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Richard Wingfield

When CUBM students need a preacher for a special event, more often than not, they invite Richard Wingfield. He is a preacher with content, which also makes him a popular teacher among CUBM students. Richard has chosen to stay in Braddock, a depressed area by anyone’s standards, and is bringing hope and spiritual life to an otherwise bleak neighborhood. You can read this interview to understand some of what makes Richard Wingfield do what he does to earn the title “Urban Hero.”

JS: One of our very own CUBM graduates, Pastor Richard Wingfield. Pastor Richard, welcome to the Urban Heroes program.

RW: Thank you John. I’m glad to be a part of it.

JS: Well, we are honored. As we have started out with all of our other Heroes, just tell our listeners and readers a little bit about Richard Wingfield, what you do, where you are, where you serve at this point in time.

RW: I serve as senior of the Unity Baptist Church, in Braddock, Pennsylvania. It’s a merger of two churches within Braddock. The Willow Way Baptist Church and the Bethel Baptist Church. I serve as the visionary behind the merger, as well as the first pastor of the church. We have been in existence now for ten years. We’re celebrating our tenth year anniversary this year. My history really goes back to preaching really being in my blood. I’m a third generation pastor on my father’s side. And a fourth generation pastor on my mother’s side. And I’ve been in the ministry 30+ years now. I’m happily married to my wife Vanessa. We’ve been married one year this month. We’re a blended family. We have three children and one grandchild. And so, that’s me in a nutshell.

JS: Now let’s go back and fill in some of the blanks. Talk to us a little bit about the merger of the congregations. What were the circumstances surrounding that and what was your role and how tough was it to make happen?

RW: The merger of the congregations was interesting. Anybody who knows the history of Braddock will know that at one time Braddock was a hub of the steel industry. It boasted a population of about 20,000 in Braddock proper. But due to the demise of the steel industry, the population as of the 2010 Census, is under 3,000. Both of these churches back in the day were strong churches. The church was formed initially as the First Baptist Church in East Pittsburgh. It moved to Braddock to a street called Willow Way, therefor it was called the Willow Way Baptist Church. In the 1920’s, about the mid 1920’s, Reverend E.W. Lipscomb, who was the pastor, wanted to give the church a more Biblical name. So the congregation voted on the Bethel Baptist Church. But there were some who wanted to maintain the name Willow Way, so that ended up in a church split, with some going towards Willow Way, and some going towards Bethel. Both churches existed separately for 80 years until the year 2003 when the pastor of the Willow Way Church passed on. And right after the funeral, maybe about a couple months after the funeral, I approached our deacons and asked them to approach the deacons of the Willow Way Church in regards to a possible merger. Well we went into some talks about it, did a little feasibility study. And based on the feasibility study, we decided that it was good for the churches to come together. We had conversation, we took it to the church bodies, both bodies overwhelmingly received that. And as a result, they entered into negotiations, and came about with the Unity Baptist Church. It did not go without its casualties. There were some who were not too happy about the merger process. We had a few people who left. We had a few people who wanted to go back into separate churches. But we stayed the course. And we are where are now, because we had a desire to stay the course.

JS: Now some people would say, it’s not a thriving community. Why go through the effort? Why stay? Why not pick the church up and take it to Monroeville or some place. What do you say to that?

RW: Well we felt that staying in Braddock was essential. Because if the church left Braddock, we felt that it would leave a void in Braddock. We felt that the uniting of the churches was essential for a united Baptist witness. At the time that we did the feasibility study, we found that there were between Braddock, North Braddock Hills, and Rankin, there were about 19 black churches in which four or five of them within the Braddock community alone were Baptist. And so, that’s what precipitated really the desire and the need to join the churches together as one.

JS: You mentioned mom and dad. As far as having preachers on both sides of the family. Talk to us about your natural family, growing up, where you grew up, and give us some way back history.

