Dr. Earle L. Wilson, former General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church, died November 24, 2020. He was 85, just days away from turning 86.
He was born December 8, 1934, in Rensselaer, New York, to Lawrence W. and Wilhelmina (Knapp) Wilson. Wilson and his siblings (two brothers and two sisters) were raised by Christian parents who were loyal to God’s kingdom and the local church.
Wilson received B.S. and Th.B. degrees from the former Eastern Pilgrim College, Allentown, Pennsylvania, in 1955; a Master of Divinity degree from Evangelical Seminary, Myerstown, Pennsylvania, in 1965 and a Master of Theology degree from Princeton Theological Seminary, Princeton, New Jersey, in 1967. Doctor of Divinity degrees were conferred on him by Houghton College (Houghton, New York) in 1974 and Southern Wesleyan University (Central, South Carolina) in 2005. He received a presidential citation from Indiana Wesleyan University (Marion, Indiana) in 2007.
He married Sylvia Beck in 1955, whom he met at Eastern Pilgrim College. They were married for 65 years.
From 1956-1972, Wilson pastored former Pilgrim Holiness Church congregations (now The Wesleyan Church) in Gloversville, New York, and Bethlehem, Pennsylvania. From 1962-1984, he was also a professor of New Testament Greek, Christian theology and homiletics at Eastern Pilgrim College in Allentown, Pennsylvania (later United Wesleyan College). In 1971, he became the first president of United Wesleyan College and continued in that office until his election as General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church in 1984. He supervised The Wesleyan Church districts and universities of North America and chaired conferences, ordained ministers and preached overseas from 1984-2008. In 2008, The Wesleyan Church honored his service by naming him General Superintendent Emeritus. He was the longest-serving General Superintendent in the history of The Wesleyan Church.
A preacher by passion and not just profession, Wilson was known throughout the church world as a dynamic speaker and Bible expositor who preached under the anointing power of the Holy Spirit. It was said that he didn’t just grace the pulpit — he grasped it as a pilot at the controls of an airliner. His listeners represented all ages, education and cultural groups and Christian or non-Christian traditions.
Active in other evangelical and holiness organizations, he was a member of the World Methodist Council (members of denominations and institutions who trace their theological origins to John and Charles Wesley) from 1988-2008. In 2000, he became the first non-Methodist president of the World Methodist Council and continued in that role until 2005. Other organizational service included serving on the board of trustees at Asbury Theological Seminary and chairman, program director and secretary of The Christian Holiness Association.
He authored “We Hold These Truths: A Guide to Wesleyan Beliefs;” “Holy and Human: Overcoming Spiritual Struggles to Live a Holy Life;” “Commentary on Galatians, Wesleyan Bible Commentary series” and “The Long Road Home: How God Forms Our Prodigal Souls.” He was a contributing author for “Journey into Holiness: Experiencing God’s Power for Holy Living,” “Wesleyan Life” and “Wesleyan World Fellowship” magazines and “The Preacher’s Magazine.”
In addition to the offices he held, Wilson preached in camp meetings, ministerial conferences, holiness conventions, revival services in local churches and commencements throughout The Wesleyan Church and in many other denominations.
In a video interview months before his death, he encouraged pastors not to struggle over presenting something new on Easter Sunday. “Tell us the old, old story.” Wilson said to preach the resurrection, that Christ destroyed the end. He said, “The new is going to be better. God has better plans for us. When he appears, we shall be like him. And I am satisfied with that.”
Dr. Wayne Schmidt, General Superintendent of The Wesleyan Church, said in announcing Earle L. Wilson’s passing, “On a personal note, Dr. Wilson was part of more than a few pivotal and formative moments in my life and ministry, including his prayer for me immediately after my election as General Superintendent at General Conference 2016. We join heaven in rejoicing over his faithful ministry.”
He was preceded in death by his parents; a sister, Augusta (Marvin) Wolfe; a brother, Alvin (Marcia) Wilson, and a grandson, Bennet Walter.
Survivors include his wife, Sylvia; brother, Norman (Nancy) Wilson; sister, Marilyn (Bob) Franke; daughter, Debarah Ann (Steven) Walter; son, Stephen Earle (Rebecca) Wilson and daughter, Colleen Ruth (Wayne) Derr. He is also survived by eight grandchildren, eight great-grandchildren and nieces and nephews.