World Series. Halloween. Time Change. Full Moon. Election. COVID. And for me: Goodbye Church.
I love my church here on St. Simons Island and my ministers, my Sunday School Class, and the friends I have made. But today, I resolved to put it all behind me and move on. I am waking up and they are shutting down. So, in the wonderful words of John Prine, I’m taking a walk.
Twelve years ago, young black preachers showed up in my world. I was traveling the country promoting the newly launched Academy of Preachers whose mission it is to “identify, network, support, and inspire young preachers in the call to gospel preaching.” I began to listen to them, and honor them, and learn from them, even as I organized festivals for them all over the country. Today, my Facebook feed is full of their musings and moanings, their preaching and protesting; and I love every inch of it: every word, every picture, every prayer. It has changed my life.
Then four years ago Rev. Dr. Kevin Cosby gave me a book: The Half Has Never Been Told, about the economic impact of slavery. Since then, I have been reading—book after book—of stuff I have never known. Today my book is We Have Been Believers: An African American Systematic Theology.
I am what you might call Woke—or at least, waking up!
Because of that, I signed up to teach at the Coastal Georgia Bible Institute, a school for African American Christians who want to become leaders and teachers in their churches. Because of that, I joined the public movement to secure justice for Ahmaud Arbery (who was gunned down right here in our county earlier this year).
Because of that, I have plunged into a project to research my dad’s early life in Daviess County, Kentucky, where he witnessed (as a 13 year old boy) the last, legal public hanging in America (of a 23-year old black man)…and a few months later was dipped in the waters of a creek somewhere in the county west of Owensboro. I want to know in what sense he was baptized into white supremacy, the same white supremacy that has roiled the church I love here on the island.
I went to the public protests because my pastor invited me, and we stood together on the steps of the old courthouse. We stood with ministers all over the county: black and white, male and female. The president of the local chapter of the NAACP spoke on behalf of all of us. Pictures were taken and sent around the country, appearing here and there for weeks.
In July, my pastor preached a sermon about our duty to pray for our city and invest our resources in its welfare. It is a wonderful example of a pastor calling his people to be attentive to the cries of the people in the place where we live. I honor him for it.
He also showed a film made by one of our church members, a short amateur film recorded while riding a bike through the community where the murder occurred. It is set to the prayerful music of Kirk Franklin, “Heal Our Land”.
The film and the sermon sparked a revolt in our church, triggered by two-seconds in the film of a Trump campaign yard sign. Some Trump supporters interpreted that to be an intentional strategy to connect the murder with the President. They launched a campaign to force our pastor out of his office and pulpit. Five days after the sermon, they gave him an ultimatum: get out of town.
That was four months ago, and the campaign has not let up. Phone calls, letters, meetings, emails, and such: all behind the scenes and outside of established procedure. Some are willing to surrender the pastor to appease the people.
October is Clergy Appreciation Month but instead of expressing support of our talented, dedicated, and spiritual pastor, we are watching a slow-motion train wreck. Some of our members have seized the throttle and are pushing it forward.
I will not be the only one to jump off the train. I love and admire friends who will stay on board, survive the wreck, and hang around to clean up the wreckage. But not me. I’m gone. God has filled my soul and my mind with things that need to be done.
You can, in other words from Mr. Prine, blame it on those crazy bones!