Local pastor a candidate for national Baptist post

Wright seeks position as vice president at-large

August 05, 1999|By John Rivera | John Rivera,SUN STAFF

The Rev. John L. Wright, a Baptist minister and civil rights activist, has become a candidate for vice president of the National Baptist Convention, the largest African-American denomination in the country.

Wright, the pastor of First Baptist Church of Guilford in Howard County, is running for a slot as a vice president at-large on the ticket of the Rev. W. Franklyn Richardson, a candidate for the denomination's presidency from Mount Vernon, N.Y.

The president of the denomination has several ministers who assist him as vice presidents. Seven people hold the posts.

Richardson, who has strong support among Baltimore ministers who belong to the convention, is running as a reform candidate to correct abuses that occurred during the presidency of the Rev. Henry J. Lyons of St. Petersburg, Fla.

Lyons was convicted in February of defrauding several companies seeking to do business with the National Baptist Convention of $4 million. He began serving a 5 1/2-year prison sentence in March.

The election will determine the National Baptist Convention's future in the wake of Lyons' conviction and resignation as president. With a reported 8.2 million members and 33,000 congregations, the National Baptist Convention is the nation's fourth-largest denomination. Only the Roman Catholic Church, the Southern Baptist Convention and the United Methodist Church are larger.

Richardson, who ran against Lyons in 1994 and lost in a disputed election, has emerged as one of three front-runners for the presidency. The election will be held during the convention's annual meeting next month in Tampa, Fla. The other top contenders are the Rev. William Shaw of Philadelphia and the Rev. E. V. Hill of Los Angeles, who was a key Lyons supporter.

Wright, one of a group of Baltimore-area ministers who joined an effort to oust Lyons at the 1997 annual meeting in Denver after the allegations against him surfaced, said he was asked by Richardson to join his ticket.

"I really didn't want to do it," he said. "It was his choice. He asked me."

If Richardson wins the election and Wright takes office as a vice president, it will be the first time a minister from Maryland has held the position.

Wright said that if he assumes the post, he will work to make the national body more responsive to local congregations.

"I would like to see that the convention would become more of service to the local churches," he said. "A lot of times, the local congregations are asked to support the national body or the parent body. I would like to see it reformed to give recognition and service to the local assembly. The convention should be a supplier of resources for the local assembly."

Wright, 63, a resident of the Ten Hills neighborhood of West Baltimore, has been pastor of First Baptist Church of Guilford for 28 years. He was president of the United Baptist Missionary Convention for Maryland from May 1994 until last year. He served as president of the Maryland chapter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People from 1986 to 1994.

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