In 1985, Bishop Wilfred Wood became the Church of England’s first Black Bishop. It was a historic moment that filled the pews of St. Paul’s Cathedral, which had a seating capacity of 2,900, leaving no room for the thousands of people who thronged the church to witness it.
He once told local journalists that he had received over 700 letters from well-wishers and Black Africans all over the world. According to blackhistorymonth.org.uk, during 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.
Bishop Wilfred dedicated his life to the Lord’s work while also speaking out against racial discrimination and inequality. In 2000, Queen Elizabeth II appointed him as a Knight of St. Andrew for his work on race issues in the United Kingdom and to improve the lives of Barbadians.
Bishop Wilfred was born in Proute, St. Thomas, Barbados, to Wilfred Coward and Elsie Elmira Wood. He attended Combermere School and Southborough Boys’ Primary School. After finishing his studies in 1962, he began his priesthood journey in Barbados.
He moved to London and became a member of the St. Stephen’s Shepherd’s Bush Diocese. In 1974, he was appointed curate and then honorary curate of St. Thomas With St. Stephen Shepherd’s Bush. In 1977, he was appointed rural dean of East Lewisham and Honorary Canon of Southwark Cathedral.
He was the Archdeacon of Southwark from 1982 until he became the first black Bishop of Croydon in 1985. He was in charge of the Croydon Episcopal Area and assisted the Bishop of Southwark. Bishop Wilfred was a staunch supporter of racial justice and an outspoken opponent of discrimination and abuse. He gained national attention in England for his outspokenness against racial injustice.
From 1978 to 1981, he was appointed Bishop London Officer due to his interest in race issues. He was also a member of the Royal Commission on Criminal Procedures, which advocated for several police prosecutions and investigations.
From 1971 to 1982, Bishop Wilfred also served as a Lay Magistrate. He was the moderator of the World Council of Churches Programme to Combat Racism, known for its work on South African apartheid, recognizing the importance of the commission’s work as it supported liberation movements in South Africa against the racist apartheid regime.
He has received honorary degrees from the Open University, the University of the West Indies, and the General Theological Seminary in New York. In Plaistow, East London, a court has been named after Bishop Wilfred Wood. To institutionalize his values and beliefs, other streets and housing projects have been named after him.
He retired in 2002 and was succeeded in 2003 by Nick Baines. Bishop Wilfred returned to Barbados and was named one of the 100 Great Black Britons.
Despite his blindness, Bishop Wilfred remains devoted to missionary work.