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Pastor marks golden jubilee


When members of Providence Baptist Church in West Baltimore gathered recently to mark their pastor's 50th year with the congregation, they were a little surprised when he missed his cue to take the pulpit.

"Reverend Wood? Reverend Wood?" called out a visiting preacher, who was waiting onstage to present a gift to the Rev. Marcus Garvey Wood.

Had the venerable pastor dozed off at his own party?

"Reverend Wood!"

Amid a chorus of giggles, the 82-year-old, silver-haired minister bolted up from his seat.

When he returned to the second-row pew he was sharing with his wife, Wood waved a small electronic organizer in his hand and sheepishly told his flock: "I was putting something in my computer."

It's this kind of minor foible - he's also been known to wear mismatched socks - that church members say gives Wood an endearing, approachable quality that has become a trademark of his ministry.

This week, which marks the golden jubilee of Wood's pastorship at the church on Pennsylvania Avenue, the congregation's more than 500 members are celebrating the minister's ability to relate to, as well as teach, his flock.

"He is not too holy where he can't be human," said the Rev. Douglas E. Summers, co-pastor at the church. "Some clergy are not approachable. ... He's able to interact and be down to earth with people and laugh with them."

At first impression, Wood can be intimidating. He cuts a stern figure in his gray tweed jacket, his bright eyes peering from behind spectacles and his thinning hair slicked back neatly.

But Wood has the ability to put those in his presence at ease. Some say it's because of the warm sparkle in his eye. However, his people skills don't prevent him from dishing out what he thinks church members need to hear.

"You may not like the advice he's going to give you, but he's going to give it to you anyway," said member Stewart Taylor.

The photographs that Wood cherishes tell the story of a life of ministerial service.

There's a class portrait of his days at Crozer Theological Seminary, then in Chester, Pa. From the back row in the faded black-and-white photograph peers the recognizable face of Martin Luther King Jr.

"King was assassinated," Wood says, running his finger along the photograph.

"This one died a natural death," he says, pointing to another classmate.

"This one went back to Panama. I don't know if he's living or dead. Three of the others gave up [preaching]."

Of the original dozen black students in his 1951 graduating class, only he and another are still active ministers, Wood says.

There's a 1970s snapshot of the pastor wielding a shovel at the construction site of the solar-heated, red-brick church building he commissioned, moving the congregation a few blocks away from its original home at Fremont and Edmonson avenues.

And, more recently, pictures that Wood, an amateur photographer, took during missionary trips to the Caribbean, South America and West Africa.

"I sometimes wonder how I made it through half a century and still [stayed] active and still in good health," he said. "People don't stay on a job that long. People don't stay married that long.

"I have buried one congregation, the people who called me. All of them are gone except a few," he said.

His methodical style of preaching - he always displays the day's lesson plan using an overhead projector - has attracted many to his church over the years.

"There are sometimes [ministers] who stray away from the subject or do a lot of personalizing," said Elizabeth Craig, a congregation member who said she switched to his church after hearing one of his sermons in 1977. "He preached gospel. ... He was strictly a person who knew what the Word was, and he was just determined that he was going to teach those truths."

When he's not on the pulpit, he is known to be helping anyone who needs him, whether a church member or not.

Craig, a former school administrator, recalled how Wood once helped relocate a student's family that was about to become homeless.

The student's father came to the school desperate. The family did not own a refrigerator and had stored its food in the landlord's apartment. A dispute had broken out because the father complained that his family's food was missing.

"He did not know those people," Craig said. "He did not have a problem with devoting that entire day to see that that one family was taken care of."

Fellow ministers say Wood is a font of knowledge about the community. "This man is a thoroughly committed, concerned man about the corner where he is," said the retired Rev. Marion Bascom, a longtime friend.

Summers, a 45-year-old North Carolina minister who became Wood's co-pastor two years ago, said he is still learning about the community from Wood. "I soak that up," Summers said.

Only once during his tenure did Wood seriously consider leaving his congregation. About five years after he arrived at Providence Baptist Church, he was offered a job in New York with the NAACP.

Wood presented the church members with a letter of resignation. They held prayer meetings in the hope that he would change his mind.

He did, tearing his letter to shreds. He later found two pieces of it and framed and mounted them on the wall next to his desk, to remind himself of his congregation's devotion.

Although he has no immediate plans to retire, Wood has begun to confer some of his responsibilities on others. Two years ago, he invited Summers to share the pulpit with him. He still preaches a couple of Sundays a month.

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