The yellow banner hanging in the sanctuary of Emmanuel Baptist Church bid farewell to the Rev. Richard Wright and his wife, the first lady,
Shirley. Emmanuel Baptist Church pastor Richard Wright, 80, stands with his wife, Shirley Wright, 71, in the sanctuary of the church in Worcester. Rev. Wright is retiring after 37 years in the community. (T&G Staff/TOM RETTIG)
"God will take care of you," it reads.
But the sign may have been missing some of the message.
"All the Holy Spirit asks of us is that we see it, desire it and ask," Rev. Wright said. "If we asked it, he'd give it to us."
At the end of the year, Rev. Wright, 80, will step down as pastor of the Main South neighborhood church that he, Mrs. Wright and 36 parishioners founded in 1976.
"One thing I've tried to do here is teach by example," he said during an interview at the very table where he worked with community leaders to develop programs such as the Martin Luther King Jr. Business Empowerment Center.
His speech labored, and sprinkled with regret, Rev. Wright considered each word as he explained the reasoning for his retirement, which he said stemmed from a handful of "disagreements" or "debates" within the church over the Gospel.
"Maybe, I'm just too stuck where I am and that's why the disagreements occurred," he said. "I'm not saying people never disagreed with me ... I do my best to understand what it is that we were called to do. There's no debating on the Gospel.
"I felt maybe it was time to move on," he said.
Rev. Wright has offered to continue helping at the church until his replacement is chosen.
Once that occurs, he said he will likely only visit the church, to allow the new pastor to better transition into his role.
In retirement mode, he plans to take classes at Worcester State and study black history. And "with a blank mind I can get someone to teach me how to play music," he said, particularly the piano.
Born and raised in Alabama, Rev. Wright moved to Colorado after three years in the Army and got a job as an mechanic for a bus company. In his mid-30s, he went through an arduous and painful divorce and was prevented from seeing his two children, he said.
In an attempt to leave that life behind, he moved to New York City and got a job as a computer technician for a Watertown-based company. During his time in New York he got licensed to preach the Gospel. The following year, Rev. Wright was relocated to the business' Massachusetts headquarters and joined the Myrtle Baptist Church, where he met Shirley Cooper-Sanders, his future wife.
Still working as a computer technician, Rev. Wright was asked to preach one Sunday at John Street Baptist Church in Worcester while its pastor was on vacation.
Newly married and raising Mrs. Wright's two children as his own, Rev. Wright was asked to take over as pastor of the John Street church.
"It wasn't my intention to pastor a church," he said last week. After some back and forth, he became ordained and in 1973 moved into a home in Worcester with his family, earning a salary of $140 a week.
Rev. Wright said he had big plans for the church, which still operates out of a refurbished house and at the time had outgrown the building.
"I wanted to increase the ministry," he said. "I wanted to build it into something greater. ... if God could provide them with a house then he would give them a church."
After some looking around, the majority of parishioners decided they did not want to move to a new location.
"They voted me out because I wanted to come here," he said of the Emmanuel Baptist Church building at 717 Main St., which had been a Presbyterian church.
Source: The News Telegram | Alli Knothe