Samford University President Beck A. Taylor and First Lady Julie Taylor sat down with Mechelle and Rev. Thomas Wilder to discuss family, work and racial reconciliation as part of the For the Good Lecture Series, hosted by the Frances Marlin Mann Center for Ethics and Leadership. The purpose of the series is to feature interviews between Samford’s president and individuals who have demonstrated their commitment to personal integrity and servant leadership.
Mechelle Wilder ’83, was recently appointed to Samford’s Board of Directors and is a founding partner of Arc Realty, the largest privately held real estate company in Alabama. She is active as a member of the Board of Directors of the Shelby County Chamber of Commerce and its Economic Development Board, 58, Inc. She is a board member of The National Association of Realtors (serving 1.4 million realtors), currently serves as a board member for The Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham and served as president of Birmingham's Multiple Listing Service in 2019 (serving 5,000 realtors).
Rev. Thomas Wilder is the pastor of Bethel Baptist Church of Collegeville, which is one of the most historically significant churches in the United States and has been named a national historic landmark. He also served as a corporate leader at Alagasco and BE&K Corporations before retiring to pursue full-time ministry in 2013. He has written several books and is on the Board of Directors for The Birmingham Civil Rights Institute, United Ability and Girls, Inc. He is currently pursuing his Doctor of Ministry degree from Beeson Divinity School.
Both discussed how trusting and listening to God led them to one another and steered their careers.
“Tom and I were set up on a blind date when I was a sophomore at Samford. I didn’t like him and he didn’t like me at first,” Mechelle said. “However, we related to one another over the Bible. He is an outstanding Bible teacher. I would call him about the Bible and that’s how we became friends. We could relate to God.”
After proposing to Mechelle twice, she finally said yes when she was 22 years old. The Wilders have been married for 38 years and have four children. Through their marriage, they have learned to prioritize one another while always keeping God’s calling at heart.
“First, you have to know what you are called to do. There are a lot of things that we would like to do, but we aren’t called to do it all,” Tom said. “The second part is our relationship at home. You have to have someone in your life who can speak to you and challenge you to remember your calling. That’s what we do for each other.”
“God’s ways are not easy. They are narrow and hard. Sometimes you have to do what God calls you to do while crying, but it is so worth it. If I can tell you anything, it is to do what God tells you to do,” Mechelle said.
Mechelle said she experienced this firsthand when she had her first child. Prior to having children, she had always wanted to have a career and not be a stay-at-home mother.
“I’m 22 and I have this great job with IBM. I’m making money and I’m traveling. I go on to have my first child and I’m mopping the floor when God said to me, ‘Don’t you think I will provide for you?’” Mechelle said. “That was shattering, but I listened and decided to stay home with our children. There were times when I was home with a crying baby, and I was crying because I was having to cook and clean. It’s hard to do what God wants sometimes, but it is so worth it. Those 14 years I spent at home shaped my relationship with God.”
Once their youngest child graduated high school, Mechelle co-founded Arc Realty.
Both discussed what makes them hopeful and gives them pause in regards to racial reconciliation in today’s society.
“One of the things that gives me hope is that God has people everywhere. What gives me pause is that sometimes we will justify things in the name of righteousness, but it is just a way to cover up iniquity,” Tom said. “We have to ask ourselves, ‘In the sight of God, is this right?’”
“What gives me hope is that members of our church and Mountain Brook Community Church, which are sister churches, are working together and forming relationships,” Mechelle said. “What gives me pause is that I know there is still a major a difference financially for people of color. There are still inequality issues, and we need to catch up.”
The two concluded the conversation with a call to support others and continue to trust in God.
“If we would get involved and try to lift somebody else up, it will make a difference,” Mechelle said. “Do what you can to help others. That’s what my hope is.”
“I encourage all of you to surrender to God. You don’t always know how God will work it out, but He will and you need to listen, surrender and trust,” Tom said.
For more information about the Mann Center for Ethics and Leadership or how to become involved with the center, visit its website.