Sunday, June 28, 2015

A Response to Roz - as history and life are never perfect...

 Yesterday, I read Roz's blog post, /Embracingmyshadow, I tried to post them in parallel, but the type face enlarged is still difficult to see [try below] but you can read both and make your own assumptions about who and where we are... Rich 

June 27, 2015
The Truth Shall Always Set You Free.

I read more than I write about our shared Beloved Community, but as one of those who watched and shared your progress through a graduate educational process, I believe I know and have experienced all the history you speak of in your intro.  Most recently, my writing and reading has been in the area of defining Luther [and Lutheranism] and Race.  I await its publication, and seem daunted by the amount of research done and knowing that the published piece will be 1/10 of the stuff I’ve unpacked.
I wish that I was quoting Luther when I flippantly offer the phrase about the church we both love, when I say that the welcome mat outside the door, says “Welcome Sinners”, knowing full well that the city church in Wittenberg has a stone depiction of a pig, to firmly indicate that Jews are not welcome. So yes the church has been one of truth-telling, risk taking and prophetic enough to say “Show me in Scripture where I am in error.”
My parents converted from Baptist and African Methodist Episcopal (AME), so I came along for the ride. Confirmed, educated, married and ordained and now ‘retired’, I’m living into my third iteration of Church and am seriously looking at how we became this church seeking to fulfil a ‘wish for 10% in 10 years and failing to be the inclusive church hoped for.  The decline in the number of people of color is probably less dramatic than the general loss of members in the entire Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), which started with 5.5 million members.  As church, we have at times led the way or stayed longer, but we are no different from the general society in addressing cultural differences.
So here I am, a Black Elder in a predominantly white church. Achieving adulthood during the mid 60’s to early 70’s, I benefitted from a few trail blazers, who helped to set my identity in culture and faith.  Black and White mentors opened doors and opportunities and served as buffers from racism and brokenness in church life.
Church College, church camp, Luther League, and seminary, where I was a ‘visible’ symbol of progress.  Integration was to be celebrated.  Travel within church circles forced issues of my being a cross cultural experience for others.  Shared with colleagues from Philadelphia and Puerto Rico who are no longer with us.
Hair was not the element touched, but intellect, and familiarity with a liturgy without need of a book was the surprise for others in our encounters.  Short hair wasn’t touched, but Afros were fair game in any setting.  Even after ordination, as an officer in a church organization wearing full clerics, participating in an installation, the question was asked, “To which denomination do you belong?”  Followed by, “How long have you been Lutheran?”  How does one answer, when you are serving a congregation with 6th and 7th generation Lutherans in the Caribbean?
How does one respond, when your bishop asks you why a suburban congregation would be interested in you after a couple of vacancy preaching assignments, and your only response is that five members were your college classmates?
I am sorry that I was not able to sufficiently prepare you with a defense of the microagressions that would fall your way.  The rationales are defenseless.  On leaving for college, my wise mother reminded me that wherever I would go, “You will be certain to add color to the gathering.”  Our experience is not considered to be a part of the foundation of environment, though we may have experienced the most visceral reaction by being ignored.
Paying attention is a survival mechanism, when one is in the minority.  Awareness of surroundings and supporters, or [the lack thereof] is essential in surviving and/or succeeding.  Yes, DuBoix was important, along with Cone, Wilmore, Malcolm X, Pero, Strobert, Floyd-Thomas, Ray, Westfield, and Collier-Thomas. [name dropper].  Multi-lingual and multi-cultural, are the gifts brought to all tables.  Always aware that I and others live simultaneously in two worlds, though one has little or no perception of the other.

A week ago on Wednesday night, I started re-writing my sermon for Sunday at St. Paul’s Lutheran Church, Lansdowne, PA, full well knowing that once again I would add color to the group gathered.  Recalling  the open door policy of the AME Church, it’s history of having a teacher among its leaders, Daniel Payne, who was educated at Gettysburg, the ELCA’s continued openness to educate clergy from other denominations, especially at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, and sharing the pain of the murder of two of its graduates.
It was only later in the week that it became apparent that the perpetrator was a confirmand and church camper from within our midst.

