Bishop Wilfred Wood became the first Black Bishop in the Church of England in 1985. It was a moment that got the pews of St. Paul’s Cathedral which had a sitting capacity of 2,900 filled with no space for the thousands of people who thronged the church to witness the historic moment.
He once told local reporters he received over 700 letters from well-wishers and Black Africans from across the world. In his 40 years of dedicated service to the Church of England, he was a curate, chaplain, vicar, rural dean, canon, archdeacon and finally a bishop, according to blackhistorymonth.org.uk.
Bishop Wilfred’s service was not only to the Lord’s work but he was also vocal on matters of racial discrimination and inequality. Queen Elizabeth II in 2000 appointed him as the Knight of St. Andrew for his advocacy on issues of race in the United Kingdom and for working towards the improvement of the life of Barbadians.
Bishop Wilfred was born to Wilfred Coward and Elsie Elmira Wood in Proute, St. Thomas in Barbados. He schooled in Southborough Boys’ Primary School and Combermere School. He later began his priesthood journey in Barbados after he completed his studies in 1962.
He headed to London where he joined the St. Stephen’s Shepherd’s Bush Diocese. He became a curate, then honorary curate of St. Thomas With St. Stephen Shepherd’s Bush in 1974. He was made the rural dean of East Lewisham and Honorary Canon of Southwark Cathedral in 1977.
Till he became the first black Bishop of Croydon in 1985, he was the Archdeacon of Southwark in 1982. He supervised the Croydon Episcopal area and helped the Bishop of Southwark. Bishop Wilfred was a strong advocate for racial justice and vibrant on matters of discrimination and abuse. He rose to national attention in England over how vocal he spoke against racial injustice.
He was appointed the Bishop London Officer because of his interest in race issues from 1978 to 1981. He was also a member of a Royal Commission called the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedures and pushed for several prosecutions and investigations by the police.
Bishop Wilfred also served as a Lay Magistrate from 1971 to 1982. He was the moderator 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 the commission as they supported the liberation movements against the racist apartheid regime in South Africa.
He holds honorary doctorates from the Open University, the University of the West Indies and the General Theological Seminary, New York. A court has been named after Bishop Wilfred Wood in Plaistow in East London. Other streets and housing projects have also been named after him to institutionalize his values and beliefs.
He retired in 2002 and was succeeded by Nick Baines in 2003. Bishop Wilfred returned to Barbados where he was voted to the list of 100 Great Black Britons.
Though Bishop Wilfred is blind, his undying love for missionary work is still active.