‘The Dean of Black Preachers’ dies at 96

‘The Dean of Black Preachers’ dies at 96
April 23
00:00 2015

By Felecia Piggott-Long, PhD, Special to The Chronicle

Thousands of pastors, theologians, ministers, teachers, leaders, family members, friends, and extended family traveled for miles to the funeral of the Rev. Dr. Gardner C. Taylor, on Monday, April 13, at the Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Brooklyn, N.Y.

They came to pay homage to “the dean of the nation’s black preachers” (Time); “one of the twelve greatest preachers in the English speaking world” (Newsweek), “The Prince of Preachers.”

Taylor served as the pastor of Concord Baptist Church of Christ, a 14,000-member congregation, for 42 years.  In the spirit of coming full circle, the current pastor of Concord Baptist Church of Christ, Rev. Dr. Gary V. Simpson, delivered the eulogy titled “The Angel’s Final Word, Worship God!”

Taylor was born in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, in 1918, the grandson of former slaves.  He died on Easter Sunday, April 5 at age 96 in Durham. Taylor was a mentor and close friend of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. These two men were among a group who formed the Progressive National Baptist Convention around 1960, which became a platform for King’s civil rights work.  Taylor served as president of the denomination in the late 1960s.

Taylor also collaborated with the Rev. Dr. Samuel D. Proctor, pastor emeritus of Abyssinian Baptist Church in New  York City,  to publish a text to encourage pastors called “We Have This Ministry:  The Heart of the Pastor’s Vocation (1996).” Taylor and Proctor are considered two of the most highly respected pastors of recent times.

In Taylor’s honor on Sunday, April 12, the Rev. Dr. John Mendez, pastor of Emmanuel Baptist Church and close friend and fellow scholar of Dr. Taylor, played one of Taylor’s most memorable sermons, for the congregation titled, “I Know That My Redeemer Liveth.” It has been called “one of the greatest sermons ever.”

The sermon focuses on Job’s response to his friends who have accused and criticized Job for bringing so much suffering upon himself. Job has lost his children, his health, and his wealth, yet, he trusts in God.

The major theme is based on Job 19:25-26 – “For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: And though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.” Job comes to this conclusion.

Mendez has invited Taylor to preach at Emmanuel on several occasions.  Mendez remarked that if he had the opportunity to preach a eulogy on this “Prince of Preachers,” he would celebrate this giant-of-a-man by taking his text from Genesis 6:4 — “There were giants in the earth in those days … the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.”  Mendez attended Taylor’s funeral in Brooklyn.

Dr. Herbert Miller II, senior pastor First Baptist Church, Lexington, N.C., has always been impressed with Taylor’s powerful sermons.

“Gardner C. Taylor was one of the most effective preachers who ever lived. He had a brilliant command of the English language, and when he preached, he was able to paint a picture with words. He was highly educated, but his delivery was full of the Holy Spirit,” Miller said.

“When I listened to his sermons, I could smell the aromas, feel the wind, taste the dust in the air. I found myself in the story. When a preacher can pull the audience into the biblical narrative with his words, he has done his job in the Spirit. We have lost a master preacher,” Miller said.

The Rev. Roy L. Dennis was a student of  Taylor’s at Shaw University in 2004. Dennis is currently a religion professor at Apex School of Theology in Durham. The character value that stands out most to him about Dr. Taylor is his humility. He also considers Taylor a powerful preacher. He recalls that Taylor was a featured speaker at the Proctor conference at Shaw University in Raleigh in 2008.

“Dr. Taylor has been invited to speak at Ivy League schools and in places of honor all over the world, but he would also go to small, country churches if he was invited. He was an humble man,” Dennis said. “He had a way with words. He drew you into his preaching. He painted a picture with his words, and as you listened, you knew that you were a part of the story.”

More than 2,000 of Taylor’s sermons are archived in various collections. He preached the pre-inauguration sermon in January 1993 for the then President-elect Bill Clinton at Metropolitan A.M.E. Church in Washington, D.C.  Taylor taught homiletics at Harvard Divinity School, and he was the author of a six-volume series “The Words of Gardner Taylor: 50 years of Timeless Treasures” and co-author of “Perfecting the Pastor’s Art.”  He has delivered lectures and sermons in South Africa, Zambia, Malawi, Denmark , England, Scotland, Australia, China and Japan.

During his interview with Minister Rashad D. L. Cartwright for the American Preachers Series in 2013, Dr. Taylor provided a gem of wisdom for ministers and pastors today who carry the Word of God.  He recalled an article that he published in the “African American Pulpit” called, “Is Our Preacing Christian?” According to Taylor, many ministers tend to leave Jesus out of their messages.

“This makes our preaching warped and twisted. There is no way of understanding God without that presence. He that has seen me has seen the Father. This type of preaching makes the message murky, opaque, and unclear … This is a great lack in our gospel today. I call it candy gospel. You can feed a child candy morning, night and day, and the child will enjoy it.  But soon, the child will have no teeth and eventually, you will have no child. Candy will not sustain us. I like candy, but I know we need some vegetables and above all the meat of the Word” Taylor said.

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