• Kia Fullerton

Bishop Wilfred Wood, The Church of England’s first Black Bishop

Born in Barbados to Wilfred Coward and Elsie Elmira Wood, in Proute, St Thomas, Wood (later titled Sir Wilfred) attended Southborough Boys' Primary School and Combermere School.

Having being ordained Deacon in Barbados after completion of studies in 1962, Bishop Wood’s was sent to the Diocese of London. Where he first served in a parish called St. Stephen’s Shepherd’s Bush as a curate, then honorary curate of St Thomas With St Stephen, Shepherd’s Bush, until 1974.


Bishop Wood soon caught public attention in Britain for speaking out on racial injustice. In 1974 he joined the Diocese of Southwark, where he stayed until his retirement.


In 1977 he was appointed Rural Dean of East Lewisham and Honorary Canon of Southwark Cathedral. He became Archdeacon of Southwark from 1982 until his consecration as Bishop of Croydon in 1985, where he oversaw the Croydon Episcopal Area and assisted the Bishop of Southwark.

Throughout his Ministry, Bishop Wood was passionate about race relations and social justice in London. Due to his interests he was appointed the Bishop of London Officer in race relations from 1978 to 1981.


"I was a member of a Royal Commission called the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedures and in our report, we recommended an establishment of an independent prosecuting service, which has now been established, called the ‘Crown Prosecuting Service’. Up to that point, police would investigate and prosecute, but we recommended an independent prosecuting service," he said.


Bishop Wood was head of the World Council of Churches Programme to Combat Racism. Known for its work on South African apartheid, acknowledging the importance of the work of commission as they supported the liberation movements against the racist apartheid regime in South Africa.

He said, "When I become Bishop of Croydon in 1985, it was a big occasion because I was then becoming the first ever black Bishop in the Church of England."


Bishop Wilfred Wood holds honorary doctorates from the Open University, the University of the West Indies and the General Theological Seminary, New York.


In 2000, Queen Elizabeth II appointed him Knight of St. Andrew (Order of Barbados), for his contribution to race relations in the United Kingdom and general contribution to the welfare of Barbadians living here.

During 40 years of his service, Sir Wilfred moved through the Church of England ranks as curate, chaplain, vicar, rural dean, canon, archdeacon, and bishop.


Today in Plaistow, East London, there is the Bishop Wilfred Wood Court and one street, one close and two housing projects named Bishop Wilfred Wood.


Sir Wilfred Wood retired as Bishop of Croydon September 30, 2002 and returned to Barbados in 2003. In 2004, he was voted by the public as second only to Mary Seacole on a list of the 100 Great Black Britons.


Till this very day, at the age of 83, Sir Wilfred is very much active at his Church of St. Lawrence family where he worships.


Source: Black History 365

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