September 3, 1977, will long be remembered in the history of the Oakwood University Church in Huntsville, Ala., on this date, the grand opening for its new, palatial 3,000-seat worship facility commenced. The late Eric Calvin 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 (the former venue of worship) to the newly constructed Oakwood University Church building. Ward, accompanied by several dignitaries, including the late Charles E. Dudley, then president of the South Central Conference; Calvin B. Rock, Ph.D., D.Min., then president of Oakwood College; and Joe Daley, mayor of Huntsville, Ala., cut the ribbon to the church and ushered in a new era for Oakwood University and the church. Forty years later, 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 40th 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 Calvin Moseley, first black pastor of Oakwood 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 Calvin Moseley; and living former senior pastors Richard E. Tottress, Ph.D.; Robert Woodfork; Leslie Pollard, Ph.D., D.Min.; John S. Nixon Sr., D.Min.; and Craig Newborn, Ph.D. Music was provided by the Oakwood University Aeolians and Orchestra, 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 the late Eric C. Ward. Among the gifts she received was a mural of her and her husband with the church complex in the background. Posthumously, Ward was recognized for his vision, leadership, spirituality, and influence on tens of thousands of students, coupled with being the builder of the Oakwood University Church building. Carlton Byrd reflected that the Wards laid the foundation on which countless ministers stand today. In her response, Gwendolyn 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 Craig Newborn, coupled with music from church choirs that have ministered throughout the 40-year period, including the Cherub Choir (former Children’s Choir with members now in their 40s and 50s), 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.
South Central | February 2018