A look into the ministry of the Columbia Union’s longest serving pastor—and where Henry Wright goes from here
Story by Benjamin J. Baker
The packed church waits in anticipation, sensing what is coming. The tall, stately man sits on one of the steps leading up to the pulpit. “I’ve pastored this church for 20 years and six months,” he says in a rich, baritone voice. “June will mark my 50th year in the ministry.”
Since turning 70, he has felt the Lord impressing him to move on. He reminisces with pride on his years with them. Then in a charged voice he declares, “I say before you and God: I have done my job here.” The congregation, silent thus far, breaks into applause, standing as one to its feet. At this, the stern man’s eyes begin to water, his stoic demeanor breaking. After the people return to their seats, the man, now composed, declares, “The next leader will take you higher and further. This church has not yet reached its potential.”
Click here to read about the Wright's love story
“All I can say is I love you,” Pastor Henry Wright says as he rises from the steps of Potomac Conference’s Community Praise Center (CPC) in Alexandria, Va.
A Grounded Faith
Henry Monroe Wright was born to William and Zoe Wright on February 3, 1942, in Cincinnati, Ohio. Although he entered the world amidst World War II, Wright grew up in a world far removed from the mayhem. When he was 6, his grandfather insisted the end was near so the family must live away from the cities. Germantown, a tiny community in Southwest Ohio, fit the bill.
“Growing up in that little farming community shaped me,” Wright says. “It was rural, it was family, it was Adventist and it was pure.” This early atmosphere grounded Wright in the Seventh-day Adventist faith. “Grandma taught me the Bible at her knee and, at age 10, I could explain the 2,300-day prophecy without notes,” he says. At 18, Wright headed south to Oakwood University (then a college) in Huntsville, Ala., where he blossomed.
A natural leader, he became freshman class president. Yet, he was still undecided about what he wanted to do with his life. It was only after pulling a youthful stunt and being expelled for two weeks that Wright recognized God’s call on his life.
“I told the Lord, ‘I’ve run from You, now I’m saying yes to You,’” he remembers. Oakwood is also where he met his lifelong companion, Carol Lindsey. Teaching and Learning Wright’s initiation to the ministry was as a pastor in Mississippi. Most of his parishioners lived in dire poverty, yet, even though many of them only received $50 a month from welfare, it was faithfully tithed.
“They taught me way more about myself than I taught them,” Wright says. Wright ran tent meetings every summer and was constantly pushing forward. His churches grew along with his family. In 1969 Wright was diagnosed with bullous emphysema. “The doctor told me to stop preaching or I’d be carrying an oxygen tank around with me very soon,” says Wright. “I said, ‘Doc, I don’t know how to do anything else.’” Wright chuckles, “God taught me dependence through that.”
At 29, Wright was called to pastor the Ephesus church in Columbus, Ohio, the headquarter church of the Allegheny West Conference. Back in his home state, Wright’s ministry took off. Ephesus was a hive of activity during his four years as pastor. Although an exceptional pastor, Wright was attaining real distinction with his preaching.
“Absolutely riveting,” is how one person described his messages. “His words and pathos shake you to your very core.” Indeed, the deep content of his sermons, combined with an absolute belief in what he says and a potent delivery in an arresting baritone continues to make Wright one of the most sought-after speakers in the church.
A Turning Point
In 1978 when Wright returned to Oakwood to teach, this time he had a complete family of five, including three sons, Henry II (Hank), Michael and H. Marcel. As with his first stint at the school, the 35-year-old Wright flourished. Students flocked to hear the charismatic professor. In 1981 the graduating class even voted him professor of the year.
Leaving Oakwood in 1983, for the next ten years Wright served in higher administration in the Columbia Union. His time at the helm of Allegheny West was marked by an emphasis on youth ministries, community outreach, and evangelism. As secretary of the Columbia Union Conference he was instrumental in the reorganization of its eight conferences. In early 1992 Wright was asked to be the Secretary of the General Conference Ministerial Association.
But, it was here that the upward trajectory of Wright’s career was abruptly halted. “There was a moment in my life when I did not do what was best and wise,” Wright says. After nearly 30 years of church work, Wright resigned and left the ministry.
It is no exaggeration to say that thousands of Adventists around the world were stunned and heartbroken at the news. “Some people counted me out for good,” reflects Wright.
After nearly a year out of the ministry, Wright received a phone call from the Potomac Conference president asking if he’d consider pastoring a tiny, struggling church in Northern Virginia.
