The Rev. Gilbert "Gil" Caldwell, a retired United Methodist minister and civil rights pioneer, who was a part of the 1963 Selma "Bloody Sunday" march and March on Washington, died while in hospice care in Asbury Park, NJ, Friday, Sept. 4.
Bishop John Schol, leader of the Greater New Jersey Conference (GNJ), notified fellow bishops yesterday, after speaking and having prayer with Caldwell’s wife Grace and son Dale.
“Many of you know Rev. Gil Caldwell, prophet, preacher, leader, who loved the church and was a champion for justice,” wrote Schol, who like Caldwell, was once a pastor in the Eastern PA Conference. “He served as a pastor in at least four conferences in the NEJ (Northeastern Jurisdiction), was a general agency staff person (at the General Commission on Religion and Race), was a superintendent and a candidate for bishop. I personally have known and worked with Gil since the 1980’s and have served with him here in GNJ, where he pastored and “agitated.”
In Eastern PA Caldwell was the pastor of St. Daniel’s UMC in Chester and Superintendent of the Mary McLeod Bethune District.
He was a 1968 founding member and a board chairman of the denomination’s African American representative caucus, Black Methodists for Church Renewal. The NEJ chapter of BMCR honored him in October 2019 at its annual meeting in Atlantic City, NJ.
A longtime, outspoken advocate for universal civil rights, Caldwell was also a stalwart supporter of the LGBTQ+ community in its quest for full ministry and matrimonial rights in the UMC. He last appeared in public June 7, at a Black Lives Matter rally in Willingboro, NJ, to join others in protesting the killing of George Floyd by police in Minneapolis, Minn., according to UM News.
Bishop Peggy A. Johnson, Philadelphia Area episcopal leader, composed the following remarks in memory of Caldwell’s life and legacy today, Sept. 5.
We give thanks for the life of Rev. Gil Caldwell, an advocate for justice and inclusivity for all God's people. He entered the church triumphant on September 4, 2020.
He served as a pastor in the Eastern PA Annual Conference from 1986 until 1994, first at St. Daniels UMC until 1989, and then as the District Superintendent of the Mary Bethune District until 1994. He also served in the New England, New York and Mountain Sky annual conferences.
In June 2016 he visited the Eastern PA Annual Conference session, held in Lancaster. He was there to be an advocate for the LGBTQIA community and its full inclusion into the life of The United Methodist Church. He and some folks from the Reconciling Ministries Network showed a movie and led a discussion in a separate room at the Lancaster Convention Center. He was dedicated and eloquent in his efforts to promote justice and equality for all people, including those of all races, genders, sexual orientations and abilities.
When asked about our denomination possibly splitting up in a 2017 interview with UM Communications, Caldwell said, "I am greatly bothered by the whole idea of separation and schism. I guess I look at my own Black experience (and) those of us who stayed rather than departing, as our AME and AME Zion brothers did. We stayed with a kind of hope, with a kind of optimism that we could be leaven in the loaf. I look at people on all sides of the continuum who talk about leaving the church. It just seems to me that there's a better way." Gilbert Caldwell: Voice for Justice and Human Rights. (Republished Jan 17, 2019)
When we truly seek justice for all and fight for the rights of the person of color who is also undocumented, has a disability, is female, is socio-economically challenged and is gay or transgender, then we are not far from the kingdom. Gil had that kind of spirit.
Rev. Caldwell lived his life as "leaven in the loaf." And the church and the world are better and more inclusive because of him.
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