On March 31, 2020, Rev. Dr. Lawrence Wilkes, age 80, passed away from COVID-19. Wilkes was a graduate of Providence, then known as the Winnipeg Bible College (WBC). He leaves this world a better place as he was a difference maker for the Kingdom of God. Here is a look at his life’s work.
Wilkes did not grow up in a Christian home, but in 1960, he attended Elim Chapel where he heard Dr. Elmer Towns* preach. Wilkes responded to the altar call that day, wanting to learn how to be saved.
After some time, he felt the call to ministry and enrolled at Bible College. He remembered sitting in class not knowing who “Abraham” was as the teacher taught on Abraham’s journey in Genesis. Wilkes received his Certificate in Pastoral Studies in May 1963, and later graduated with a Bachelor of Religious Education from Providence (then WBC). His first pastorate was at a Baptist Church in Oakbank, MB where Dr. Towns preached his ordination sermon.
In 1968, Wilkes began his Master of Divinity studies in California at Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (now Gateway Baptist Theological Seminary), graduating in 1971. While he was there, he met his wife Nancy Rae Sauter and they were married in 1970. Their only child, a daughter Christine, was born in 1979.
Following a move to British Columbia, Wilkes met up with WBC past president Dr. R. Wesley Affleck and John R. Dyck. Together they started Okanagan Bible Institute in 1974 with 60 students. Four years later, OBC grew to 168 students. Wilkes resigned his position at OBC in the 1980s, moved back to California and completed his Doctor of Philosophy in Education Administration.
Mark Little, who served several years as Dean at OBC, remembers Wilkes and shares these words about him: “Lawrence was very personable and always had a big smile. A humble, gracious leader who followed in the footsteps of Dr. Affleck. He was able to take a vision and motivate others to join in the work needed to make the dream come to pass. He was deeply committed to the ministry and was always looking for ways to advance the mission of the church. It was a sad day for me when he and Nancy decided to head south to California.”
Over the course of his life, Wilkes interned in a number of churches, helping to bring stability and direction. He’s probably best known for his work at the Crystal Cathedral which was founded by Rev. Robert Schuller. He served in many capacities including Evening Service Pastor and Dean of the Robert Schuller School for Preaching. His last position there before retiring in December 2006 was Minister of Worship Hospitality.
It was also during his time at Crystal Cathedral that he assisted a US Navy Chaplain student stationed in Halifax, NS. He wrote a dissertation that assisted Canadian chaplains and medics in helping those who returned from a war zone with trauma. He received the award of “Honorary Chaplain of the Canadian Armed Forces.”
In January 2007, Wilkes became the Director of the Doctor of Ministry Program at the California Graduate School of Theology and, in 2008, he became their President. He also learned that the Okanagan Bible School was closed down and worked with the BC government to get it up and running again. For a time, he was the President of two separate Bible Schools in two countries.
When Crystal Cathedral was facing bankruptcy in 2012, he was called back as Interim Pastor and the voice on the Hour of Power program. He remained Interim Pastor until Schuller’s grandson was installed as pastor.
“God used Larry in a great way and accomplished much in his life here on earth. I am saddened by his home going, but I praise God for all he accomplished with his life,” shared Dr. Towns* when he learned about Wilkes’ death earlier this week.
In 2017, Wilkes was installed in the International Educators Hall of Fame. In 2018, he celebrated 55 years in ministry. And in 2019, he was named Chancellor of the California Graduate School of Theology (now Haven University).
While Rev. Dr. Wilkes accomplished many things in his life, the tributes on his daughter’s Facebook page suggest he did it all with a loving, positive and caring attitude. He’s described as a fun loving character with stories and a smile to share with those he came in contact with.
In a note he sent to Providence, he shared, “We serve an awesome God and I can truly say along with the hymn Jesus Led Me All the Way.”
*Dr. Towns served as President of Providence, then known as Winnipeg Bible College, in the early 1960s. His efforts and contributions to Providence led our school in receiving its first accreditation, eliminating indebtedness through active fundraising, and attracting a broader range of students. He later went on to publish more than 80 books and is best known for his work with Jerry Falwell in founding Lynchburg Baptist College – later renamed Liberty University.