Rev. Dr. Anika Wilson-Brown installed as lead pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church
WASHINGTON—The four-day celebration of the installment of the Rev. Anika Wilson-Brown, Ph.D., as the new lead pastor of Union Temple Baptist Church was full of pomp and circumstance that recognized the church’s illustrious history and the vision for a more impactful future.
“I’m here to honor you (Rev. Anika Wilson-Brown) on behalf of 700,000 Washingtonians,” said Mayor Muriel Bowser at the installation service. “Anika, I’m here to celebrate a woman faith leader. Reverend Dr. Anika, I’m here to speak for daughters carrying the torch from their fathers.”
Rev. Wilson-Brown steps into the shoes of her father, the Rev. Willie F. Wilson, pastor emeritus of the church for nearly 50 years. She became the first woman to lead the church in its 53-year history. Rev. Wilson explained that his daughter had been pastoring for nearly two years and that her installation was postponed because of the pandemic.
“Executive Pastor Retired (Pastor Mary) and I are hallelujah happy and peacock proud to see our daughter assume the mantle of Union Temple as Lead Pastor,” said Rev. Wilson.
“When I named pastor ‘A’ Anika, little did I know until genealogical research uncovered that this is the name of her initial ancestor brought to America as a slave from West Africa. Anika means ‘brilliant, fearless, favored, unique sweet face.’ She is all of that and more,” he added.
Rev. Willie Wilson is considered by many to be a legend in the nation’s capital because of his various accomplishments in his decades long leadership of Union Temple, according to the church website, www.uniontempledc.com. The church was founded in 1967 by the late Reverend Chester R. Smallwood. Rev. Wilson took over as pastor in 1973 with the then-active membership of 30.
Since then, news reports have chronicled his history in the city’s political life, and as a close friend of the late former four-term D.C. Mayor and City Councilman, Marion S. Barry. Wilson was also a mayoral candidate in 2002 and was the executive director of the Million Man March in 1995.
Under Wilson’s leadership the church has grown to an estimated 8,000 members, according to the church website. Headline speakers have included: South Africa President Nelson Mandela, anti-apartheid activist Winnie Mandela, the Rev. Jesse Jackson, the Honorable Minister Louis Farrakhan of the Nation of Islam, Dr. Dorothy Height, Dr. Bernice King, daughter of slain civil rights leader Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and Rosa Parks, as well as many other politicians and political activists.
“When a father as great as the Rev. Willie Wilson wants to let his daughter take his place in a cherished ministerial post, which he’s served so well for 48 years, it reminds me of Jesus looking for whom will carry the standard,” said Minister Farrakhan April 23 at the installation via a recording. “He found Peter and he said, well, Peter if you are such a great fisherman, if you follow me, I’ll make you a fisher of men and Peter chose to follow Jesus.”
The Minister continued: “He was a great disciple, but he did slip. He did fall, but Jesus prayed for him that his faith would not fail him all together. When he was restored in faith, he went and strengthened the Christian community. My dear beloved sister may God guide you. May He increase you in knowledge, wisdom, understanding and power that your ministry will put Satan to a perpetual flight from the hearts and minds of those who come to hear you and those whom you bring to Him.
“May God make your ministry a great, great source of pleasure for Him who sits high and looks low and grants us all the opportunity to be just like Him,” he added.
Rev. Wilson-Brown’s installation celebration was held April 21-24. It began with a revival night, then a red-carpet reception, her official installation during an event called “Making HERstory: Legacy. Leadership. Liberation. Love” on Saturday, April 23. It culminated with Installation Sunday. Her bio details that she received a degree in Psychology from Spelman College and a Master of Social Work from Catholic University of America.
In 2020, also according to her bio, Rev. Wilson-Brown earned her Ph.D. from Loyola University Maryland in Counseling Education and Supervision. She believes in the power of mentorship. Her passion for helping people led her to work with several groups including Rise Together Mentorship Network, Circle of Sacred Fire Preaching Intensive for Women of Color in Ministry, and Equal Women in Ministry Group.
Rev. Wilson-Brown is the chair of Mayor Bowser’s Interfaith Council, a group that advises her and other city officials on matters concerning the resident’s spiritual, faith and religious well-being. She’s been featured in numerous media outlets including, an Essence Magazine article, “Standing Tall in Her Stilettos: A Daughter Becomes Pastor of Her Father’s Church.”
“Connection with God is like the popsicles my dad would give me as a kid … there was something sacred about that sugary frozen ice on a stick. The simplicity of it connected me to a peace within myself that I didn’t have to strive for… an innate connection with God,” explained Rev. Wilson-Brown. “This sweet spot was Spirituality …. Simple … Pure … and delicioius! I wanted to live in this place of sweet satisfaction and bliss and help others find their sweet spot as well. We are all worthy of an absolutely delicious and abundant life!”
Union Temple—from the Board of Trustees to the Women’s Ministry and every other group in between—as well as the city, have welcomed Rev. Wilson-Brown with open arms. She is walking into the leadership of the church she grew up in. The building is a $3.5 million complex in the heart of one of the poorest sections in the city, according to her installation program.
The church has kente cloth styled-stained glass windows, and a 1990 30-by-19-foot mural by Maurice Myron Jenkins that shows a redesigned Last Supper with a Black Christ and 12 historical Black figures as the prophets. Those depictions include the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, Nelson Mandela and Rosa Parks.
“No words can adequately express how I am feeling today,” said Executive Pastor Retired Mary Wilson. “Just as the scripture states, your faith is a general blessing! It flows from your great, great grandmother Ella Brown, who was a part of the Unity Church; to your great-grandmother Rev. Essie Jackson, who was a spiritualist pastor and seer; to your grandmother Mary Lewis, who introduced Buffalo, New York, to Kwanzaa.”
Rev. Wilson-Brown’s installation was a welcome fest by a range of speakers including Claudette Marie Muhammad from the Nation of Islam, pastors from around the country including Dr. Claudette Anderson Copeland of Copeland Ministries, and Lebohang Morake known as Lebo M., a South African producer and composer known for his songwriting and vocal work on the soundtracks to films such as “The Lion King.”
“I have a bond that I will cherish for the rest of my life, with my family, my spiritual parents (The Wilsons), and my siblings,” he said. “This dedication is not only to my amazing sister, Dr. Anika, who is also my pastor, it’s also for this amazing family that I grew up with, that brought me up. In that family is the beautiful smile that my sister Anika always gave. I’m eternally grateful for that. I know you have so many lives to change, so many lives to touch. I need you to know that I’m right there.”