RW: I’m a native of Western Pennsylvania. I’m born here in Pittsburgh. And, my parents were originally from West Virginia. But both of their parents moved them up to the Pittsburgh area at young ages. I’m a graduate of Farrell High School. And initially started Geneva College in 1978 as a pre-med major. Decided to leave school. Got married initially, and in the process moved to the state of Texas. And, was there for a few months, and felt the call of the Lord to go into the preaching ministry. Unfortunately, four days before I was scheduled to preach my initial sermon, my father passed from a massive heart attack on a golf course. And so, that put that back for about a month. But in the month of May, 1982, I preached my initial sermon. I matriculated to the Southern Bible Institute in Dallas, Texas. I was there for three years to a little church in Wichita Falls, Texas, called the Greater St. Mark Baptist Church. I was there for about a year. And then, as fate would have it, moved back to Rochester, New York. And I was in Rochester, New York, for two years, sitting under the pastorate of Dr. James Cherry, who pastored the Enom Baptist Church of Rochester. He was a friend of the family, and he kind of mentored me through a difficult period in that time. And ultimately ended up pastoring a little church in Donora, Pennsylvania; the St. Paul Baptist Church, in Donora, Pennsylvania. I was there for seven-and-a-half years. And made some strides there in Donora, and the Lord led me to go to Braddock. And so I took the Bethel Baptist Church in Braddock. And was there for about five years before the merger took place.

JS: Talk to us about your call. You’re down in Texas. What were the circumstances that surrounded your call to the ministry.

RW: Well, I was a young man, young and foolish. Being that I grew up in the church, I knew about God. Had made up in my mind since I was moving to a new state, I wanted a new direction in life. So I began seeking God. Who is this God of my parents and why should I serve Him? So, I ended up going to the library, pulling out Christian books, pulling out philosophy books and what have you. And, since I was new in the area, I was just trying to get my feet on the ground and what have you. We bought a stereo; I loved gospel music. And so, although I sold everything to move to Texas, I retained my gospel album collection. And in the process at the time, I bought a stereo, and in the midst of this searching, I put on one of my favorite albums. And actually the first song was the song that really brought me to my knees. It came really out of Psalm 46:10, “Be still and know that I am God.” You’re doing a lot of searching, and what have you. Just be still and recognize the fact that I am God. And it was at that time that I submitted myself, surrendered myself, to the call of God that was on my life. And so, I was licensed to preach at the Sunset Baptist Church in Grand Prairie, Texas. And I was there for four years, until I received the call to the Greater St. Mark Baptist Church in Wichita Falls, Texas.

JS: Now at some point you started Geneva, but you didn’t finish Geneva. What point did you reengage your education?

RW: I reengaged my education about a year after I had returned to Western Pennsylvania. I was pastoring in Donora for about a year. And had a desire to go back to go to school. I had made up in my mind that by the time I was age 40, I was going to have my bachelor’s degree. And I spoke to a friend of my father’s, who was actually one of the co-founders, if you will, of CUBM, Dr. LeRoy Walker. He was a friend of the family for years. And I was sharing for him, one afternoon, one Sunday afternoon, my desire to go back to school. And I was looking at some correspondence courses. And he told me about this new initiative that was developed, The Center for Urban Biblical Ministries. And encouraged me to really look into it. And so, I had spoken with Dr. John Leftwich, and he invited me to come sit in on a class. When I went and sat in on that class, and received a whole lot of information in that one class, the seeds I really missed in my years in the ministry thus far. And so I immediately enrolled, much to the consternation of a couple people in my life. But I immediately enrolled and pursued the associate of arts degree at CUBM. I took one class at a time, until I got close to the amount of credits that I needed. And so, once I got close, I started taking two classes. And, in 1995, I graduated with the Associates of Arts degree at CUBM. And, that I am aware of, I believe I was the first official graduate of CUBM. Decided to try to pursue education a little bit further. Looked at something with Reformed Presbyterian Seminary. At that time, I don’t know if it was Jerry O’Neill who was there at that time, or Bruce that was there. I think it was Jerry that I had talked to that had mentioned the possibility of just forgoing the bachelor degree at that time and just getting into the masters program. I did a class there, and I didn’t feel comfortable at that time. And so, at that time, Geneva was coming up with this Degree Completion Program in community ministry. And so, I enrolled in the first class that they had for the DCP.

JS: Just an education pioneer.

RW: Exactly right! And then ended that first class there. And subsequently graduated from there. By the time I graduated, because of some personal circumstances in my life at that time, I did not walk with the initial class. But by the time I graduated in 2000, I had already completed one year seminary at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. And so, pursued the masters of divinity degree in 2002. Received that degree. And then, 2005, I started with the Doctorate Ministry Degree at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary. And pursued that to the point that May 31st is when I’m looking towards graduation.

JS: Congratulations. Dr. Wingfield.

RW: Thank you.

