By Carrie Harris
In June of 2020, Cooperative Baptists voted to elect Patricia Wilson, Baylor University law professor and lay leader from Waco, Texas, to serve as Moderator-Elect for the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in 2020-2021.
On Friday, during the virtual Plenary session of the CBF General Assembly, Wilson will assume the role of Moderator, the Fellowship’s highest-ranking officer, succeeding Carol McEntyre in the role.
I recently had the opportunity to touch base with Wilson as she steps into her role as the new CBF Moderator. I am personally excited to work alongside her in the coming year.
Read our conversation below:
Carrie Harris: Will you share with the readers about your childhood and educational journey? Where did you grow up and attend school?
Patricia Wilson: I grew up in Fort Wayne, Ind., adopted as an infant by the Wilson family. My father, Joseph, died when I was three, but I thrived in my little family that consisted of my mother, Helen, older brother, Greg, and me. We didn’t have much money, but there was a lot of love, and I never felt deprived of anything.
During my early childhood, we attended a Missionary Baptist Church, which was surprisingly racially diverse for the 1960s. We left that church when the congregation called a new minister who I understand was not as progressive on race relations as our former pastor. We joined a Lutheran church, which led to me having most of my education in Lutheran schools—Lutheran grade school and Lutheran high school, which were both fairly diverse. Most of my schoolmates attended Lutheran churches, but there was a good mix of kids of different races and socio-economic statuses. Scholarships made the difference.
Religion and faith were important parts of my education–a short chapel service every Wednesday and religion as a regular course through freshman year of high school. One would expect Lutheran school-teachers to model Christian behavior, and they did. But somewhat surprisingly, I had several teachers who encouraged us to ask hard questions about the nature of God and did not stand on simple, pat answers to hard theological questions.
Overall, I had a wonderful mother, dedicated teachers who taught me well, and a few angels along the way who counseled me and looked out for me in untold ways to help me develop my potential.
Harris: Who have been some of your most important influences or role models?
Wilson: I was strongly influenced by my mother, Helen Wilson. She never let the fact that she was a Black woman, responsible for two young children after my father’s death, limit her, despite the de jure discrimination Blacks and women faced during the 1960s. Few Black women were successful in qualifying for home mortgages in the 1960s, especially single Black women, but she did. She worked full-time, yet still made us a hot breakfast in the morning and cooked a complete dinner in the evening. She counted among her friends teen mothers that she’d helped along the way, young career women many years her junior, and even the mayor of Fort Wayne. She was fearless. She eventually opened her own daycare center and was very active in the community, constantly busy until the day she died.
My biological mother, who I met just before my high school graduation, also shaped me. A college graduate by the time we met, she was a great resource and advisor during my college years and as I started my career.
Of course, there are my teachers. There was Mrs. Cochran, who planted the seed of my going to college when I was just a second grader. And Mr. Ruhter, who upon learning that I could not continue to attend my Lutheran grade school because we couldn’t afford it, arranged a scholarship for me. There are others along the way, but my trajectory would have likely been very different had God not placed these two teachers in my path.
Harris: Can you tell us a bit about your professional journey and calling to practice and teach law?
Wilson: I wish I could say I always planned to be a lawyer, but I did not consider law school until my senior year of college when, with graduation looming, I didn’t have any other plan, given the state of the economy in the 1980s. With no job but solid college grades, going to law school made sense to me.
On the other hand, until I started college, I’d always planned to be a teacher. I enjoyed practicing law, first with two private firms, and then as an in-house lawyer for a major airline, but when I got the opportunity to join the Baylor Law faculty, it seemed like I’d been preparing to be a law professor for a good part of my life. I very much enjoy working with law students, who are smart and enthusiastic. I love watching them grow in their understanding of the law and seeing them develop their skills. I love seeing where their careers take them, and I enjoy hearing of their successes. Teaching at Baylor Law is a great gig.
Harris: What brings you the greatest joy in life?
Wilson: Spending time with my friends and family. I especially enjoy my two granddaughters, Noemi and Audra, who are 2 ½ and 1 year old respectively. What could be better than seeing their little faces light up when I greet them? I like to read, but my passion these days, when I have time, is quilting. When I need to decompress, sewing is my happy place.
Harris: If you could recommend one book that everyone read, what would it be?
Wilson: The book that I’m currently encouraging everyone to read is Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson. Wilkerson lays out a strong case for the existence of a rigid caste system in the United States that strongly correlates with the caste systems of India and Nazi Germany. She notes that the Nazis researched the American system that places Blacks in the lowest caste, the Nazis seeing the American system as being the classic model for miscegenation laws. Wilkerson’s book offers a different perspective on the racial issues we continue to face as a country.
Harris: How did you get connected with the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship?
Wilson: I was honored when I was asked to serve as a member of the Coordinating Council of CBF Texas. Since then, the more I’ve been involved, the more I have been committed to being part of this organization. Each time I’ve agreed to serve in another role, I’ve felt moved by the Spirit to say yes and I’ve felt genuinely fulfilled to have done so.
Harris: Throughout the past 15 years, you have served in almost every leadership capacity possible in the Fellowship. At the conclusion of the 2021 General Assembly, you will become the Moderator for 2021-22. What are your hopes for the upcoming year?
Wilson: The world is changing, and CBF must respond to the challenges of this ever-changing environment. My hope is that we can fully lean into and move wisely in implementing the strategies and initiatives we developed as part of Toward Bold Faithfulness.
Churches are grappling with many difficult issues, and I hope that CBF takes the lead in helping churches have difficult conversations. I hope that CBF continues its efforts to become a leading voice for racial justice. I hope that CBF never strays from its ideals, not the least of which is the affirmation and support of women in ministry.
The Fellowship is blessed to have faithful and innovative leaders in the Decatur office, devoted servants in the field, and gifted and devoted volunteers serving on the Governing Board and the different Councils. Overall, I hope that we will all be led by the Spirit of the Holy Ghost.
Harris: As you take on this role, how can Cooperative Baptists pray for you in 2021-22?
Wilson: Please pray that my eyes, my ears, my mind, and my heart will be open to God and that I walk humbly with God.
Learn more about the 2021 CBF General Assembly happening virtually this week at www.cbf.net/assembly. You can register to attend any sessions throughout the week, including the live plenary session on Friday, August 27. Keep up with news coverage here on the CBFblog and our Facebook page.