Oakwood University Church Celebrates 40 years in Current Edifice
by Pastor Paul Goodridge
September 3, 1977 will long be remembered in the history of the Oakwood University Church, as on this date, the grand opening for its new, palatial 3,000 seat worship facility commenced. Pastor Eric C. Ward, then Senior Pastor of the Oakwood College Church (now Oakwood University Church), led church members, Oakwood College faculty, and students in the ceremonial march from Ashby Auditorium, its former venue of worship, to the newly constructed Oakwood University Church building. Ward, accompanied by several dignitaries including Pastor Charles E. Dudley, President of the South Central Conference of Seventh-day Adventists; Calvin B. Rock, Ph.D., D.Min., President of Oakwood College; and Joe Daley, Mayor of Huntsville, AL, cut the ribbon to the church and ushered in a new era for Oakwood University and the church. Forty years later, on September 9, 2017, Carlton P. Byrd, D.Min., current Senior Pastor of the Oakwood University Church, led out in the anniversary celebration in the current church edifice.
The fortieth anniversary celebration began at 9:15 a.m. with a special Sabbath School Program featuring historical reflections by Mervyn Warren, Ph.D., D.Min, son-in-law of Pastor Calvin Moseley, first black pastor of the church, along with the Lesson Study being presented by former Associate Pastors, Michael Harpe, David Lee, Micah Weech, Toussaint Williams, Ph.D., Bob Mounter and Charles Tapp, D.Min.
The Divine Worship Experience was truly a memorable event. The capacity crowd witnessed recognitions given to Annell Wright Rogers, longest continuous serving member of the Oakwood University Church; Barbara Warren, daughter of Pastor Calvin Moseley; and former living senior pastors Richard Tottress, Robert Woodfork, Leslie Pollard, Ph.D., D. Min., John Nixon, D.Min., and Craig Newborn, Ph.D. Music was provided by the Oakwood University Aeolians and Orchestra, Pastor Wintley Phipps, and special guest Grammy Award-winning Christian Artist, Sandi Patty, complimenting the preaching ministry of Carlton P. Byrd.
The major highlight of the day was a special presentation given to Gwendolyn Ward, spouse of Pastor Eric C. Ward. Among the gifts she received was a mural of she and her husband with the church complex in the background. Posthumously, Pastor Ward was recognized for his vison, leadership, spirituality, and influence on tens of thousands of students, coupled with being the builder of the Oakwood University Church building. Dr. Byrd reflected that Pastor and Mrs. Ward laid the foundation on which countless ministers stand today. In her response, Mrs. Ward reflected that it was “a real privilege to be able to be in a structure that my husband dreamed of long before he started on it.”
For the afternoon program, the vesper message was given by Dr. Newborn, coupled with music from church choirs that have ministered throughout the forty-year period including the Cherub Choir (former Children’s Choir with members now in their 40’s and 50’s, the Singing Men, the International Cathedral Choir, the Church Chorale, and the Voices of Inspiration.
The 40-year celebration is part of the church’s Restoration 40 Initiative which includes refurbishing the sanctuary and the construction of the new Oakwood University Church Family Life Center, scheduled to open in February, 2018.