Make no mistake: Take James A. Forbes Jr. away from a pulpit and he is not himself. Forbes’s old friend the late African-American church historian James Melvin Washington used to kid the senior minister of Manhattan’s Riverside Church by saying Forbes “would preach to clear his sinuses.”
“He was right: If I don’t preach, I won’t be well,” Forbes mused one morning recently in an office overlooking the church where he has presided, implored and, yes, preached for the better part of two decades.
But as Forbes reflected on his 18 years in one of the country’s most prestigious and visible pulpits, he hardly sounded wistful. In fact, Forbes, 71, who will officially retire in June, seems fully ready for what he calls the next great chapter—setting his sights on nothing less than the spiritual renewal of the nation.