August 21, 1993, Wright stepped to the pulpit to preach his first sermon at Community Praise Center. “There were so few people that you could lay on the pews and not touch anybody,” Wright quips. “After the service, I knelt in front of the altar and prayed a very simple prayer: ‘Lord, do not make me a success here; defend Your name.’” Success was the Lord’s, but Wright knew that he and the 35 faithful attendees would have to work hard to save CPC. “I sat with the board, and we developed a five-year program to turn things around,” he says. Whoever stepped foot inside the church was immediately incorporated into the program and put to work.
A year later, CPC started averaging 150-200 people each Sabbath. It was at this time that Wright hit upon an idea. “I started a series on the parables of Luke 15. Word began to spread,” he says, eyes lighting up. “By the end of that summer, our attendance had doubled.”
He adds, “More than anything, the success of CPC encouraged Carol and I that the Lord would still use us in ministry,” Wright states. But, tragedy was to visit the Wrights again.
October 8, 1997, Michael, their middle son, was killed in a car accident. “Neither Carol nor I have ever gotten over it,” Wright says, tears forming in his eyes. Although unbearably painful, the tragedy humanized the couple to the congregation. “It made us more real to people,” Wright says. “It gave people a hallway where they felt comfortable knocking on Henry and Carol’s door … and we’ve never turned anyone away.”
Growing and Expanding
In the first decade of the 21st century, CPC took its place as one of the premier congregations in the Columbia Union with a thriving membership nearing 1,000. Wright believed it was time for them to spread out and win others for Christ.
About 25 miles away in Bowie, Md., a group of 10-15 people met to study the Bible after the close of a Revelation seminar in 2006. Led by Naeem Newman, the believers soon drew the interest of Melvyn Hayden, III, then CPC’s youth pastor. Hayden and others approached Wright about adopting the remnant and establishing a “lighthouse” in Bowie, a D.C. suburb with no Adventist church. Wright readily agreed—in fact, he had just the person in mind to pastor the fledgling flock.
Like Wright, Paul Graham had been out of the ministry for two years and didn’t think he would ever return. However, when Wright called to ask him if he’d pastor the believers in Bowie, Graham knew that God was calling him back. “Elder Wright believed in me,” Graham says. “He is the person most responsible for my return to ministry.” The Lord quickly blessed CPC’s first campus church, initially called the Bowie Project and later Restoration Praise Center (RPC). Now five and a half years past their first official service, RPC claims nearly 600 members with over $1 million in annual tithe.
Other campuses have followed. There is a group in another part of Alexandria, and, in September 2012, Jennifer Deans joined as the pastor of CPC’s Dulles campus, a sprawling suburban area around Dulles International Airport in Northern Virginia, which had no Adventist presence.
About Pastor Deans, Wright is effusive: “She is extremely talented. Her ministry has no limits.” CPC’s largest campus, however, is online. Each month nearly 2,000 people from 24 countries view the Sabbath service streaming on the CPC website.
Additionally, Wright’s sermons have second lives on sites like YouTube and Vimeo, where tens of thousands have been enriched. “The online campus is immeasurable,” Wright notes. “I get letters from Brazil, Australia, the Far East, England—all blessed by our church services on the Web.”
Currently there are plans for yet more sister campuses in Temple Hills, Md., and Lorton, Va. Now just past Wright’s 20th year at CPC, the church boasts some 1,200 members engaged in more than 60 ministries, tithing over $2.5 million annually, with an international reach.
What is Wright’s response? “I’m leaving,” he states. Why? “You don’t leave when something’s falling apart. You hand someone something worth having.” When asked if he is retiring, Wright, with shock on his face, responds, “Retire? Oh no! That word has no meaning to me.”
Instead, after Wright’s final Sabbath at CPC May 3, he will go on to his next assignment as senior pastor of the Takoma Park (Md.) church and developer of an intern ministry for Potomac. In this new task, Wright will train interns and pastors of Potomac and other participating conferences. Wright will also continue to teach at Washington Adventist University in Takoma Park, Md., where he molds the minds of ministers-in-training. As with his students at Oakwood, this new generation of ministers taught by Wright is now in leadership positions across the Columbia Union and around the world.
After 50 years of ministry, it’s as if Wright is just starting out. “I’m chomping at the bit,” he says excitedly, leaning forward in his chair. “I’m going to go to Takoma Park and do what I’ve done here: work hard. If you work hard and pray, results are in the hands of God. I can’t wait to see what the Lord will do.” Benjamin Baker, PhD, is the assistant archivist at the General Conference.
