From the inception of the Samuel DeWitt Proctor Conference, Inc. (SDPC), the Rev. Robert Norris Burkins, Sr. was all in – standing and working with founders Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., Rev. Dr. Frederick D. Haynes III and Rev. Dr. Iva E. Carruthers, who would go on to become the organization’s general secretary.

He was a friend and colleague, a preacher, teacher, and pastor who loved God and the work of social justice. For 28 years, he was the pastor of Elmwood United Presbyterian Church in East Orange, New Jersey. His people and community loved him, and he loved them.

Rev. Burkins passed away on Friday, May 1, 2020, following an extended illness.

One of the original supporters of the SDPC and serving as a trustee from 2012-2015, Rev. Burkins loved God, he loved the Black church, and he insisted that Elmwood United Presbyterian would reflect both those loves. Veering away from the traditional conservative worship services typical of his denomination, Rev. Burkins emphasized the importance of the African American heritage for his African American congregation, bringing to them contemporary gospel music and challenging sermons that stirred their souls. Be believed that the church – specifically the Black church – should be the place where “the issues of life can be addressed intellectually as well as spiritually.”

He brought in preachers to help attain that goal, including Rev. Dr. Jeremiah A. Wright, Jr., who became a close friend and preached at Elmwood every September.

Dr. Wright admired Rev. Burkins on many levels and for many reasons, among which was Burkins’ decision to stay in the African American, New Jersey neighborhood where his ministry began. Dr. Wright noted that Elmwood grew by leaps and bounds, beginning with 124 members in one building, and by the time Rev. Burkins’ retired in 2015, growing to over 1200 members worshipping in three different buildings. “One church in three locations!” Dr. Wright said. “Who does that? Name another Presbyterian church in the country. You can’t. He’s taken Elmwood off the charts!”

Growing up as one of 10 children in Rock Hill, South Carolina, Dr. Burkins originally wanted to be a pilot. It seems as though God was the pilot of his life, leading him to the ministry.

Rev. Burkins will be buried in Greenville, South Carolina. Visitation will be Friday, May 8, 2020, 1:00 p.m. – 7:00 p.m. (EDT) at the Reedy River Missionary Baptist Church, 1012 Mauldin Road, Greenville, South Carolina, where Rev. Burkins was serving as interim pastor.  Rev. Burkins’ wife, Wendy, requests that there be no in-person visitors.  Cards and tributes may be mailed to her personally at 2 Via Roma Ct., Simpsonville, South Carolina, 29681.

SDPC will sorely miss our friend, colleague, and man of God. May he rest with the ancestors, ever sharing his spirit which will never die.