The Very Rev. Dr. Wilbur K. Howard
Howard was one of the ministers at
Kenneth Howard was born on 29 February 1912 in
Little information is available about Dr. Howard’s family. His father and brother were railway porters. As described by his biographer, Rev. Adam Kilner, “the stirrings of his calling came to the young Wilbur in the form of a white family” who invited him to their church.
Wilbur Howard was
ordained by the Toronto Conference of the
quently, from 1941 to 1949, he served as Boys’ Work Secretary for the Ontario Religious Education Council.
this role, he travelled around
In 1968, Rev. Carl W. Zurbrigg succeeded Rev. Lapp. In anticipation of Dr. MacLean’s retirement in 1970, meetings were held concerning the advisability of continuing the team ministry model. Opinions on the matter were sharply divided, and angry words were expressed. In the midst of this situation, and possibly because of it, Dr. Howard accepted a call to Emmanuel United Church, Ottawa effective 01 December 1970. The Official Board acknowledged his departure “with regret” but did not mention the honourary Doctor of Divinity he had received from Victoria College. Several members of Dominion-Chalmers Church followed Dr. Howard to Emmanuel Church.
From 1972-1973, Dr. Howard was President of the Montreal-Ottawa Conference. At the 1974
General Council in Guelph, Ontario, he was elected the 26th Moderator of the United Church of Canada. Addressing the commissioners after the vote, Dr. Howard reflected on the lack of acceptance he had experienced earlier in his ministry and declared that the decision of the General Council was “a high moment of acceptance”.
Dr. Howard’s contributions as Moderator, as well as his pastoral and leadership strengths as recalled by present and former members of Dominion-Chalmers Church, are encapsulated in a statement by Anne Squire, who was Moderator from 1986-1988: “Wilbur Howard was an enigma: a very shy and diffident person who could hold audiences in the palm of his hand; a taciturn listener who could greet unwelcome questions with a deafening silence; a committee member to all appearances asleep in a meeting who could break through the posturing with an intervention with a cutting edge; a preacher who could change a solemn moment into a hilarious one with one of his famous one-liners.”
Dr. Howard continued to lead services at Emmanuel Church twice each month during his term as Moderator and returned as its full-time minister in 1977. He retired in 1980. He developed Parkinson disease in the early 1990s and moved to a retirement home in Toronto. He was named to the Order of Ontario in 1991. When he died on 17 April 2001, the Toronto City Council rose to observe a minute of silence in his memory. At his request, some of his ashes were buried in Beachwood Cemetery, where there is an appropriate marker.
In an interview published at the time of his retirement in 1980, Dr. Howard emphasized the need for greater cooperation among all religions, his concerns about ecology, and the responsibility to address the needs of underdeveloped nations. He was a prophet ahead of his time.