Above: The Flag of Canada
Image in the Public Domain
WILBUR KENNETH HOWARD (FEBRUARY 29, 1912-APRIL 17, 2001)
Moderator of The United Church of Canada
Wilbur Kenneth Howard followed Jesus and resisted racism.
Howard was a native of Toronto, Ontario, Canada. He entered the world on February 29, 1912. His father and brother were railway porters, for that profession was among the limited range of careers open to African Canadians in the early part of the twentieth century. Our saint, educated at Brock Public School then at Bloor Collegiate School then at Victoria College (B.A., 1938) then Emmanuel College (B.D., 1941), all in Toronto, pursued a different path. When he was younger a White family had invited him to attend church with them. He had accepted, and therefore found his path into The United Church of Canada.
Howard was in a difficult situation in 1941. He had graduated from seminary yet not one congregation offered him a position. The reason was racism. The denominational officialdom at the General Council Office hired Howard to be the Boys’ Work Secretary of the Ontario Religious Education Council. For the next 24 years our saint worked in the field of Christian education. In 1949 he became the Christian Education Secretary for the Manitoba Conference of The United Church of Canada. Four years later he accepted a new position, Associate Editor of Sunday School Publications for the denomination. That work lasted for 12 years, during which he influenced the content of the curriculum.
From 1965 to 1980 Howard worked on the parish level and found acceptance there. For five years he was one of three ministers at Dominion-Chalmers United Church, Toronto. In late 1970 he transferred to Emmanuel United Church, Toronto, where he remained for about ten years. Our saint also served beyond the parish level, first as the President of the Montreal-Ottawa Conference in 1972 and 1973. On August 19, 1974, the General Council of The United Church of Canada made history by electing Howard to the office of Moderator. He was the 26th Moderator and the first one to be African-Canadian. During our saint’s three years as the denominational moderator he worked part-time at Emmanuel United Church. He retired from active ministry in 1980. He was 68 years old.
Howard received degrees subsequent to his seminary program. In 1969 he received the Doctor of Divinity degree from Victoria University, Toronto. Six years later the University of Winnipeg, Winnipeg, Manitoba, granted him the Doctor of Letters degree.
Howard was a quiet man who lived simply, demonstrated his willingness to listen to others, and considered the ministry of the church to be a matter best suited to teamwork, not obedient minions following the orders of a dominant figure or figures. His concerns included evangelism, social justice, environmental stewardship, and the needs of third-world countries. He also abhorred inter-religious hostility and favored mutual understanding and, when possible and proper, cooperation.
Our saint, who received the Order of Ontario in 1991, received the diagnosis of Parkinson’s Disease and moved into a retirement community in the early 1990s. He died in Toronto on April 17, 2001. He was 88 years old. The city council observed a moment of silence in his honor, as they should have done.
I can only imagine how much spiritual fortitude Howard must have had to muster to endure the racist indignities to which others subjected him. I have endured trials much less difficult and struggled with grudges. Our saint, however much he struggled with others and himself, emerged as a man of much grace. That fact warrants high praise.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
FEBRUARY 14, 2016 COMMON ERA
THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, YEAR C
THE FEAST OF SAINT ABRAHAM OF CARRHAE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP
THE FEAST OF SAINTS CYRIL AND METHODIUS, MISSIONARIES TO THE SLAVS
THE FEAST OF JOHANN MICHAEL ALTENBURG, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR, COMPOSER, AND HYMN WRITER
THE FEAST OF VICTOR OLOF PETERSEN, SWEDISH-AMERICAN LUTHERAN HYMN TRANSLATOR
Almighty God, we praise you for your servant Wilbur Kenneth Howard,
through whom you have called the church to its tasks and renewed its life.
Raise up in our own day teachers and prophets inspired by your Spirit,
whose voices will give strength to your church and proclaim the reality of your reign,
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns
with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
1 Corinthians 3:11-23
–Adapted from Holy Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints (2010), page 60