'Rev' 'dean of ministers' Hands-on: Marcus Garvey Wood has preached for 50 years and still fills the pulpit at least 40 Sundays a year.


The Rev. Marcus Garvey Wood rolled up his sleeves and got down to business. There was a food drive at Providence Baptist Church and the "Rev" was ready to work -- not as a supervisor, but in a job at which he feels more comfortable: bagging.

It was a hands-on approach and that's the way it's always been for Mr. Wood during the more than four decades he's been at the church on Pennsylvania Avenue. And it's the same philosophy he's used during his 50 years in the ministry.

"He's the kind of minister who is always free for you and will work for you," said Essie Leak, a longtime member at the West Baltimore church. "He's the kind of person who, when you call, says, 'I'll be there in 20 minutes, not tomorrow.' He's the dean of all ministers."

The "Rev," as some parishioners call him, is pastor to what he calls his third generation at Providence. He preaches to children and grandchildren of the members who installed him in 1952, when the church was at Fremont and Edmondson avenues.

The daily grind for Mr. Wood, 75, means waking at dawn, going to the church and delving hands first into church activities.

"I'm not involved in everything here, but I do what I can and what is needed," Mr. Wood said this week.

As he spoke, the church's food committee prepared bags of donated food to give to the community's needy. The hallway near the sanctuary was lined with bags of food, and a line of people formed outside.

Mr. Wood busily bagged corn, bread and butter. It wasn't the first time the pastor had submerged himself in blue-collar church work, said Sandra Borden, a member at Providence Baptist for 10 years.

"We see him back here a lot," Ms. Borden said. "Some people say 'I have a pastor of my church.' He's a pastor of the community. People know him because he's in the community. He lets his actions speak for him."

The Rev. Arnold Howard, pastor at Enon Baptist Church in West Baltimore and president of the Interdenomination Ministerial Alliance, considers Mr. Wood his mentor.

"To have done what he has done and to have done it well is what impresses me," Mr. Howard said. "He is a mentor to many young ministers. Long-term pastoring is most uncommon in the Baptist faith."

The Rev. Marion Bascom, who recently retired from Douglas Memorial Church after 50 years as a minister, said five decades of preaching is rare in itself.

"It's not too often it happens," Mr. Bascom said. "And to stay at the same church is even more rare. It all depends on the shepherd and the flock. Sometimes the shepherd is belligerent, and sometimes the flock is belligerent."

A soft-spoken man with silver hair and a stern eye, Mr. Wood feels it is the duty of ministers -- regardless of the community in which they preach -- to offer hope.

It's a philosophy he maintained during the days of segregation and throughout the civil rights era.

"Back in '45, there was segregation based on color where you were denied admission to places," he said. "But now it's segregation by economics wherein you are segregated on the basis of your income and your ability to pay.

"There were some stores and hotels you could not enter. Now you can go into any store or any hotel if you can pay the price. But the cost of participating in the mainstream of society has gone up, and the masses of people cannot participate."

One of Mr. Wood's cherished possessions is a faded picture on his desk. It is a photograph of his graduating class from Crozer Theological Seminary in Chester, Pa., in 1951. One of the 12 graduates is identified as "Mike King."

"We know him better as Martin Luther King Jr.," chuckled Mr. Wood. "We were there together, and I'm still going at it."

Dr. King was scheduled to preach at Providence Baptist in February 1968, two months before he was killed, Mr. Wood said. However, Dr. King had to cancel.

"He had planned on coming back the next April, but we know what happened," Mr. Wood said.

The "Rev" preaches at least 40 Sundays a year -- not because he has to but because he looks forward to it.

"I began to think of it the other day -- it's a half a century that I've been doing the same thing," he said. "The same thing. Not for the same people, but the same thing. And I'm still enjoying it."

But not every Sunday has been smooth. Sometimes, the ministry has been humbling.

"Like the time I wore mismatched socks, and nobody told me," he said. "I came to church with odd socks on -- one brown and one black

"People were looking at me in the pulpit and laughing, but no one said a word until after it was over. The joke was on me."

Copyright © 2020, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad