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Riverside Church
12.26.03
Society and Community:
Reverend James Forbes and the Riverside Church
More on This Story:
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.

The Riverside Church commits itself to welcoming all persons, celebrating the diversity found in a congregation broadly inclusive of persons from different backgrounds of race, economic class, religion, culture, ethnicity, gender, age, and sexual orientation.

See a timeline of the Church's history.

James Forbes


On June 1, 1989, The Rev. Dr. James Alexander Forbes, Jr. was installed as the fifth Senior Minister of The Riverside Church. Forbes is the first African-American to serve as Senior Minister of one of the largest multicultural congregations in the nation. He is an ordained minister in the American Baptist Churches and the Original United Holy Church of America.

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 Union’s 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 their March 4, 1996 issue, NEWSWEEK magazine recognized Forbes as one of the 12 “most effective preachers” in the English-speaking world. He was designated as one of America’s greatest Black preachers by Ebony magazine in 1984 and 1993. Forbes 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 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.

For 1992 to the present, Dr. Forbes has been co-chair of A Partnership of Faith, an interfaith organization of clergy among New York’s 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.

Born in 1935 in Burgaw, North Carolina, Dr. Forbes is married to Bettye Franks Forbes, formerly of San Antonio, TX. They have one son, James A. Forbes III.

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