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Government, Politics & Issues

The Rev. Starsky Wilson stepping down as pastor of St. John's Church

The Rev. Starsky Wilson, co-chair of the Ferguson Commission
File photo I Durrie Bouscaren | St. Louis Public Radio
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During his tenure at St. John's Church, Wilson offered the church as a host site for the Black Lives Matter Ferguson Freedom Ride, as a welcome center for Ferguson October.

The Rev. Starsky D. Wilson plans to leave St. John’s Church (The Beloved Community), where he has been pastor for 10 years, to invest more time into his growing family and the Deaconess Foundation, where he is president and chief executive.

“God has blessed me to preach, teach, lead and serve among people committed to Jesus and justice,” Wilson, who also co-chaired the Ferguson Commission, said in a statement. “Now, I must give my energy to a family, which spans from a teen to a toddler. I will continue to reflect deeply on ways to bend this world into one I would want to leave them.”  

Wilson is the 14th settled pastor in the congregation’s 166-year history and the second black pastor to lead the church, which was established by German immigrants. St. John’s Church is an interracial congregation located at 4136 North Grand Blvd., near the northeast corner Fairgrounds Park in morth St. Louis, and is affiliated with the United Church of Christ.

During his tenure, Wilson has led congregational activism on many issues, including youth violence prevention, Medicaid expansion, public school accreditation, voter mobilization, capping payday lending and raising the minimum wage. Under his leadership, the church more than quadrupled worship attendance and annual giving.

Ferguson Commission co-chairs Starsky Wilson and Rich McClure share a laugh at the Deaconness Foundation before publicly presenting the Ferguson Commission report.
Credit Jason Rosenbaum | St. Louis Public Radio
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Ferguson Commission co-chairs Starsky Wilson and Rich McClure share a laugh at the Deaconness Foundation before publicly presenting the Ferguson Commission report.

During the Ferguson uprising, Wilson offered the church as a host site for the Black Lives Matter Ferguson Freedom Ride, as a welcome center for Ferguson October and for meetings for local groups including St. Louis Action Council (now Action St. Louis).

He also established The Beloved Community Conference to connect ministry with social justice, created “Sojourner’s Truth: A Celebration of Preaching Women,” a yearly event highlighting the power of women in the pulpit and planted a Children’s Defense Fund Freedom School at the church.

Since accepting his leadership position at the Deaconess Foundation in November 2011, Wilson led both St. John’s and Deaconess full-time, even while co-chairing the Ferguson Commission in 2014 and 2015.

In recent years, Wilson’s local experience in philanthropic and faith-based organizing has been called upon by national organizations. He chairs the board for the Washington, D.C.-based National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy, which works to align foundations with social justice movements.

He recently completed a term guiding the national racial equity working group for Grantmakers for Effective Organizations, where he remains a board member. He is a trustee for Chicago Theological Seminary and the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Conference. He also advises the Democracy Fund, Let America Vote, the National Voter Protection Fund and the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

St. John’s leaders are preparing for transition in advances of Wilson’s exit date of November 30 and will begin a search for a new pastor in 2019. In the meantime, they are planning two upcoming events with Wilson. 

St. John will celebrate its 166th Anniversary with special worship celebrations at 10:30 a.m. and 2:30 p.m, Sunday. During the afternoon service, Pastor Earl E. Nance Jr. and Greater Mount Carmel Baptist Church will be their special guests.

The Rev. Starsky Wilson former co-chair of the Ferguson Commission
Credit Jason Rosenbaum I St. Louis Public Radio
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Rev. Starsky Wilson simultaneously led St. John's Church (The Beloved Community) and the Deaconess Foundation.

On Nov. 28 and 29, the church will host a Fall Farewell Revival in celebration of Wilson’s leadership on the eve of his exit. Special guest preachers will be the Rev. Dr. Frederick Douglass Haynes III, pastor of Friendship West Baptist Church in Dallas, Texas and chair of the Samuel Dewitt Proctor Social Justice Network, and the Rev. Traci D. Blackmon, executive minister for Justice and Local Church Ministries for the United Church of Christ and pastor of Christ the King UCC.

Chris King is editor of the St. Louis American, a partner of St. Louis Public Radio.

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