The welcome mat still says “Welcome Sinners.”
The Welcome mat has always said “Welcome Sinners”.    

There is no guarantees of consistency in the way that people respond to the challenges of society.  While Fabritius and Falckner, were open to sharing the Gospel message with all they encountered and Muhlenberg questioned the institution of slavery, Muhlenberg’s son would be a slave holder,  Pr. Berkenmeyer in New York would defend slavery, John Bachman would grow up in a household that had slaves and freed them.
When called to St. John’s Charleston, SC, he would seek openness to minister to free Blacks before 1818 in Charleston, yet he held slaves and defended the south as it attempted to leave the Union.
Somehow even this week, I sensed that the church is still the church that raised me.  For every action by every member cannot be the measure of what it means to be justified by Faith Alone and simultaneously have the ability to Sin Boldly.  The despair felt in being alone is not something neither I nor anyone else can alleviate.  Even with public descent at the time of my mixed race marriage, there were those who affirmed, supported, and shielded.
Yet I am fully aware that each time I change my set of colleagues, there are lessons to be taught, as well as learned.  Even in retirement the fatigue of continually teaching the same lesson of the value of my [and your] humanity seems to be emotionally taxing.  I am tired of being someone else’s multicultural experience.
My age may be the defining element of being verbally open about what is going on inside, recently I recommended to another former student that candor was best for me.  Social media seems to be a preferred medium for those who have well trained fingers, rather than well trained tongues.  Yet the recipients do not receive the visual cues that come with face-to-face interaction.  More ‘offense’ seems to come in responding to social media.  As has been said by ‘others’, we can be blinded by the inward focus and navel gazing when the focus is on the keyboard and not the face.

Now is the time I wish that none of us were ever alone.  There is a reason we have been trained to read about disciples and being sent out by twos.  It becomes easy to question your sanity and your accuracy, while you question your emotional stress and perhaps even your sanity.  Where is your companion Jesus, when you need him?
Loneliness is difficult to explain in the midst of a group who know what personal loneliness is, but have no ideal of the depth of cultural loneliness.  I know that in the moment, it would not have been helpful to ask how was your personal truthfulness about your feelings had the effect of victimizing them.  When one feels personal pain and voices it, one can wonder where are the comforters, who sense the pain in a sister during a time of cultural crisis.  Somehow your cultural crisis was perceived as a personal and spiritual attack.  Oh how quickly we can become defensive and blame the victim.
Unless the rules are posted, I’m never sure which ones I may be breaking.  Benefit of doubt and waiting are difficult to accomplish when the pain is live and real.  Though not related, responding to death is not always governed by a timetable or rules [that are unposted.]
If you had not assumed a relationship, as fellow members of church body, then perhaps you would not have shared. They obviously were not prepared to hear or share your pain of Wednesday past.  There have been
consistent problems in personal interactions when one ASS U ME s.
Sorry for the blatant word play, but it relieves my tension, and it expresses a Truth.  I choose to be Free.
I believe that we are in the business of sharing God’s Love.  We are in the business of sharing the Pain and the Pleasure that comes within the Community of God’s People.  We are called to share God’s Truth and God’s Love.
I’m sure that if I analyzed the Thursday supper with Jesus and Judas I could find elements of a disrupted community, but the instructions seem to be relatively simple, even in the midst of conflicted situation.  Do what you must do.
Truth remains: Retired Black Ordained Elder in the Lutheran Church.  Called to speak the Truth in Love. Called to forgive those who sin and reconcile.
Our prayers need to be expanded beyond just the significant concerns that are raised about racial hatred and its expression in the United States.  Though many have also hinted that this week’s tragedy was an attack on religious liberty, we find that the issues may be much closer to home as an exercise of cultural fear.  It is a question of who is our brother and sister.  How do we teach and encourage spiritual development, which says we are a part of an inclusive body of Christ.
On Sunday I added this word from one of our predecessors who struggle to voice and live his humanity in midst of times that may be eternal.

