When the Rev. Marcus Garvey Wood started his ministry at Providence Baptist Church in Baltimore, President Barack Obama hadn't yet been born, Southern schools were still not integrated and Neil Armstrong hadn't walked on the moon.

On the 60th anniversary of Wood's pastorship Saturday, some 300 faithful gathered to pay tribute to "the man, the mission and the message."

Gov. Martin O'Malley thanked Wood, 92, for his service to Baltimore and his work as a civil rights leader.

"During some of the most volatile times in our nation's history and in the face of tremendous adversity, Rev. Wood's unconditional love for his fellow man has guided his life's work every single day," O'Malley said. "From a state standing up against the forces of hatred and fear and segregation, alongside Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Rev. Wood lifted us all up."

O'Malley was among more than 20 dignitaries, ministers and churchgoers who spoke in tribute to Wood, who sat on the dais next to his wife of 64 years, Bessie. The Woods said the celebration meant "everything" to them.

"I appreciate all of this, because I didn't ask for it," Wood said, at the end of the more than three-hour celebration. "I want to thank all of you for all that you've done for all of these years."

His congregation credited him with opening their new church at Pennsylvania and West Lafayette avenues, the state's first solar-heated church, in February 1981. In the community, Wood helped institute food programs, an AIDS ministry, prison outreach and the Providence Adult Day Care Center. He was also recognized for his effort to spread Christianity and good works to Haiti, Russia, Jamaica, Ghana and elsewhere.

During his tenure, he served as director of youth services for the Lott Carey Baptist Foreign Mission Convention and was active in the Baltimore Urban League and National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. For his 50th anniversary as pastor, the Rev. Marcus Garvey Wood and Mrs. Bessie Hazel Wood endowment was established at the Lancaster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania. The scholarship is available to an African-America student who enters the ministry.

Known to many as the "Dean of Ministry," Wood was born in Gloucester, Va., in 1920 and was ordained in 1940. He began his service at Baptist churches in West Virginia and New Jersey.

Wood earned his Master of Divinity degree at Crozer Theological Seminary, where King also earned his divinity degree.

Wood's co-pastor of the past 12 years, the Rev. Douglas E. Summers, called Wood's service a "unique blessing" and said he "earned the right to be inducted into God's Hall of Fame of Faithful Servants."

"Having shepherded many generations of blessing babies, marrying the young, giving counsel when needed, burying the dead, receiving new converts into the kingdom and leading one congregation to greener pastures of opportunity, God is to be praised," Summers wrote in an open letter to Wood.

When asked, more than a third of the 300 of the men, women and children gathered raised their hands to signify that they had been baptized by Wood.

Wood's granddaughter, Monica Wood of Charlotte, N.C., said Wood's legacy is in the hundreds of lives he has touched and the stability his longevity has given the church and Baltimore's Upton neighborhood.

"How many people can say that?" she said.

ywenger@baltsun.com

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