Read the April 2014 Issue of the Columbia Union Visitor
What a tribute to a great man of God! My wife and I will be praying for continued success!
same here...absolutely love pastor wright n the legacy of his ministry will continue blessing...so covered in prayer :)
God bless you Henry and Carol! Stay healthy and strong and enjoy your new adventure in response to God's calling. I've enjoyed watching your Sabbath services online since I've been unable to attend church. Much love to you both!
Cheryl Mitchell Rudley
I was there on Aug. 21, 1993. Seeing Elder Wright that Sabbath was a personal answer to my prayers. His ministry has blessed me tremendously. I plan to be there on May 3, 2014. An era will end as a new one begins. God will continue to place this faithful servant where his talents will be put to the greatest use. God has, and will continue to, bless the anointed ministry of Pastor and Sis. Wright.
A beautiful account of an amazing man of God! I've been blessed to know Pastor Wright all my life. His parents were my God-parents, but it wasn't until I went to Oakwood that I developed a real bond with this powerful preacher! He was my first true Bible teacher, outside of my parents. Having attended public school the majority of my life, it was a blessing to begin and end class with prayer. And when he walked over to "the window" of the Religion Complex and glared up into the sky, it was as if he and the Holy Spirit were having their own conversation! Inevitably, what came out of his mouth next were powerful words straight from the Lord. It wasn't uncommon to end our classes on a high, shouting and praising God for His goodness and mercy!
My husband and I were blessed to receive marriage counseling from Pastor Wright, before AND after he married us. He saw something in us that we didn't see, and so, when we visited CPC in the early 90's, he put us to work as Family Life Leaders, but not before we made a real commitment to that congregation. He respected the fact that we were committed to another local Adventist church and did not want to interfere with our struggle with loyalty, but once we made our minds up to transfer our membership, he grabbed us and got us involved with ministry there. This act of faith on his part, nearly 20 years ago, has spurned into our passion to save families, and in particular, husbands and wives, encouraging them to make their homes "a little heaven on earth." We would not be where we are today, had it not been for Pastor Henry Wright.
Although we no longer live in Columbia Union, we have carried our ministry with us. The leadership we have grown to love and respect from Pastor Wright will forever remain with us as we use our gifts and talents for the Lord, but as the saying goes, "Once a CPC'er, ALWAYS a CPC'er!
I congratulate Pastor and Sister Wright on their awesome ministry at CPC and I’m glad that we were able to serve under their fine leadership. I know that with God's guidance, anywhere He leads them they will safely go and success will be inevitable!
In my view no minister should pastor a church in excess of seven years at the max.
I have pastored for over 20 years. I has been my experience, that when you hit the 7 year mark, you have just skimmed the surface in your ministry at the local level.
Elder Wright is extra - ordinary. When you can reinvent yourself and be current for 20 years at one church, it speaks volumes of the Holy Spirit guiding.
I used to agree with you GMF.. until I became a better minister with examples like his.
Praying for better ministers.
That may be your opinion,....but unless you have actually walked in a pastor's shoes, you don't don't know the work that they have done. This article was NOT about how long he was at a church, but about how long he has served in his calling to minister. If all you got from this article was the length of time he served at one particular church, then in my opinion, my friend, you have missed the point totally.
yeah, research shows that method of frequently moving pastors is a huge contributor to stunting church growth and progress in making disciples and spreading the gospel. it's like having a rule that u should change head coaches every season, regardless of how well they're doing...regardless of the chemistry needed for the team. in essence, it doesn't work.
If Pastor Henry was in my church I would like him to be my pastor for a long time until retirement. God has truly blessed him and Carol.
A man of God that teaches a God directs, a good preacher, but a much better teacher. At every opportunity he never passes up a teachable moment. Always in love, always in truth, always according to God's word. I have been blessed to learn so much in short time from Him. God has blessed me through his man servant; Henry M. Wright.
If I were limited to naming only one person who has had the single most impact on my life as a SDA Christian, it would be Elder Henry Monroe Wright. In 1982, I was privileged to take his "Pastoral Ministry" course at Oakwood and although I did not become a pastor, his instruction from John 17 (the role of a good shepherd) has guided my development in, and passion for ministry for 32 years!
I could fill a book with what I have learned from this Godly man, pastor, teacher, counselor, friend; through my good times and bad; from marriage counseling to divorce counseling and the devastating grief of losing my brother, a young pastor, under tragic circumstances, Pastor and Sis. Wright have been a source of Love, inspiration, affirmation, and encouragement.
