A Mighty Oak Has Fallen
A mighty oak has fallen.
This is the title of a famous eulogy given as a tribute to the life of Doctor Samuel DeWitt Proctor. Its author, the Dean of American preachers and perhaps the greatest preacher of the past 100 years, poetically left the Church Militant to reside in the Church Triumphant Easter Sunday. Doctor Gardner Calvin Taylor, the son of Baptist preacher and the grandson of slaves, was a confidant to Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., an active supporter of the Civil Rights Movement, one of the fathers of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, and the Senior Pastor for 42 years of that citadel of holistic ministry, the Concord Baptist Church of Brooklyn, New York.
Many, rightfully so, anchor their comments and memories around the preaching gift that was Dr. Taylor. He married keen intellect, passion, an awareness of culture and the African American pathos, mixing them with the great truths of the Bible, achieving powerful results. It is safe to say that there will never be another voice like his. What is not as often mentioned was his approach to ministry. Dr. Taylor purposely steered his labor away from sensationalism and toward a level of consistent excellence. He maintained a regal bearing, but with the common touch, and his dress was business like—an understated elegance—because of the seriousness, for him, of the Gospel. That approach spread to the membership; many a member talks about being “Taylor made”.
As you know, I served as a Pastor at the Concord Church before coming to First Baptist under the leadership of the present Senior Pastor, Doctor Gary Simpson. I met Doctor Taylor then, as he was in the midst of compiling the 6 volume set The Words of Gardner Taylor. During this time, he also gave the inauguration sermon for President Bill Clinton, and Dr. Taylor was no doubt instrumental in having Nelson Mandela speak at the Concord Church. All of these things were mind-boggling—then and now—but my fondest memories of him have much more to do with his personhood than his preaching. I remember him praying for me—me—at one of the lowest periods of my life. I also remember him at the graveside of a former Deacon—one of his friends—and when it was time to do the committal, I looked at him, out of respect, and he looked at me, nodded, and bowed his head with the rest of those gathered, signaling for me to proceed. I remember some of our conversations, and the way he could give even stern advice while building you up. I will miss him greatly.
What should we take away from this life well lived? I watched the love he had for people and fellow clergy, and I remember his humility. He was one who had the presidents of nations as personal friends, yet remembered and fellowshipped with the ‘salt of the earth’ people. In addition, he was one who through his ministry always attempted to totally honor and be yielded to Jesus Christ. In a day when many of us with far less credentials ‘put on airs’, we would do well to focus on that which is most important. As walking billboards for God, may our witness so shine that when people give us accolades, they point through and past us to God.