The Rev. Gardner C. Taylor, widely considered the dean of black preachers, and “the poet laureate of American Protestantism,” died April 5 after a ministerial career that spanned more than six decades. He was 96.
The Rev. Carroll Baltimore, past president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, confirmed that Taylor died on Easter Sunday.
“Dr. Taylor was a theological giant who will be greatly missed,” he said of the minister who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000.
PNBC President Rev. James C. Perkins said Taylor “transformed America and the world for the better. In both life and death Taylor gave a clarion call to the transformative power of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Concord Baptist Church of Christ, the imposing, block-long, brick church Taylor pastored for 42 years, became a beacon of hope and vitality for many African-Americans in Brooklyn, N.Y., and a model for the nation. When the church was destroyed by fire in 1952, Taylor defied naysayers by not only rebuilding the edifice, but also doubling its size.
Concord, one of New York City’s largest churches, operated its own elementary school, nursing home, credit union, and million-dollar endowment, used to invest in the community. But for more than four decades, it was Taylor who made Concord’s pulpit “the most prestigious in black Christendom,” proclaimed author and scholar Michael Eric Dyson.
The charismatic pastor was renowned for the memorable sermons he spun from tales, anecdotes, and Scriptures, but rarely captured in manuscripts. Taylor, a preacher’s preacher, kept his thoughts in his head before ushering them forth, and kept a black pocket Bible handy when he wanted to refer to the sermon’s Scripture reading for the day.
This gifted clergyman appreciated the accolades and honors he received, but relished humility. “I’m appreciative that people take notice of me,” he once said, “but when I go to worship, I’m not looking for that.”
There is a divinity school series, the Gardner C. Taylor Lectures in Black Preaching at Duke Divinity School, and a street in Brooklyn named for Taylor.
Taylor also will be remembered for a thorny page in black Baptist history struck by his allegiance to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., during a tense time in the National Baptist Convention, USA. In 1960, Taylor, King and other black ministers split from the denomination after a fierce debate over King’s civil rights agenda, which many black clerics of the day thought was too politically liberal. As a result, Taylor and other King supporters seceded from the convention and formed the Progressive National Baptist Convention, of which Taylor was once president.