The fiery pastoral leadership so many remember about Union Temple Baptist Church’s Senior Pastor Willie F. Wilson has quieted over the past 46 years, but it hasn’t faded. Nor has the community’s wish for the return of a warrior who used faith and hope as weapons to defend and protect his flock and the community in which they live. “Where is that leader going?” many wanted to know. “Nowhere,” Wilson announced at his recent retirement celebration at the Camelot in Upper Marlboro. Nearly 900 church members, past and present, along with politicians, ministers, business owners and community came out to say “thank you” for Wilson’s vision in building a church without walls and for preaching a gospel espousing the absence of limitations for those who believe and trust in God.
Despite the celebration honoring Wilson and his wife, Mary, who together have led the Southeast congregation for the past 46 years, Wilson informed his guests, “I am not retiring.” At age 79, he says he’s too young to sit down. He also shared that within his spirit there exists a calling, passed down through generations, to continue to fight for the freedom and liberation of Black people.
That calling is evident in his four children, all successful in their own right but with only one whom the siblings all agreed had what’s needed to pick up the baton and lead Union Temple forward. Reverend Dr. Anika Wilson-Brown, the eldest of the Wilson clan, is no stranger to the pulpit. But she found herself troubled, sitting beside her father’s close friend, Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan, while tearfully hearing him admit the difficulty he continues to face in choosing a successor, particularly a woman — daughter notwithstanding.
Wilson admits the time for new leadership at Union Temple is now, if for no other reason than how technology is impacting the church’s future. He promised to stay away from Union Temple for a while to ensure a smooth transition for Rev. Wilson-Brown as she takes over as pastor. Meanwhile, others savor memories of the man many call “Dad.” The man who officiated over their weddings and christened their children, taught life-lessons, fed, housed and clothed them, prepared them for manhood and womanhood and prayed over family members in sickness and as they transitioned to the afterlife.
What made the six-hour-long celebration so beautiful was not just hearing the many testimonies about what Reverend Wilson has done for so many. It was knowing that he’s still here listening to their heartfelt expressions from their homes, close as Southeast or as far as South Africa — people who thought enough of him to come and say, “Thank You.”