Thousands visited Williamsburg's First Baptist Church throughout February, drawn by the church's restored bell and Let Freedom Ring Challenge. This weekend, First Baptist will host another special guest: Virgil Wood, civil rights leader and associate of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
Hoping to share Wood's visit with the community, First Baptist presents a series of events April 2-4.
"He was a close associate and adviser to Martin Luther King," said the Rev. Reginald Davis, pastor of First Baptist. "He's coming here because he wants to continue the unfinished work of freedom and justice and equality for all God's people."
Wood served alongside King for 10 years as a member of the National Executive Board of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and he also helped coordinate Virginia's participation in the 1963 March on Washington, according to Sue Wilson, First Baptist's communications chairperson.
"We only have a few of our living legends that are still alive," the Rev. Davis said. "He is one of the few that's left."
Wood now lives in Texas but has been traveling the country, delivering his message of "Passing the Torch," Wilson said. He read about the church's Let Freedom Ring Challenge, a call to the nation for racial healing, and contacted First Baptist.
"Dr. Wood is 85 years old, so he wants to make sure he passes on the wisdom, he passes on some strategies, he passes on whatever he can to help the next generation continue the struggle to make America a better nation," the Rev. Davis said.
"That is why we are really asking young people to come," he said.
"Our challenge to people was to recognize some of the injustices that still prevail today," Wilson said, of Let Freedom Ring. "It really did kind of dovetail together."
The "Passing the Torch" weekend includes presentations from Wood, the Rev. Davis and Owen Cardwell, civil rights activist and pastor of New Canaan International Church in Richmond.
On Monday, Wood will ring the church's restored bell. But it won't just be him. First Baptist will provide 36 members of all ages to stand in for, what Wood calls, the Beloved Community: "persons who have worked, who have sacrificed and given their lives to make our land a better nation," the Rev. Davis explained.
This Beloved Community, some of whom Wood knew personally, includes King, Frederick Douglas, George Washington Carver, Mary McLeod Bethune, Lyndon Johnson, Abraham Lincoln, Nelson Mandela and more. The Rev. Davis said to ring the bell for these individuals is to make a connection to their spirit and a declaration to continue their work.
For more information, call 585-2146. First Baptist is located at 727 Scotland St.
Bridges can be reached by phone at 757-345-2342.
Passing the Torch events
Leadership Forum: 10 a.m., April 2.
Worship Service: Message by Dr. Virgil Wood. 11 a.m., April 3.
Vespers Service: Presentations by Dr. Reginald Davis and Dr. Owen Cardwell. 5 p.m., April 3.
Beloved Community bell-ringing: 10 a.m., April 4