The Rev. Dr. William Bobby McClain
A message from Wesley Theological Seminary President David McAllister-Wilson:
"I am sorry to share our friend and colleague, William B. McClain died early this morning at home. One of the last of the young leaders of the Civil Rights Movement has passed. And a great hole opens up in the heart of the Wesley Seminary community.
"What will be the legacy of Dr. William B. McClain? About 2 million biblically grounded, theologically sound, prophetically and pastorally infused sermons have been shaped by the teaching of Dr. McClain. After 34 years in the Wesley classroom, it is foremost his students who are his legacy. And they will rise up and call him blessed.
"Indeed, in the last few hours, as word has gone out, tributes have poured in from so many deeply affected by Bobby’s teaching and mentoring.
"I learned to preach from Dr. McClain myself while a Wesley student. But much more than that, he was one of those people whose quiet word of advice and guidance was as powerful as his prophetic word from the pulpit. I was often convinced and sometimes convicted as, together, we guided this institution to be a more beloved community.
"The memory of Bobby that will endure with me is his sonorous voice singing "We Shall Overcome" at the close of the annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Lectureship. May God rest his soul and continue to disturb ours.
"I encourage alumni and friends to share their favorite memories of Dr. McClain and tributes to his life and legacy on our Wesley Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/wesleyseminary
"He and his wife, Jo Ann, asked that any gifts made in memory of him be directed to the William B. McClain Scholarship Fund at Wesley to further his lifelong commitment to students preparing for the ministry. His family has asked not to receive phone calls at this time."
Grace and Peace,
David McAllister-Wilson, President
Here are just a few highlights from his biographical sketch:
Dr. William Bobby McClain earned his B.A. degree, summa cum laude, at Clark College, Atlanta. His Master's and doctoral degrees were earned at Boston University School of Theology. He conceived of and chaired the committee which produced the hymnbook, Songs of Zion, that sold more than 2.5 million copies and changed the composition of Christian hymnals of every denomination. He then co-chaired the committee for the sequel to Songs of Zion: Zion Still Sings! For Every Generation. After the publication of Songs of Zion, he wrote Come Sunday: The Liturgy of Zion, and later completed The Preaching of Zion: The African American Church and The Bible, the third book in the Zion trilogy.
In 1978, Dr. McClain established and served as the executive director the MultiEthnic Center for Ministry at Drew University, Madison, New Jersey. There, he wrote Travelling Light: Christian Perspectives on Pluralism. He is also the author of Black People in the Methodist Church: Whither Thou Goest? and with the late Dr. Grant Shockley and Dr. Karen Collier, Heritage and Hope: African American Presence in Methodism. In 1991, his Clark Atlanta University alma mater awarded him the Doctor of Divinity degree in recognition of his achievements in religion and civil rights.
Dr. McClain became a faculty member of Wesley Theological Seminary in 1981, teaching preaching and worship for 34 years at the seminary. In 1999, he was named to the Mary Elizabeth McGehee Joyce Chair in Preaching and Worship at Wesley Theological Seminary, the first fully endowed chair in the seminary’s history, He was the commencement speaker for Wesley's Commencement in 2013, held at Washington National Cathedral on May 13, and retired from the seminary on December 31, 2013, and was Professor Emeritus.
Professor McClain met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., in Montgomery, Alabama, where Dr. King was pastoring and McClain was a teen-aged preacher in his hometown of Gadsden, Alabama.
After completing his seminary degree at Boston University, where King had previously received his doctorate, Reverend McClain returned to Alabama in 1962 to work with King and the civil rights movement and to serve as pastor of Haven Chapel Methodist Church in Anniston, Alabama, where he remained until returning to graduate school at Boston University in the fall of 1964. From 1968 to 1978, Dr. McClain, an ordained minister in the United Methodist Church, served as senior pastor of the historic Union United Methodist Church in Boston. In that same period, he taught at Boston College, Harvard University, Northeastern University and Emerson College.
While at Union UMC, he and the Rev. Warner Traynham of St. Cyprian’s Episcopal Church in Boston organized the nation’s first Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial Breakfast on January 15, 1970. To this day, it is Boston’s go-to event every January. From 2001-2003 Dr. McClain served as the Senior Pastor of Philadelphia’s Tindley Temple United Methodist Church where the great Charles Albert Tindley served as pastor and wrote many of his famous and beloved Gospel songs.
Called on frequently to lecture and preach in major pulpits and universities throughout this country and abroad, he preached in Africa, Asia, the West Indies, New Zealand, and Europe. Professor McClain opened the 126th season of the New York Chautauqua Institution in 2000 as Keynote Preacher and Chaplain-in-Residence with thousands in attendance to listen to his preaching each day.