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I remember the first time I went to church with Ronnie. I was a philosophy major at the College of Wooster out in Wooster, Ohio. Ronnie was a townie who would come hang out at various events on campus and we got to be good friends.
I never really found out Ronnie’s story and how he came to hang out on campus. He carried around a rubber ball that he would often squeeze in his hand. I had heard stories that he had been in a car accident, had problems speaking and walking as a result, and squeezing the rubber ball was part of his physical therapy.
One day, he asked if I wanted to go to church with him, and we walked down from the campus to his church. On the way, a car pulled over and asked Ronnie if he was going to church. He said yes, and that he was going with me. They asked if he wanted a ride and we both hopped in.
It was an old land yacht, something like a Buick La Sabre. We crowded in and headed off to church. It was a tight fit, but friendly and Ronnie introduced me to his friends.
As we walked up the steps of the church, one of the women said to me, “I surprised you want to come to church with us.”
I looked at her and said, “Yeah? Why?”
She got all flustered, and apologized and said she probably shouldn’t have said anything. But it got me curious. I looked around for a clue. Everyone was nicely dressed. They probably dressed nicer for church than many of the other churches I had visited. They all sounded pretty normal and I wasn’t expecting to uncover any sort of heresy or strange beliefs.
Ronnie was introducing me to various people from the church and it finally dawned on me when I shook hands with the Assistant Pastor, I was the only white person there. I had never been to a predominantly black church.
It was a pretty normal church service. There was praying and singing, scriptures and a long sermon. The one thing I wasn’t prepared for was the point in the service was the pastor asked visitors to stand up and introduce themselves. There were a few different visitors and when I stood up, everyone looked at me and got real quiet. It was perhaps the first time that I ever felt like part of a minority group.
That was many years ago. Since then, I’ve been to services at various black churches, mostly staffing a politician as they stumped across the state.
More recently, I became a fellow in the CT Health Foundation’s Health Leaders Fellowship Program. The program is focused on addressing health disparities and I once again found myself as a member of what is not normally a minority, white males. I’ve met many great people through this program and established some important friendships.
One such friend is an associate minister at a predominantly black church in Bridgeport. She often posts prayers online, and recently posted about a women’s prayer group that prays together at midnight on a conference call. I commented that I probably didn’t fit in with that group, and that I’m unlikely to be awake and midnight, but that I would lift up my prayers early from afar.
She suggested that we should pray together and I took her up on it. Various thoughts came to mind.
"Again I say to you, that if two of you agree on earth about anything that they may ask, it shall be done for them by My Father who is in heaven. For where two or three have gathered together in My name, I am there in their midst."
If You Believe and I Believe
If you believe and I believe
And we together pray,
The Holy Spirit must come down
And set God’s people free,
This evening, we prayed. We thanked God for the work God is doing in both our lives and the lives of those around us. We prayed for those who grieve, those how preach, and those who march. Most importantly, we offered ourselves up to God, that God might work through us to bring peace, justice, and healing to this broken world.
We go to different churches. We have different ways of praying. Yet we worship the same God. And if we together pray, The Holy Spirit must come down and set all of us free.
So, I offer this as a challenge to each of you. Find someone who is different from you, someone you don’t normally hang out with, pray with them, and be set free.
“Do you hear the people sing?”
I glance at my Facebook feed
“so I wish I could say I'm numb. I cannot. Surprised? No... but in all kinds of pain.”
“I am at The Taking it to the Streets: Reviving the Black Church Conference. I am in the right place in light of the latest verdict. Yes!”
“There is a lot of unrest in the world. We should care about it.”
When I get home, Fiona is listening to music from Les Mis, which she will be singing in a school concert tomorrow.
“One day more!
Another day, another destiny.
This never-ending road to Calvary;
These men who seem to know my crime
Will surely come a second time.
One day more!”
I try to find words to make sense of it all. It is Advent and I wait expectantly for the coming of peace and justice. The words from Les Mis come back in focus.
“Tomorrow we'll discover
What our God in Heaven has in store!”
A college classmate of mine is a paster in the United Methodist Church and her husband is a physician. She has posted on her Facebook wall a request for prayers for her husband as he flies to Sierra Leone today to work in an Ebola treatment center.
A few weeks ago, she shared posted part of "A Litany in Response to UMCOR’s Call to Pray for Those Affected by the Ebola Epidemic"
Here is a link to the Litany:
Please pray for Dorothea and Guy.