Jack Woodard, Episcopal priest and community activist, dies at 86


The Rev. Jack Woodard leads Good Friday worshippers through the neighborhood of St. Stephen's and the Incarnation Church in 1982, stopping at various points to meditate upon the passion of Jesus and reflection upon the hardships of various members of the community. George H. “Jack” Woodard, an Episcopal priest and community activist who was rector of St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church in the District from 1979 to 1985, died March 16 at home in Springfield. He was 86. (Gerald Martineau/The Washington Post)
March 21, 2013

George H. “Jack” Woodard, an Episcopal priest and community activist who was rector of St. Stephen and the Incarnation Episcopal Church in the District from 1979 to 1985, died March 16 at home in Springfield. He was 86.

He died of respiratory failure and neurological complications, his daughter Cheryl Woodard said.

St. Stephen and the Incarnation is located at 16th and Newton streets NW, and Rev. Woodard’s ministry was known for such public demonstrations as his annual Stations of the Cross procession on Good Friday through the neighborhood denouncing the presence of drug dealers.

“When we permit heroin to be sold, we are crucifying Jesus,” he said.

At the church, Rev. Woodard also helped launch the Samaritan Ministry, an ecumenical social welfare program that continues to serve the city’s poor and homeless; the Washington Free Clinic, which provided medical care and attention for nearly 40 years; and a program offering showers to homeless men.

In 1985, he resigned as rector in a dispute with lay leaders over the degree of lay authority in church management.

Later he was rector of Meade Memorial Episcopal Church in Alexandria, a historically African American congregation, where he helped create a shelter for the homeless and was instrumental in the construction of a larger church building. He retired in 1991.

George Henry Woodard was born Aug. 16, 1926, in Tampa and grew up in Houston. At 19, he graduated from the University of Texas in 1946.

With a degree in mechanical engineering, he designed electrical power plants in Texas for the next 13 years. In 1959, after attending an Episcopal retreat for young businessmen, he decided to enter the ministry.

He graduated from the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest in Austin, and he was ordained in 1962.

His first church, All Saints, was in the poorest section of Houston — an assignment he had requested. He was assigned in 1964 to work for the executive council of the national Episcopal Church in New York, specializing in expanding the church’s ministry to the poor, dispossessed and minorities.

After having served as pastor of a church in the Dominican Republic, he came to St. Stephen and the Incarnation, succeeding the Rev. William A. Wendt, a prominent community activist who had resigned to pursue a ministry to the terminally ill.

As Wendt’s successor, Rev. Woodard continued to lead his flock along the spiritual path of social activism. At the church, on the edge of what was then a high-crime area, he took precautionary measures. The 6-foot-6 rector kept a police stick in his desk drawer and said he would call the authorities in cases of crime or violence.

“St. Stephen’s is here to help anyone who comes in peace,” he once said. ”We love people, but we are not pigeons.”

His first marriage, to Judy Gaston, ended in divorce. In 1970, he married Lucila George.

Besides his wife, of Springfield, survivors include four children from his first marriage, Iris Woodard of Springfield, George Woodard of Old Westbury, N.Y., Cheryl Woodard of Little Rock and Sarah Woodard of Albany, Calif.; nine grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

In retirement, Rev. Woodard continued to participate in church-related activities, including organizing and leading pilgrimages to Jerusalem, where he liked to say that he was “walking on the same stones that Jesus walked on.”

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