Saturday, August 26, 2006

The Pegs Pop

Some more tentpegs popped this week. Last week's unity meeting between the black and white churches of Christ in the metro Detroit area were a wonderful first step and there are signs that the churches here meant what they said and will follow up with mutual aid, events, and love.

One opportunity to show our love came today. John R. Flowers, a giant of a man in the black fellowship and the father and mentor of many, many preachers and elders, passed away at age 98. Today was his funeral. The event was held at the Elmwood Park Church of Christ all the way down in Detroit about a mile and a half from Ford Stadium. I got up early and put on a suit and tie -- on a Saturday! -- found my way forty miles down I-75, down Gratiot towards the river, and found a place to park in a crowded lot. Inside, the pews were packed.

A word needs to be said about the African American brethren in metro Detroit. I haven't been to all of their congregations, but I could not be more impressed with each and every one I've visited. I have wondered how to describe them to people outside this area and four words keep coming back: wisdom, grace, warmth, dignity. A couple of months ago I traded pulpits with Dallas Walker, the esteemed preacher for the Wyoming Avenue Church of Christ. I am hear to openly attest this: there is no more grace-filled welcome anyplace in the world than you will find at Wyoming Avenue. Period. Everyone should travel there and see how you are wrapped in grace and love from the moment you walk in until long after you leave (you see, they will say nice things about you forever once they meet you!).

Why "wisdom"? Again, it is a danger to overstate situations or fall into stereotyping, but my experience has been that our black brothers and sisters know their Bibles far, far better than my white brethren (alas, I have had so little contact with Hispanic and Asian congregations I cannot bring them into this comparison). Not only do they have knowledge, they know how to apply it, hence, "wisdom."

At the funeral, at least thirty and maybe as many as forty individuals came up to me to thank me for coming or for speaking at last week's unity event. The warmth in their beautiful faces revealed their true hearts. I was, frankly, touched and deeply encouraged.

Some might lampoon the dignity and formality of their funeral services and worship services, but I would caution you: when a people has been stripped of dignity, formality, ceremony, and recognition for centuries it is an sweet and beautiful thing to see that these dear children of God know they are made in His image, that they are loved by Him, and that their lives mean something. While many of my white brethren -- including me -- seem to rush away from formality and dress down for Sundays, I think there is something healing in seeing the reverence and esteem for the Holy in black churches.

When the minister called to tell me details about the upcoming service he referred to a "Homegoing Ceremony." I apologized to him for my ignorance and told him I didn't know what that was. "Brother Mead," he said, "that is what we call a funeral when the one who passed is a child of God." How wonderful! During the Homegoing Ceremony nine or ten preachers preached and each one who referred to resurrection day called it "Gettin' up morning."

I have much to learn from these, my precious brothers and sisters. I hear tentpegs popping. Brother John R. Flowers has pulled his tentpegs up and moved on to glory. Those of us who remain behind are pulling up deeply driven pegs so that we can move our tents closer to each other.

God give us the courage to keep moving toward Him and each other.


At 8/27/2006 09:16:00 PM , Blogger Dee O'Neil Andrews said...

What a heart warming and uplifting post, Patrick.

You know? I've been thinking in similar things all day today after being in worship this morning here in Picayune and again tonight.

Why? Because this congregation of Lord's people in the deep south, in the midst of KKK national headquarters (nearby in Bogalusa, LA) and years of "Mississippi Burning" among many, has from its inception in the late 1960s been fully integrated.

One of our four elders is a black man who's married to the daughter of one of the original black families here and they are all still alive and well.

I was speaking the this elder's nephew by marriage this morning, a young man the age of my younger son who I remembered as a young boy. His grandparents, the patriarch and matriarch of the family were there this morning sitting up front, like you say, clothed in grace and dignity and also lots of vibrant finery that I find, too, as you do, very compelling.

The grandmother had on a fine dark pink suit and white furry looking hat, here in the heat and humidity, and the grandfather looked his most elegant in his brocade vest that just set off his crisp white shirt and dark slacks.

This evening I sat with the elder and his wife, the grandparents' daughter, and we talked of their extended family and where everyone is and how they all are doing.

I think I mentioned here before, or maybe not, that this congregation for many years, I know, was the only integrated one of any church of any kind in this large county in Mississippi.

It's marvelous and one of the things I'm most grateful for in this church as I seek to find ways to be of service here now that I've moved back here after being away 20 years. These are the things I will be praying about most in trying to bring a sense of unity and community between church members here who have lost, or perhaps never had, that vision.

For tonight, I am thankful to God for the unity and community that there IS here between and among blacks and whites.

Thanks Patrick.

At 8/28/2006 09:48:00 AM , Blogger DJG said...

Thank you for sharing this.

At 8/29/2006 08:24:00 AM , Anonymous Jeff Slater said...

I had the honor of meeting Brother Flowers and talking with him on a few occasions. He has left a void in the Detroit area that will be hard to fill.

I wish I could have been at the funeral. Thanks for sharing this, Patrick.

At 8/29/2006 05:05:00 PM , Blogger Mick Wright said...

Your point about formality in black churches, vs casual attitudes in white churches, is very insightful. Thanks for sharing this.

At 8/30/2006 01:11:00 PM , Blogger mike the eyeguy said...


Great post. You might be interested in reading one I did on "casual church" earlier this month. Be sure to read the comments as they relate well to the "formality" you observed among our black brethren.

At 9/01/2006 03:36:00 PM , Anonymous Laymond said...

Brother Patrick I am truly joyed to see you moving toward Gloryland.


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