To GMF: While I agree with you in theory...Ask Mt. Sinai, Orlando members how it has been to have Elder Wright as our homecoming speaker for over 30 years! We call him our longest tenured pastor. We have been blessed through every season in his life! Everywhere God has planted Pastor Wright, he has used him and blessed him with extraordinary accomplishments. Let's pray for him and Sis. Carol and look forward to more amazing news as he steps into this next phase of his ministry.
Like David, a man after God's own heart!!! His union with Carol has been a blessing to many!! I thank God OFTEN for how they have blessed my life. May nothing but God's blessings continue to be upon their health and ministry as they move forward. Enlarge their territory......bless them indeed!!! #sothankfulthatGodrestores
Pastor Wright and Dear Carol. You were our inspiration when my late husband, Eugene, and I served our Lord in the Allegheny West Conference over thirty years ago. It was a privilege to work as administrative assistant to Pastor Wright while in the conference office and to have assisted with script preparation for his television program in Columbus, OH. We have prayed for you through the years, and know that God has worked his perfect will in your lives. CONGRATULATIONS!
Ephesus SDA Church in Columbus,Ohio was either his first, or near the first that he pastored, and we grew right along with him. My husband Wm Lucius Sullivan was Hd Deacon,and I Hospt Ldr, and during his ministry here we learned to give better Bible Studies,with results. Oh how we love both Henry and Carol and would love for them to return to Ohio and be closer to us. God Bless you two. See you soon. Bert & Lor.
There's a huge difference between a leader and a transformational leader. A transformational leader shares what they know and assists YOU in becoming a better leader. They are not threatened by another's success. From the time I stepped foot into CPC 17 years ago, I have been given the tools to exhibit servant-leadership. Yes, he's taught me a lot about church administration, but he has equipped the leaders of the church to be servants by living what he preaches. He has enhanced the morale, motivation and performance of those who serve under him. He's a role model. He consistently exhibits the fruits of the Spirit, letting us know that he is directly connected to the source. God has used him in the work of saving many souls at CPC and I know he will continue to do marvellous things in the future.
I am so grateful to Pastor Wright. As a student at Oakwood, I had many unanswered questions about salvation. I personally didn't feel that I could be saved. I remember Pastor Wright telling me that Jesus died especially for people like me, and it hurts him that I feel that way. It may not sound like much to those of you reading this, but, it still resonates with me today. He was loving and kind in his delivery and through him I got to know Jesus anew. My prayers are with you and your family as you start a new chapter in your life.
Pastor Wright is truly a blessing to the world and I’m not sure if he knows how many listeners he has in South Africa. He has been and is still an inspiration and my online Pastor. When I was serving in South Korea, CPC was my online church. I mean, I download his sermons almost every week and my external hard drive has lots of his sermons. The likes of “I have proof”, “On being a man”, “As for me”, “Ears that do not listen”, “Show us the Father Part 1&2”, “Being the best lover”, “The Devil in the back door”, “The Sabbath series”, “The stewardship series”, how can I forget “THE DOCTRINE OF MINISTRY” O’ man just to name a few. I have grown as an Adventist Christian, grounded in Adventist theology and learned how to preach through his sermons.
My wife Nomfundo and I always pray that we go to the US someday just to see and listen to the man of God face to face.
Mfundisi (Pastor in Xhosa) Long Live!
From the day I was told about your ministry and started listening,your sermons are an inspiration to me and I pray that God continue bless and guide you as he did in the pass.
Henry and Carol Wright, your life has touched many include mine from Zambia through online. My brother, Caleb, introduced me to your ministry
Till we meet on Heaven's shore, GOD bless you
I am grateful that Pastor Wright remained faithful to God and His leading. I am one of those thousands that listen to him via the internet. God has used him to teach and preach the gospel to a dying people. I have learned so much about God through his teachings. I praise the Holy Spirit for all revelation through Pastor Wright's God-led ministry. I look at this as another beginning for the Tacoma church and the Wrights. I will continue to uplift them.
WOW, I was shocked when I heard pastor Wright was leaving.....I've been visiting CPC for a loooong time and it's one of my all time favorite place to worship......I always feel blessed in that house.....Pastor Henry will always remain one of my all time favorite messenger of God. it's so hard to say goodbye, but I hope to see you and your family soon again. God Bless.
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