The Rev. Dr. James Alexander Forbes, Jr., is distinguished Senior
Minister Emeritus of The Riverside Church.
The Riverside Church is an interdenominational, interracial, and
international church built by John D. Rockefeller Jr. in 1927. The
2,400-member church is affiliated with the American Baptist Churches and
the United Church of Christ.
Forbes, who was installed as the fifth Senior Minister of Riverside on
June 1, 1989, is the first African-American to serve as Senior Minister
of this multicultural congregation. He is an ordained minister in the
American Baptist Churches and the Original United Holy Church of
Before being called to Riversides pulpit, Dr. Forbes served from
1976-1985 as the Brown and Sockman Associate Professor of Preaching at
Union Theological Seminary in New York City. From 1985-1989 he was
Unions first Joe R. Engle Professor of Preaching. Union named him the
first Harry Emerson Fosdick Adjunct Professor of Preaching in 1989, when
he accepted the pastorate at Riverside. Dr. Forbes also serves on the
Core Teaching Staff at Auburn Theological Seminary in New York.
In national and international religious circles, Dr. Forbes is known as
the preachers preacher because of his extensive preaching career and
his charismatic style. In their March 4, 1996 issue, Newsweek magazine
recognized Forbes as one of the 12 most effective preachers in the
English-speaking world. This Pastor, Educator, Administrator, Community
Activist and Interfaith Leader was designated as one of Americas
greatest Black preachers by Ebony magazine in 1984 and 1993. He won the
Alumni Charter Day Award of Howard University for Distinguished Post
Graduate Achievement In Ministry. In 1995 he emerged in the Baylor
University Survey as one of twelve remarkable and most effective
preachers in the English-speaking world.
Dr. Forbes learned to preach and pastor in the parish. He has held
pastorates at St. Johns United Holy Church of America in Richmond, VA,
from 1965-1973; Holy Trinity Church in Wilmington, NC, from 1960-1965;
and at St. Pauls Holy Church in Roxboro, NC, from 1960-1969. He also
worked as campus minister for Virginia Union University in Richmond, VA,
from 1968 until 1970.
Dr. Forbes has earned three degrees and has been awarded 13 honorary
degrees. He earned a Doctor of Ministry Degree from Colgate-Rochester
Divinity School in Rochester, NY, in 1975; a Master of Divinity Degree
from Union Theological Seminary in New York City, NY in 1962; and a
Bachelor of Science in Chemistry from Howard University in Washington,
D.C., in 1957. He earned his Clinical Pastoral Education Certificate
from the Medical College of Virginia in Richmond, VA, in 1968.
His honorary degrees are: Doctor of Divinity, Princeton University,
Princeton, NJ 2002; Doctor of Humane Letters, Central University, North
Carolina, 1998; Doctor of Humane Letters, Manhattanville College,
Purchase, NY, 1996; Doctor of Humane Letters, Keuka College, Keuka Park,
NY, 1993; Doctor of Divinity, Franklin College of Indiana, Franklin, IN,
1992; Doctor of Divinity, Lehigh University, Bethlehem, PA, 1991; Doctor
of Divinity, Trinity College, Hartford, CT, 1991; Doctor of Humane
Letters, DePauw University, Greencastle, IN, 1990; Doctor of Laws,
Fairleigh Dickenson University, Rutherford, NJ, 1990; Doctor of
Divinity, Colgate University, Hamilton, NY, 1989; Doctor of Divinity,
University of Richmond, Richmond, VA, 1987; Doctor of Divinity,
Protestant Episcopal Theological Seminary, Alexandria, VA, 1986; Doctor
of Sacred Theology, Dickinson College, Carlisle, PA, 1983.
A well-known preacher and lecturer in the United States and abroad, in
1986 Dr. Forbes gave the Lyman Beecher Lecture at Yale University. The
lectures in this series have been published by Abingdon Press as The
Holy Spirit and Preaching, 1989. In 1993 he gave the Sixth Annual Leslie
R. Smith Lectures in Preaching, entitled Spiritual Revitalization of
the Nation through Preaching and in 1995 his Healing the Spirit of
America was edited from The Davison Lectures at Warren Wilson College.
He has participated in the Charles Finney Colloquium at
Colgate-Rochester Divinity School and the World Pentecostal Fellowship
in Nairobi, Kenya. In 1998 he completed a semester as the inaugural Luce
Lecturer at the Harvard Divinity School, devoting his lectures to the
theme of urban ministry. Also in 1998, in addition to participating in
the Department of Justice Round Table on Youth Violence at the White
House, Dr. Forbes delivered the keynote address at the Presidents
Initiative on Race meeting in New Orleans, Louisiana. As Visiting
Professor of Homiletics at Yale Divinity School in 2004, Dr. Forbes
taught a course entitled Preaching and the Next Great Awakening.
From 1992 to the present, Dr. Forbes has been co-chair of A Partnership
of Faith, an interfaith organization of clergy among New Yorks
Protestant, Catholic, Jewish, and Muslim communities. He is on the board
of Manhattanville College, the Interfaith Alliance, Harlem Congregations
for Community Improvement, and the United Way. He is a consultant to the
Congress of National Black Churches and past President of The Martin
Luther King Fellows. In October 2000, he received the prestigious Earle
B. Pleasant Clergy of the Year Award from Religion in American Life and
delivered the Raymond J. Peterson Lecture. In 2000, Dr. Forbes also
accepted board appointments to: The Values Institute of America, The
Bertram M. Beck Institute on Religion and Poverty at Fordham University,
and The Mailman School of Public Health at Columbia University. In April
2001, Union Theological Seminary presented Dr. Forbes with the Unitas
Distinguished Alumnus Award, and in May 2003, Teachers College awarded
him their Distinguished Service Medal. The Partnership of Faith awarded
him the Cronkite Faith and Freedom Award in 2004.
Forbes has led numerous workshops, retreats, and conferences for the
National Council of Churches of Christ USA, the National Association of
Campus Ministry, the American Baptist Churches, the United Church of
Christ, the African Methodist Episcopal Church, the Christian Church
(Disciples of Christ), the Episcopal Church, the Roman Catholic Church,
the United Methodist Church, and the Presbyterian Church (USA). His
sermons are aired weekly on WLTW 106.7 FM in New York City, NY.
On December 26, 2003, Dr. Forbes was featured on Bill Moyers Speaking
to Power where he shared his prophetic principles, which have become
part of the Mobilization 2004 initiative at The Riverside Church. Also
in 2004, Dr. Forbes keynoted most of the Let Justice Roll tour
sponsored by the National Council of Churches of Christ which promoted
the prophetic principles in 15-20 cities across the nation. In August
2004, Dr. Forbes addressed the Democratic National Convention.
Born in 1935 in Burgaw, North Carolina, Dr. Forbes is married to Bettye
Franks Forbes, formerly of San Antonio, TX. They are the proud parents
of one son, James A. Forbes III.