(Photo of Bob Wilson, provided by Joyce Rothermel)
By Joyce Rothermel
Through the Merton Center, one has the great privilege of meeting and getting to know many inspiring fellow travelers. For those who do not yet know him, it is my honor to introduce Bob Wilson, who began his first term of service on the Merton Center Board of Directors in January.
Bob was born in Brownsville, Fayette County and graduated from Connellsville Joint High School. Bob noted, “My parents were very generous with their love, their limited time, and their limited resources. They took in my maternal grandmother, who developed Parkinson’s, as well as my aunt and cousin when my aunt divorced at a time this was socially unacceptable. My parents found time to be deeply involved in both church and community.”
A strong work ethic was ingrained in Bob and his siblings. He was the first in his family to go to college, getting his undergraduate degree at West Virginia Wesleyan College, where he majored in Bible and Religion with minors in English and Philosophy. He continued his education at Boston University, where he got a Master’s degree in Theology. Bob was ordained a deacon in the United Methodist Church in 1971 and an elder in 1972.
Bob’s awareness of peace and social justice values came early. He learned through his faith formation that Jesus expected him to bump up against the status quo. He recalls that “in High School I was opposed to the Vietnam War and considered conscientious objection; my friends tolerated my position, with which they greatly disagreed.”
At Wesleyan Bob was educated further about what was happening in Vietnam. He participated in late night debates and became more conscious. He wrote letters and by the time Bob was a senior he participated in anti-war demonstrations, which were important in his growth. Boston University School of Theology has long been committed to the social gospel and social justice. About his time there, Bob said, “I greatly deepened my education and participated in more demonstrations.”
When Bob moved to the West End of Pittsburgh in 1976, he did not hesitate to address justice concerns in his preaching. His pastoral care skills helped him continue relationships with many of the folks who were angered by his preaching. Bob would do things like celebrate Molly Rush and plough shares 8. Bob says, “I experienced considerable push back when I took a very progressive stand on amnesty for draft dodgers and some resistance when we resettled a family of H’Mong immigrants.” He was a founding member of the South West Action Coalition.
When asked how he lives out his convictions for peace and social justice, Bob responded, “What is not visible is my spiritual life and the important ever evolving way it grounds the way I live out my convictions for peace and social justice. For me, the weaving together of spiritual contemplation and action are essential—they inform each other. While my spiritual life includes Creation Spirituality, Buddhist practice and Rieke, I have lived out my convictions primarily in the vessel of the United Methodist Church, which has also led me to be involved in both ecumenical and interfaith work. Most recently I have been the co-chair of the United Methodist Anti-Racism team, with which I still do workshops and such; I have been the co-chair of the Reconciling Ministries team that focuses on LGBTQIA concerns, for which I have long been an advocate; and I chair the United Methodist Committee on Native American Ministries. I am a member of the Pittsburgh Clergy Consortium (spiritual leaders who advocate for the LGBTQIA community). When I am invited to preach I usually focus on justice concerns.”
It does not seem surprising that Bob would connect with the Thomas Merton Center. He came to know of the Center in 1976 and has been a member on and off since then. Bob was surprised to be invited to run for the board and to be elected. He confides, “I …embraced this as a means to be open to letting the journey of my recent (2015) retirement unfold. I resonate strongly with the mission of the Merton Center…. TMC gives me the opportunity to participate with a broader diverse base than one particular faith denomination.”
Bob intends to bring his energy, commitment to intersectionality of justice concerns, commitment to collaboration, and organizational process skills to his board work. While he has strong opinions, he is willing to be challenged and is able to say “I’m sorry” when needed. He is a deep listener and believes that all generations have wisdom to share with each other.
When asked where he finds hope, Bob responded: “… I find hope in knowing there are many people working in many ways to bring justice into life this moment. I celebrate the existence and work of organizations such as The Methodist Federation of Social Action, the Reconciling Ministries Network, The Human Rights Campaign, Bike Pittsburgh and more.”
Bob Wilson, it is nice to meet you! Thank you for your generous willingness to serve on the TMC Board of Directors.