I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom's way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul

Nor avarice blights our day.Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind-
Of such I dream, my world! 

I pray that as a collective body, as the church I desperately love, that we will continue to seek the truth so that we can all experience liberation and abundant life.

With Love and Concern
The Prof.

New Eyes of HolyRoze & Old Eyes of Stu - Both on the Beloved Church

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Draft of Sermon for St. Paul's Lutheran Church, Landsdowne, PA, June 21, 2015

The Events as Mother Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston are continuing to play out in the news over this weekend.  From the standpoint of a pastor, these events carry lots of responsibility for pastors and congregational leaders.  Part of the DNA of African Methodist Episcopal churches is openness to the stranger.  Their history, started right here in Philadelphia, is openness to all who come to worship and pray.  For their beginnings started with a resistance toward black worshippers coming to the main altar rail at St. George’s Methodist Church near the Ben Franklin Bridge.  Richard Allen led the Black congregants out to find a place of worship of their own.

I found it amazing how many new readers proposed the need for security in churches.  What I found seriously troubling was the news programs ability to find pastors who seriously noted a need for ‘armed’ security in houses of worship.  It’s not that I don’t want to be safe.  As the interim pastor at Christ, Upper Darby, we were continuously challenged to be an open and inviting place with our food bank, multiple community programs, neighborhood outreach, afterschool program and beginning next week, Summer Day Camp.  

Churches are known to places of sanctuary.  Even one place is referred to as our sanctuary.  The security we seek may not be come from the forcefulness of armed guard and metal detectors that have been suggested by some this past week.  We cannot live and profess the freedom of the Gospel from the midst of a locked, guarded sanctuary. 
Even in the midst of a community gathering on Thursday night at Mother Bethel AME Church in Philadelphia, the gathered congregation, which represented the multiplicity of faith communities and communities of people of other spiritual contexts did not let the host past host pastor recognize those who were new to the worship space as guests, for they affirmed the reply of one person, that on that night, everyone gathered was AME.  There is to be no fear in the Christ community.
Please re-read the Gospel for this day. 
4:37 A great windstorm arose, and the waves beat into the boat, so that the boat was already being swamped.
4:38 But he was in the stern, asleep on the cushion; and they woke him up and said to him, "Teacher, do you not care that we are perishing?"
4:39 He woke up and rebuked the wind, and said to the sea, "Peace! Be still!" Then the wind ceased, and there was a dead calm.
4:40 He said to them, "Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith?"
4:41 And they were filled with great awe and said to one another, "Who then is this, that even the wind and the sea obey him?"

We do not profess a faith of fear.  It is rooted in the Gospel.  The disciples, who were not fishermen, had not availed themselves of swimming lessons from those who were skilled at taming their fears of being at sea.  Sea storms can be fearful, even in the last month we noted the drowning deaths of tourist on the Yangtze River, a river ride I took 3 years ago.  Jesus seem to trust the ability of others, and when called upon, he did have the ability to call upon a higher authority.  Peace be still.

This teaching moment was not lost on Jesus, when he asked them “Why are you afraid? Have you still no faith.  Those gathered in that boat rocked, fear inducing boat ride were still stunned to witness Jesus have the wind and the sea obey him.  Do we still join them in our wonder?

Perhaps we need to take our forefathers in the faith a bit more seriously.  As Jesus spoke truth to his detractors, so did Luther, with a simple statement of “Here I stand”.  Richard Allen, founder of the AME Church was limited to leading worship at St. George’s at the 5 AM service.  Daniel Alexander Payne, who as a member at Mother Emanuel, was sent north with letters of introduction from the Pastor at St. John’s Lutheran in Charleston in 1835 to Gettysburg College to enhance the education that he had obtained to form and lead his own school at age 18. Payne was ordained a Franckean Lutheran before returning to his Methodist roots and become a Bishop and President of Wilberforce college.  It is no small wonder that the AME church college and seminary system mimicked the Lutheran system of education of clergy.

