Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker: A Renaissance Preacher

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Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker: A Renaissance Preacher

Thoughtful Reflections By: Rev. Dr. Janette C. Wilson, Esq.,

Dr. Walker was a preacher who proclaimed the Word, practiced the work and praised God in all of his, challenging moments. Dr. Walker was a man of all times. There are few faith leaders who are trained in the sciences, cultured in the arts, proficient in multiple languages, courageous in the struggle for civil rights, a prolific writer, historian and teacher. I fondly share my recollection of him. I had the unique opportunity to be a member of Dr. Wyatt Tee Walker’s group of twenty -five mentored at United Theological Seminary’s Doctor of Divinity program created by the late Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor. I met Dr. Walker at the pinnacle of his career war therefore was able to benefit from the many lessons he bestowed upon us. Dr. Wyatt taught us about the struggling, growing rural and urban contexts of ministry. Dr. Walker was able to bridge the gap between the bi-vocational, trained pastor who understood and respected the history of African American preaching based on the tradition of “call and response”. He was erudite with the common touch thus Dr. Wyatt was the embodiment of Rudyard Kipling’s famed poem, ‘If’.

Walker Fellows were unique because Dr. Walker was a “Renaissance teacher”. For three years we were engaged in a powerful dialogues and experiences with Dr. Walker. He was perhaps the most challenging professor that I have ever had. He engaged us with his quick wit and, his international perspective on the biblical texts coupled with his unique understanding of the civil rights struggle past, present and future. Each of the Walker Fellows have much to be proud of as we reflect on the three and a half years we spent at the foot of Dr. Walker, reading, writing, and reflecting on the role of the church in society, framed our ministries and helped us reshape our contexts for ministry.

Dr. Walker provoked us to not only proclaim the Word through effective preaching but to implement the word of God in practice through advocacy and active engagement while expressing our faith. We were encouraged to actively work in the communities where we are called to do ministry. Everyone has a Dr. Walker story. Dr. Walker introduced me to Harlem by showing the immaculate property he had acquired for his church, Canaan Baptist to own and manage. He showed me the African American owned restaurant that catered our meals when we visited him for our off-campus study sessions. He exposed us to the rich culture within Harlem that was displayed in the art work hanging in his church, the diversity of music that was reflected in his worship with renowned soloists. He demonstrated the art of preaching by exposing us to his sermons like “the story of the reluctant cross maker” where he was dressed in character and preached in Hebrew and English while demonstrating the one man act as a sermon. He was able to make all of us see, hear and feel the impact of the message of the pain that the man who built the cross on which Jesus was crucified must have experienced.

It is not often that one has a seminary professor who is more than an academician, he was the very essence of a true practical theologian who was able to frame the Biblical narrative, shape music for worship and provide a platform for social justice ministry in an urban and rural context. I feel especially blessed and privileged to say I am a Wyatt Tee Walker Fellow. I learned what it meant to pastor a church in a major urban city that connects people of different cultures, frames the action of the church in a major urban center. My fondest memories of Dr. Walker are his:

  • He had a charming smile that you witnessed whenever he greeted you for the first time. Or the piercing stares when he expected you to present your paper to the class.
  • He shared stories about being the captain of the ships that he organized to take church leaders and groups with him as he retraced the Apostle Paul’s Missionary Journeys
  • Soul-stirring sermons that he preached in English, Hebrew and Greek

Dr. Walker was truly a renaissance man, one we will admire forever. His books are the narrative of his life and will help to frame our lasting memories of him:

  • Spirits that Dwell in the Woods gives us a sense of his historical perspective of our slave
    roots and the songs that carried the slaves through.
  • My Stroke of Grace shapes his ability to meet his personal health challenges with faith
    and courage.
  • The Soweto Diary gives us glimpse of South Africa’s struggle for freedom
    A Prophet from Harlem provides us with his concept of a preacher’s call to prophetic
    ministry

Each one of Dr. Walker’s writings provides insight into his character and strength that God provided. We will miss his winning smile, his charismatic witness, and his love for the word of God and the people of God. I am forever proud to be a member of the exclusive club of Wyatt Tee Walker Fellows.

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