JS: It’s very exciting. What did you do your doctoral, did you have to do a dissertation?

RW: Yes. In fact, I’m working on that now.

JS: We won’t keep you too much longer.

RW: Finishing it up. It’s on bi-vocational ministry. Pastoral bivocational ministry. I haven’t given it a specific title as of yet. It’s really dealing with the effects of bi-vocational ministry on the pastoral ministry. Looking at, in particular, the Unity Baptist Church, where I pastor. And recognizing that there is a history of bi-vocational ministry within this particular congregation. And really seeking to move them from bi-vocational to full-time pastoral ministry.

JS: Now you also do some teaching, don’t you?

RW: Yes, I do. I do teaching for The Center for Urban Biblical Ministry. I’ve actually been with CUBM for about 10 years, I believe it is. And, I’ve also done some teaching for the Degree Completion Program, at Geneva. And was just recently asked to serve as a primary instructor for one of the classes through the Degree Completion Program. So we’re looking to start that in October.

JS: So, you’re still kind of bi-vocational, aren’t you? You’re pastoring and teaching. Or do you see the teaching as an extension of your pastoral ministry.

RW: I see teaching as an extension of the pastoral ministry. And I see it that way because I just enjoy teaching. In fact, teaching is my dominant spiritual gift. And so, I enjoy teaching. I don’t see it as bi-vocational at all. I just see it as an extension of the ministry that God has given to me.

JS: And I think you pioneered too, because I think you and I were the first team teachers at CUBM.

RW: I think you are absolutely correct about that John.

JS: And for our listeners, we did a preaching class. And I always thought of the comic in the Saturday Evening Post, of the Indians that were sending up smoke signals, and they look over in the desert and there was an atomic blast with a big mushroom cloud. And one Indian said to another, “I wish I would have said that.” And that’s how I always felt when I was around you. I felt like I was a pop gun and you were artillery. You are quite a preacher. You have a reputation for that. Talk to us about how that developed and how you became aware of that, or your philosophy in preaching. Anything you can share with us to better understand your gift and your effect with that gift.

RW: I’ve been around preaching all of my life, of course. And so, I have grown up around what was considered good preaching. My father, though he did not graduate high school, did seek to pursue to better himself educationally. Not necessarily with degrees, but going through advanced classes, and what have you. To better himself for the ministry. He always hung around good solid preaching. And so, good preaching has always been a part of my psyche. I’ve listened to preaching. I’ve critiqued preaching. And I tend to be very critical of bad preaching. Because I like to hear good sound sermons. In particular, within the black tradition, where we love the celebration. One of the things that you well know John, that I hone is on, is the fact that I’m looking for good content. And when you have good content, then you can celebrate. There’s a professor that I had back in Texas, Dr. Charles Reed, who said, that if you cook the meat long enough it will make its own gravy. And so, I hold on to that so that when you get to the celebration part, that’s nothing but the dessert. But you’ve already got the meat of the word, your content, as you properly execute the passage of scripture.

JS: And that’s for you, if there’s a thing that stands out in my mind for you. There is content. You don’t use your celebration as a manipulative technique when things aren’t going well. You use it as a tool for emphasis, so that people know when they walk away, what the most important point. You know, where were you going with the message. And I appreciate that about you. And one thing I’ve also noticed, you write out your messages, don’t you?

RW: Yes, I am a strict manuscript creature. And I’m that way. I’ve always wanted to be able to preach without manuscript. I’m much more focused when I preach from a manuscript. It took me years to become comfortable preaching from a manuscript. And to be honest with you John, it took me at least 20 years to really be comfortable preaching from a manuscript. But I’m much more focused in my preaching. I’m much more pointed in my preaching, when I’m preaching from a manuscript. And I’ve learned, and I’m learning to master the manuscript. To the point where you know what the manuscript is saying, but you’re not bound to it, because you know you’re going with it. And there are times when, of course, within our tradition, you just, there’s a move of the spirit to address something that’s not on the manuscript. I generally say, I got an email from heaven, and I want to go ahead and deal with that particular aspect. But I’m always drawn back to the manuscript, as a point of focus, as a point of reference.

