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A Fisher of Men

Maurice Wilson’s doctors can perhaps be forgiven if they thought that the medical prognosis they recently delivered to him would be received with sadness and grief.  Little did they realize that the prospect of transition, at least for Maurice, had provided him with yet another opportunity to celebrate life.

“I have done as much as I can, for as many as I can, for as long as I can, the best that I can,” Maurice recently reflected with the basso profundo that is his voice, and the radiant smile that has warmed the coldest of hearts.    “Who can have a more blessed life.  And, in my darling Becky, I have had the love of a lifetime!”

And what a life of love and service Maurice has lived.  Indeed, when Jesus beckoned to Simon and Andrew to “follow me, and I will make you fishers of men,” he must have been anticipating the life of Maurice Wilson.    Because Maurice’s  life has been one devoted to gathering, and uplifting, men and women with the irresistible lure of his living example, together with his boundless capacity for love.

Maurice has lived many roles on many different stages throughout his life – often at the same time – and he is simply one of those human beings who has excelled at every task he has undertaken,  at every calling he has answered.  And whether as father, husband, pastor, psychologist, professor, or writer, Maurice has always sought to lift others in the name of Jesus.

But it is perhaps as a preacher where Maurice has achieved the fullest expression of his gifts, and those blessed to have witnessed him from the pulpit instantly recognize that they are in the presence of theological, and rhetorical, brilliance.    The prodigy of his mentor in Christ, the legendary and charismatic Bishop John Bryant, Rev. Wilson is an ordained African Methodist Episcopal minister who, for 15 years, pastored St. John’s AME church in Baltimore, the largest AME congregation in its district at the time.  Serving as one of the lead pastors of the historic Baltimore Annual Conference, Rev. Wilson was a major influence on the Board of Examiners, which prepares men and women to serve as ministers with the AME Church, and authored some of the required readings for those seeking ordination.

From the beginning, Maurice’s  ministerial style reflected his deeper nature and temperament: thoughtful, incisive, brutally honest, and, at turns, intensely emotional and hilarious.  As his congregants know, Maurice’s  sermons are deeply steeped in scripture, but his humor makes the medicine not only palatable, but welcome.  And that voice, an instrument rooted in its deeply resonant bass notes, but able to climb an octave or more as the content of his message inexorably yields to the sheer passion and intensity that always lurks just below the surface.

Maurice was born in Baltimore on February 13, 1942.  He barely knew his father, and was raised by a woman who would be the central influence in his life – his mother, Selma, who remains in good health and great spirits at the age of 100!  Selma Wilson’s father had been born just 12 years after slavery had been abolished, and he would make his living as a sharecropper on land he purchased in North Carolina – the very same land his own father had worked as a slave.  (The family today continues to own the same plot of land.) Selma’s father was  also an ordained minister who infused Selma with the deep faith, strong work ethic, and abiding self-respect with which Selma would infuse her son.

Selma also made sure that Maurice’s education included an appreciation of literature, and she took the youngster to the library throughout his childhood, exposing him to the world of the written word that he has treasured  throughout his life.  As a child, he began his life of service as a Boy Scout and youth choir member.  Selma also impressed upon Maurice the importance of treating women with dignity and respect.  Of course, her example was the truest teacher, as Maurice observed a mother who assisted 13 of her 16 siblings out of poverty in North Carolina to create productive lives, mostly in Baltimore.  Selma Wilson was, and is,  strong, capable, and loving – qualities which, not coincidentally, his beloved Becky possesses in abundance.

As a young adult, Maurice continued his life of service, joining the Army prior to completing his college education.  He served overseas as a medic in Germany, where he matured as a man, and as a disciple of Christ. Upon leaving the service he returned to Baltimore to complete his education.

Maurice’s educational and professional resume is so extensive that it begs the question: Where did he find the time? He earned a Bachelor of Science in Psychology at Morgan State College in Baltimore, followed by a Masters of Science and a Doctorate in Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh.  Maurice added a Masters of Arts in Theology from St. Mary’s Seminary and University.  He was a tenured Professor of Psychology at the University of Maryland, Coppin Campus, where he shared his knowledge and assisted in molding future psychologists, and is a proud and active alumnus of the Alpha Phi Alpha Academic Fraternity.  Where did he find the time?

For years, Maurice has also worked as an addiction treatment counselor, and also as a researcher/evaluator of addiction treatment facilities for the federal government.   Most recently, he has served as COO and  Quality Improvement Officer at New Directions for Women in Costa Mesa, an in-patient treatment program for women where Becky – a nationally-recognized authority in addiction treatment and recovery – serves as CEO. Maurice holds multiple drug counseling certifications, including Behavior Health Surveyor, Certified Alcohol and Drug Counselor, Behavioral Health Program Surveyor, and Certified Clinical Supervisor.

But Maurice would trade all of his degrees,  certificates and accomplishments for the role he most relishes – that of father to his children and husband to his wife.   He and Becky head a blended family of six children: Maurice T. Wilson, Jr., Maureen Wilson, Robert Andrew Sheppard, Margaret E. Smith, William Arthur Sheppard, and Samuel Wade Taylor Wilson, their spouses Derek, Ashlee, and Jess and five grandchildren – Demetri, Logan, Sara, Jordan, and Ally.  Maurice also dearly loved Becky’s mother, Elizabeth Jayne Flood, who Maurice always looked to as a kindred spirit.  Elizabeth passed five years ago.

Naturally, it was to his family to whom Maurice quickly turned when he learned of his illness.  Convening his children and their spouses on a conference call from around the United States, Maurice, ever the teacher, found the teaching moment in his own mortality.   Invoking Jesus’ words from the Garden of Gethsemane, Maurice reminded, and reassured, his children that it is, finally, for God to decide how long we are to drink from the cup of life:   “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me, yet not as I will, but as you will.”

Maurice Wilson.  First, and last, a father to his children, a husband to his wife.  And a Fisher of Men.

Chris Mears

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