Even two of the victims at Mother Emanuel AME church - the Rev. Clementa Pinckney and the Rev. Daniel Simmons - were graduates of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary.  These were our brothers in Christ, who had been welcomed without question into seminary classrooms that we support, just as we have done with AME pastors here in Philadelphia.  Our openness to teach and share faith with others is the power of the Gospel lesson for today.

Our prayers need to be expanded beyond just the significant concerns that are raised about racial hatred and its expression in the United States.  Though many have also hinted that this week’s tragedy was an attack on religious liberty, we find that the issues may be much closer to home as an exercise of cultural fear.  It is a question of who is our brother and sister.  How do we teach and encourage spiritual development, which says we are a part of an inclusive body of Christ.

We have been asked to pray by Bishop Herman Yoos, Bishop of the ELCA South Carolina Synod and by Bishop Elizabeth Easton, Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

We do this not because in this week we are all AME, but we do this because we are all children of God and Sisters and Brothers of Christ, who invites us all to have open doors to share both God’s Word and God’s Love.

My thanks to Brian Stoffregen, the Philadelphia Inquirer, The Southeastern Synod of Pennsylvania, Bishop Yoos and Bishop Eaton and all that I have learned about our joint history.
I dream a world where man
No other man will scorn,
Where love will bless the earth
And peace its paths adorn
I dream a world where all
Will know sweet freedom's way,
Where greed no longer saps the soul
Nor avarice blights our day.
A world I dream where black or white,
Whatever race you be,
Will share the bounties of the earth
And every man is free,
Where wretchedness will hang its head
And joy, like a pearl,
Attends the needs of all mankind-
Of such I dream, my world! 

In Memorium: The Reverend Doctor James Edward Gunther

Memorial Service for the Reverend Doctor James Edward Gunther, June 13, 2015 at Tabernacle Lutheran Church, Spruce Street, Philadelphia, PA - Sermon by Rev. Dr. Richard N. Stewart
 The Audio can be found at:

This is a letter written by Charles Sigel on March 1, 1985 for the 25th Anniversary of Ordination of James Gunther.  With some significant edits, I believe it still has relevance today as we remember James in the 55th year of His Ordination and the year of his home going.
Dear Jim: 25 years have elapsed. I remember sitting in the old ballroom of the Buckhill Falls Inn listening to those 25 and 50 year geezers going on about their ministry and all that the Lord had accomplished through them and thinking to myself, "Lord, spare us much more" and, suddenly, we are at the place where they once were.
But this letter is not about me, but about you. I have known many people with PhD and Th.D. after their names, but there is only one who carries a PHPP after his and you can guess who that is. Let's see, now. I probably could comment on each of those initials in turn, starting at the rear end (always a good place to start since then whatever you say can only get better) and working forward. ‘P’ for Priest. In a way, that's a funny one to be attached to a fellow who came from a Bible School and who, initially, had little time for things liturgical. But, in seminary, we both learned a great deal about churchmanship
and, I suspect, the importance of liturgy, and the place of a priest who stands in the gap between the people and the Lord was among the most important. I can still hear George Seltzer, "Decently and in order, gentlemen, decently and in order", It's strange, but somewhere in the back of my mind, I have a feeling that the last P used to stand for Pastor. That too is very appropriate for you. Indeed, that was my chief image of you - a person whose concern was to help others as God had helped him. And being a gadfly (you and John Steinbruck, who died on March 1st) certainly come in handy when it came to moving the structures.
Then there is Parish. Long before the idea became popular that a parish was more than a congregation, you, Jim, were practicing that idea. Your slogan, “Where we Think Globally and Act Locally" is evidence of what I am saying. Though I have not kept close tabs, I know from reading and from other sources that Transfiguration is an authentic outreach congregation in its community. I am certain that is, in part, because you and your leaders have been able to develop this notion of parish geographically. That can only have strengthened the mission of Transfiguration, so that, now, they bless you for your presence.
Am I correct in recalling that, when you first came to the church, there were those who were not particularly happy with your presence because they had never before been served by an American Black? ‘Did they ever have some learning to do.Fortunately, they were able to put up with you (a chore and a half on occasion) and you were able to lift their sights to a new vision of what "parish" should include. Today, I know they are as proud as a new parent that you are theirs and they belonged to you and that, in that creative mix, genuine parish ministry has occurred.

