by Robert Earl Houston
I think it needs to be said that Dr. Melvin Von Wade, Sr. is DESERVING of the honor bestowed upon him at the “Living Legend Luncheon” and be inducted into the hall of great preachers in the E.K. Bailey Preaching Conference and Pastor Bryan Carter. Last night, I walked through the exhibit of the Living Legends and I’m grateful that I have heard personally most of them.
I’ve known Dr. Wade since the 1970s when the late Dr. E.C. Wilder would bring him to preach for the St. Mark Baptist Church in Portland, Oregon. I had never heard nor seen preaching like that and after I had been called to preach – I studied him (among several great preachers) because I marveled at how his handled a manuscript.
His support of several younger pastors including myself and my brother, Dr. Bryant C. Wyatt, Sr. and preachers all over the nation, pushed us into leadership positions in the State and in the National. Because of his labor, the four National Baptist Conventions met together twice . . . with his strong influence and input.
He’s been like the college professor that you both respect and revere. I will never forget, and he doesn’t do often (at least with me – smile), after I had gone through my season of storms, he very calmly and quietly said, “Houston . . . you never quit.” That meant much to me.
For generations of preachers, Dr. Wade has been the Rolls Royce of manuscript, expository preaching. For those of us who would have fallen into the trap of not challenging the congregation with our vocabulary, Dr. Wade taught us how to go behind words and get their meaning and sharpen our vocabulary when preaching. To use his words, “I learned a new word.” He taught me the way – he is an avid reader of all material, including Reader’s Digest. I think one of the things that any young preacher could learn from him is to read, read, and read some more. Alliterations don’t come without the benefit of feeding your mind and spirit.
He, along with his brother in the faith, Dr. E.K. Bailey, did not do what previous generations did when illness struck. Instead of being silent, Dr. Wade shared with his church, community, and the nation his illness, the procedures, and he walked Mount Moriah Missionary Baptist Church, where he has pastored almost 40 years, through his season, and it became their season. In the process, it created a stronger bond between Pastor and Church, which is a testament to his transparency in illness.
Dr. Wade is a man of prayer. I remember that before he came to the Presidency of the National Missionary Baptist Convention of America (and he appointed me as his special assistant and webmaster), he was the first one to say to a convention, we’ll rise up early in the morning and seek the face of God. On the national level, he appointed Dr. G. Thomas Turner of Columbus and the room would be standing room only. He made prayer not just a platform but a new paradigm for national conventions – most of whom now have early morning prayer sessions.
He got his spiritual training from his father, the late Dr. J.C. Wade, Sr. and his mother, “Momma Wade.” She is a woman of prayer. I never forget that during the NMBCA, I was also the photographer for the convention and at one of the first sessions of prayer, she called me on the carpet for walking during prayer. When I told her I had approval from Dr. Wade to take photos, she looked at me and said “all right . . . just don’t walk too much reverend.” What a joy it must have been for her, in her mid-90s be present to see her son receive this honor. She has seen him go from baby to child to college graduate to Texas pastor to California pastor, national icon, District Vice Moderator, State Vice President, National President, Delegate to the World Baptist Alliance, and now, inducted into the EKB Preaching Conference Living Legends.
When I found out I had cancer, I put in a call to Dr. Wade. I was scared. I was nervous. And just like I knew he would be – he was cool, calm, collected and after we talked about the procedure, etc., he said, “Houston, let’s pray.” When he prayed he didn’t just pray for healing, but he prayed that this would provide a testimony that only the Lord could give. He’ll never know how comforting his prayer, among many, was to me and my family.
He went to Mount Moriah about the same time that my father in the ministry, Dr. A. Bernard Devers, I, went to New Hope Missionary Baptist Church in Portland. They were part of the young guns in the National Baptist Convention of America and Dr. Wade was a fixture at late night and evangelical board services.
When I had resigned my church in San Diego during a very painful divorce, I thought for sure that I would be removed from my post in the National, State, and District works. Dr. Wade didn’t ask me to quit or resign. It was basically, “do your job” and I did. As a result, when I moved to Nashville, I left the west coast as his National Special Assistant, the State Corresponding Secretary, and 3rd Vice Moderator of the Progressive District.
His family – his wife, his children, his grandchildren, his siblings, his parents have been through some much down through the years but his faith has never depleted. In his sermon at Concord during the conference, he related the story of challenges of health, church, and how at each point that would have broken him, that the Lord restored him.
His connections are vast. He is known in the preaching world (and I’ve met some of the nation’s best preachers through Dr. Wade), political world, and in the gospel music world. He’s a fixture at the Gospel Music Workshop of America and Board Member and knows most Christian artists. I met a young Houston school teacher through Dr. Wade, “Houston . . . meet Yolanda Adams . . . she’s major.” I was part of a panel of Pastors and Musicians at GMWA and he said, “Houston . . . meet Donnie McClurkin.” I’ve met more preachers and pastors and bishops and denominational leaders and musical artists. He’s one of the influences on me musically because he kept me on my toes and he influenced me to grab the old songs and introduce them to this generation.
True story: I went to the convention in 1990 after the NBCA/NMBCA split and Dr. Wade was on program. He took that old children’s song, “Everybody aught to know who Jesus is,” slowed it down, almost to a meter, and (forgive the linguistics) killed everything big enough to die in the room. I came back to Portland and was in revival and opened with his arrangement of that song and . . . the Lord was kind.
Perhaps his modeling of pastoral ministry is worth mentioning. When Dr. O.B. Williams went home to be with the Lord, Dr. Wade was present at the service and Dr. Williams’ widow, Willa (Sister O.B.), was heavily mourning her husband at the service, uncontrollaby weeping and wailing. Dr. Wade, walked out of the pulpit, held her hand and would not let her go through the entire service. His presence in that spot spoke volumes and Sis. Williams was comforted.
I will never forget when he was on to preach at the NMBCA I believe it was in Houston or Dallas. Someone stopped by the Finance Office, that I worked in during Dr. Wade’s tenure as General Secretary. He was quietly meditating for the message. The gentleman kept on talking while Dr. Wade was spiritual preparing. He finally said when we told him that Dr. Wade was preaching, “what are you going to preach about?”
Dr. Wade looked up and said “the Lord.”
I think that sums up his preaching ministry over the past fifty years. “Dr. Wade, what are you going to preach about?”
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