The Rev. Gardner C. Taylor, widely considered the dean of the nation’s black preachers and “the poet laureate of American Protestantism,” died Sunday after a ministerial career that spanned more than six decades. He was 96.
The Rev. Carroll Baltimore, past president of the Progressive National Baptist Convention, confirmed Taylor’s death.
“Dr. Taylor was a theological giant who will be greatly missed,” he said of the minister who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2000.
Concord Baptist Church of Christ, the imposing, block-long, brick church Taylor pastored for 42 years, became a beacon of hope and vitality for many African-Americans in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Concord, one of New York City’s largest churches, operated its own elementary school, nursing home, credit union and million-dollar endowment used to invest in the community. For more than four decades, Taylor made Concord’s pulpit “the most prestigious in black Christendom,” proclaimed author and scholar Michael Eric Dyson.
Dyson described Taylor’s preaching style as a blend of technical aspects, brilliant metaphors and an “uncanny sense of rhythmic timing put to dramatic but not crassly theatrical effect.”
The tall, charismatic pastor was renowned for the memorable sermons he spun from tales, anecdotes and Scriptures but rarely captured in manuscripts. Taylor, a preacher’s preacher, kept his thoughts before speaking and kept a black pocket Bible handy when he wanted to refer to the sermon’s Scripture reading for the day.
Taylor also will be remembered for a thorny page in black Baptist history struck by his allegiance to civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., during a tense time in the National Baptist Convention, USA.
In 1960, Taylor, King and other black ministers split from the denomination after a fierce debate over King’s civil rights agenda, which many black clerics of the day thought was too politically liberal. As a result, Taylor and other King supporters seceded from the convention and formed the Progressive National Baptist Convention, of which Taylor was once president.