Reverend Dr. James A. Forbes Jr. (Retired)
The Riverside Church
“Harlem is a beautiful word in my spirit. It’s a place of energy, and it makes me feel that it’s great to be alive.”
“I am the son of a minister and everybody used to say, you can be a preacher just like your daddy. But as a teenager, I wanted to be myself. So, I went to Howard University to become a doctor. But, during the summer of my junior year I had an unusual experience after attending a revival. I put on my music, Tchaikovsky’s symphony #4 in F-minor. It was rather soothing until I thought I was hearing the music say, “Jim Forbes don’t you know I have called you. Yes, oh yes, I have called you.” And I said to myself, oh this can’t be. But then the music got more intense and the line repeated, “I really do mean this. This is what you have to do.” So I said to myself, forget being a doctor. God wants me to be somebody that works for the healing of the body, the mind and the spirit.
After graduating from Union Theological Seminary I went back south to participate in a program called Student Interracial Ministry sponsored by the National Council of Churches. They put black pastors into white congregations and white ministers in black ones trying to overcome some of the history of discrimination. In 1976, I came back to Union Theological as a professor for thirteen years. In 1989, I accepted the call to come here as the first African American Senior Minister of this church. Harlem is becoming a multi-cultural community, I believe, and I have mixed feelings about that. Now, I preach that it is good for us to come together; coming together is good if it reflects community building. I have great respect for different religions, especially when those religions are about promoting justice, peace and equality.
”Reverend Forbes exemplifies a rare quality found at the core of great leaders – he is genuine. It is not solely his rousing sermons that raise spirits, it is also his welcoming smile that lifts people and acknowledges the light in us all. Like Harlem itself, Rev. Forbes and The Riverside Church offers everyone a place to belong.