H is for Humble. There were times when it could just as well have stood for Haughty. but, of course, that was only in my perception. I keep reminding myself that Moses too was a humble man and he certainly rubbed shoulders with the best of them. So too with the Rev. Dr. James E. Gunther who seemed to be able to find his way in and make an impression upon the likes of folk like Franklin Fry, Robert Marshall, Krister Stendahl, Jimmy Carter and, I suppose, many, many others whose names I do not even know. "Humble?” you say. You are talking about a chap, who used to sit in Johnny's Cafe on Germantown Ave., tear the church apart and put it back together again in a way which pleased
him. You are talking about someone who climbed into the ring with someone like Bill Lazareth and came out looking not that badly bruised. You are referring to someone who found his way about the corridors of power and learn, how to pull the right levers in order to make the system work for those who were on the outs. I tried to rein you in on occasion, but once a bull gets steamed up, there is no way you are going to get him harnessed. But that's O.K., for if I remember my
Old Testament correctly, sometimes the Lord is in the smoke and the fire. And what shall we say about Poor? Certainly you did not come out of a middle class Lutheran orientation any more than I did. So, in that sense, we were both "poor".  Again, thanks to the seminary, much of that poverty was overcome. But, in another sense, you were very rich, for you brought to the Lutheran experience much that it had never known: a different cultural experience, an awareness of people "out there" waiting to be served who were not traditionally Lutheran,
new ways of going at ministry, challenges to folk who for too long had been wearing blinders, a willingness and dedication to work "in the inner city” long before that became the modish thing to do - all those riches you gave to us out of your "poverty" and we have been mightily enriched thereby. So, if you are poor, then I am Santa Claus - and, given my figure, that is one role I do not often play. Charlie Sigel does not wear the suit well, though it fits me well.  Until we meet again, behave yourself (if that's possible) and please, please live up to PHPP.
With deepest respect and appreciation,

Charles Sigel -  Richard Stewart, PHPP - 2   and Jerome Taylor, PHPP - 3

I don’t know if any of us ever talked with Jim about this day. In his last note to me, he thanked me for my visits and an Easter Lilly, as he noted that he was doing well, but procrastinating to much.  He expressed amazement at how wide and great was the concern for the “Old Humble Parish Priest.”  Somehow there was an internal image that he would always be there, especially when you least expected it.  He would just show up.  That internal confidence in his omnipresence as the PHPP, led me down the path of asking questions about the 60’s and growth of a Black presence in the Lutheran Church.  For at many of the meetings I knew about as a seminarian, he was one of the leaders.  For in many ways, for those of us present to remember him, both from the family and the church, he would send us reminders of where we had been to celebrate where we are in the moment. 
In some significant ways especially for those of us in the church, he did prepare a place for us in the early days of the Lutheran Church in America.  He became friends across our Lutheran divisions to establish conversations with those who became a part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and those who remained in the Lutheran Church- Missouri Synod, especially in the African Descent community.  Yet simultaneously he served the church beyond the communities in which many of us live.  He worked and traveled widely on behalf of the whole church, while continually connecting all of us to our local settings.

There are some, especially in the family, who wish he have left clearer instructions about what’s next.  In the midst of the mysteries of all the materials and remembrances that he saved, there are heirlooms for the family and the church.  Jim did not give us the instructions, but he left all of us with the remembrance that there is a resource for those who can and will carry on.  Somehow, some way, we will encounter Jesus and the Holy Spirit who will remind us that God is present with us and is the way, God has been and will remain the truth and the life.  It is in this light that we will continue to find the paths to our family histories and our church histories in which Jim was such a strong presence and an ever lingering remembrance. AMEN.