace Baptist Church for 42 years, and during that time, expand the membership from about 100 to over 1,000 people, successfully lead several building campaigns, build the Ida I. Good Christian Education Center, and develop the Grace Community Christian Center, leading the church in innovative outreach ministries. He earned the Bachelor of Theology, Bachelor of Arts and Master of Theology degrees, and did ministry in Israel, Rome, Tokyo, Stockholm, France and Canada.
He went home to be with the Lord on July 4, 2001, at 92 years of age. His autobiography can almost be read in one sitting, because, after the first few pages, it is difficult to put down. It is a particularly fascinating read for people who know members of the Wright family. As the events of the elder Wright's life unfold, one can feel the consciousness of five generations of Wrights, observing, influencing and being influenced by the events and members of each generation.
Colleen Birchett is a native of Detroit, Michigan. She graduated from the University of Michigan with a Master of Science in Journalism and a Ph.D. in instructional design. As a staff writer for Urban Ministries, Inc., Dr. Birchett wrote and edited two church school publications, Inteen and Young Adult Today. In addition, she served as curriculum coordinator for the National Christian Education Conference sponsored annually by Urban Ministries. In 1995, she wrote the Bible study applications for the book, Africans Who Shaped Our Faith, by Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr.
For information regarding the book, email Jeri Wright at Jlw40095@aol.com.. Tell them you saw it on BlackandChristian.com. The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and is reprinted with permission from the Trinity Trumpet Magazine, August 2001, Volume II, Issue I.