A Tribute to Oliver Patterson’s Life and Service
Dr. Oliver Patterson, who raised the profile of racial/ethnic diversity in the RCA and helped the denomination work toward racial healing, passed away on April 30. Patterson was a founding member of the Commission on Race and Ethnicity. He also served the RCA on several other boards and commissions, including the African American Black Council. Patterson was an elder and a member of Queens Reformed Church in Queens Village, New York.
General secretary emeritus Wes Granberg-Michaelson served the RCA alongside Patterson and offered this tribute to his life and ministry:
Oliver Patterson stood tall, like an oak of righteousness in the RCA, as a stalwart witness to God’s justice and reconciliation. Oliver always spoke the truth about racial injustice, but with a winsome smile that reached out to build bridges rather than barriers. He yearned for the day that the Reformed Church in America could be repentant about its past sins of racism, honest about its present, persistent failures, and hopeful about a promising future. And he worked with grace and conviction toward that end.
It was always a joy to serve with Oliver. When the Commission on Race and Ethnicity (CORE) was established in 1999 as a structural response to the challenge of racial healing, Oliver was in the lead, working to make it possible. He gave leadership to the African American Caucus and served on several boards in the life of the RCA. Whenever he spoke to General Synod, whether giving a report or going to a microphone on the floor, he offered words of clarity, prophetic insight, and constructive challenge.
Oliver and I traveled to Accra, Ghana, for the General Council of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches in 2004. During that time, we visited Ghana’s Cape Coast with its slave castles, where slaves were kept until their perilous journeys across the Atlantic. The truth stung. But it only deepened Oliver’s work, including the RCA’s adoption of the Belhar Confession, a dream of his which became a reality.
Oliver Patterson’s courageous witness and warm heart will be missed deeply. He nudged the RCA toward greater faithfulness to the gospel, and I am deeply grateful to God for his life and witness.