Reverend John Rayford Wheeler [1969 – 2007], a son of the church, became our fifth pastor. He was installed on March 2, 1969 and began an era of leadership that would propel us into an unmatched position in our nation and various parts of the world. Being installed less than a year after the riots in DC launched a mass exodus from the urban neighborhoods of our past to the newly developed and integrated suburbs for many of our people. Despite the challenges of urban withdrawal and abandonment, Rev Wheeler used his unique style and personality to consistently lead the nation’s Baptist Churches in giving to Foreign Missions. Under his leadership, we were the first African American Baptist Church to give $50,000 to the Foreign Mission Board. Our purchase and gift of a church to the Baptist congregation in Kwa Mashu, Zululand, South Africa, stands as a testament to the magnitude and commitment of Rev. Wheeler’s zeal for missions.
Rev. Wheeler’s tireless dedication to leading soles to Christ and helping families as they struggle to improve their lives has made the name Vermont Avenue Baptist Church synonymous with “Missions”. In addition, to the “firsts” in Foreign Missions, and our standard setting Family Life Center, Rev. Wheeler’s vision led us to the establishment and implementation of the city’s first “Shoe Fund”. Children all over this city have been provided appropriate shoes empowering them to attend school without the embarrassment and physical peril of worn and tattered shoes. The Higher Education Fund, another accomplishment under Rev. Wheeler, provides assistance to college students in the purchase of books and supplies. These programs, in addition to the monetary gifts supporting Historically Black Colleges and Universities and Baptist Seminaries, have assisted thousands in their quest for a more abundant life.
Our dedication to missions has been just a part of the ongoing ministry of our church. Most importantly, Rev. Wheeler has continued in the legacy of those pastors before him in preaching the Word of God. We have remained a church wholly dependent on god as our source and provider of every good and perfect gift. It is through the hearing of the Word that we have benefited most. Rev. Wheeler’s distinctive sermonic lessons have brought us all to a higher, more intense appreciation for the truth in the Word that makes us free. Mindful of his failing health, Rev. John R. Wheeler recommended and the church voted, Rev. Cornelius R. Wheeler as our Co-Pastor in 2002.
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