JS: And, again, you do it very well. I never feel like you’re tied to it. And sometimes I have to remind myself, at some point, that you are reading it. Because it comes across so naturally, and then you break away from it. And again, for effect, when you break away, we know that that’s something you’re being led to say, or that you want to emphasize, and step away. And when you step back in, we feel like the car has derailed, and then you get it back on track. But the derailment was with purpose. And so you’re just a very excellent communicator. Talk to us about Unity Baptist. You’re in a declining area. And do people come from the community? Talk to us about your ministry philosophy, things that are happening that are happening in the church, things that you may be doing to impact the community.

RW: Well John, we recently just moved into a new building that really fits into the center of the community. For years, the Bethel Baptist Church and the Willow Way Baptist Church sat in what’s known as The Bottom. Which is really a section of Braddock that’s across railroad tracks, really sits between the railroad tracks and the river. Our church, where we were, the Bethel Baptist Church, was located a stone’s throw from the steel mill, so that on any given night, they could be pouring the steel in the steel mill, and it would actually light up the sanctuary. At one time, the church sat across from what was known as the Talbot Towers, which was a housing project area here in Braddock. And a lot of the members came from that area, came from that housing development and what have you. It was a lot of residential area around there. But as the years rolled on, that area, that Talbot Towers was eventually razed. And where the Unity Church sat, there were really no houses within at least a block or a block and a half. And it sat that way for about 15 years. When the churches merged, they decided to utilize the site on Talbot Avenue, because it had the larger sanctuary. But recently, and when I say recently, I’m talking about the last Sunday of 2012, we marched into a new building in the center of Braddock. The Emmanuel Lutheran Church closed down after over 100 years of ministry here in the community because of a declining church population. And so they approached us about purchasing their building, which we had some interest in. And after negotiation with them, we were able to purchase a church building that had a small school attached to it, as well as some office space for $35,000. And it actually sits right across from where the old Braddock hospital used to sit. And so, at the present time, the housing being built on that area where the hospital used to sit. And then there’s also a senior citizen building that was built about a block away from here. And so, we’re going to be targeting both of those areas for evangelism. We have started some new initiatives here at the church. We just started a marriage ministry here at the church, amongst the ministries that we have ongoing. We started what’s known as the Unity Bible Institute, which is basically a two-year, basic Bible program for those who have an interest in just going through and learning about the Bible. And so, we are looking to graduate our first class in the month of June. And so, we’re excited about that. And we have a food bank here. And it really shows, the move here to this particular location on 5th Street in Braddock, really shows how effective the move was. When we were down on Talbot Avenue, we were down by 11th Street, and our food bank was servicing anywhere from about 125 to 150 families. Upon our move to 5th Street in Braddock, we are servicing now at least 220 families, with the prospects of servicing more. And so, our ministry is really increasing here in Braddock.

JS: Well, it sounds a fair statement that you are committed to Braddock. You see that long term as your ministry base?

RW: As of right now, yes. Unless the Lord opens up another situation, I’m basically here.

JS: What else remains for Richard Wingfield? What are some other things on your wish list or bucket list? You checked the doctorate off. You’re married. You got teaching career. What else is there? Anything else you’d still like to attain to?

RW: Book writing. I have books that I am looking to publish in the very near future. There’s actually a book of sermons, that starts from about 75 years of preaching within the Wingfield family. Sermons from my grandfather, my father, my uncle, and myself. Putting those sermons together. And just spanning the years to see how preaching has remained the same, and how preaching has differed down through the years. And then I’m twirling around in my mind another book that’s entitled Bouncing Back, and it’s going to be dealing with life after your decision making. And so, I’m going to be starting work on that in the very near future. So, book writing is have what I have in mind. As well as continuing to pastor, continuing to lead this congregation.

JS: And, continuing to teach, we hope, at CUBM.

RW: Yes, by all means.

JS: What words, as we close, Richard, what do you say to someone. You’re staying in Braddock. You’re ministering to an area that’s in decline, one of our needy urban areas. What do you say to somebody to encourage them to do the same thing. Not to abandon hope, for what could look like a hopeless situation?

RW: What has really kept me John, is a passage in Titus 1, about verse 5. Where Paul says to Titus, the reason I left you in Crete is so that you might start an order of things that are wanting. The ideology is this, blooming where you’re planted. Recognizing that you are where you are, not by accident, but by appointment. And recognizing that you are where you are because God has designed and ordained that you would be in this position for such a time as this. Taking advantage of the opportunities that are there to develop people, to encourage people, to really enhance the ministry so that the kingdom of God might be advanced. That’s the word of encouragement: blooming where you’re planted.


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