We celebrated The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr’s weekend in the most excellent way. We went to Sweet Honey in the Rock’s Annual Children’s Concert at the People’s Congregational United Church. One of the members of our congregation gave my daughter the tickets, and wrote that she could take her parents, too. If she wanted.
Oh. I cannot even put into words just how much I love this group. And the concert put it over the top. Their voices soared, with passion and harmony. They are amazing women. The concert reminded me of the beauty and the strength that a voice can have–and how there’s even more power with different voices ascending together.
It’s interesting. One of the main reasons I went to Western was to see how the HOS does it, exactly. John Wimberly went to Western when it was a handful of struggling people. The Presbytery wanted to close the church. He’s been there for twenty-five years, and it’s grown, more than doubling its membership in a time when mainlines are declining all over the place. The church made the shift too. That painful, difficult transition that congregations have such a hard time making. I mean, it went from being heavily reliant on the work, leadership, and contributions of generous builders to becoming a congregation where the membership is 45% under the age of 45.
Even though most of the prestigious progressive congregations in our denomination have wooed him over the years, Wimberly stuck around. I wondered why he didn’t get bored, but he’s a big believer that a church and a pastor need a project. Something bigger than the congregation to focus on, to put energy into. On a personal level, he’s gotten a Ph.D. in Theology and an MBA. And while he’s been at Western, they’ve begun Miriam’s Kitchen, a feeding and social services program; Project Create, a program that teaches art to children in transitional housing; and HIPS (Helping Individual Prostitutes Survive), a program dedicated to educate, empower, and support sex workers.
I came here because wanted to learn how he organizes. And I’ve gotten to do just that. I began when there were murmurings about a clinic in Ethiopia, and I’ve watched him assemble a team of people who can make it happen. I’ve seen how people are drawn to the church, mysteriously, like magnets, because they know that their particular skill, or connections, or insight can help with the project. I’ve also heard how he can persuade officials in our country and others, helping them to see the possibilities. I’ve watched him respectfully listen to the resistance, and then turn a personal dream into collective vision.
He says that he can walk into a room full of people and… he didn’t finish the sentence. But if I had to finish it, I would say that he knows how to organize the people in it. Like a good office manager who knows exactly where to put the stray paper, the HOS can intuitively figure out how energy can be funneled into helping the poor, uplifting the marginalized, caring for the needy. To create a movement out of nothing.
After my work here, I wasn’t surprised at what happened in Iowa–how Barack Obama won the primary, defying expectations. He is, after all, a community organizer. A rare breed.
And after working at Western for a couple of years, I’m not sure I’ll be able to develop that skill. I know that I don’t have it intuitively. My vision’s big, but I’m usually working on the usher teams or the Sunday school curriculum. Small stuff.
Although, I’ve been able to develop my voice here, in a new way. After standing in a pulpit every week for six years, when I became an AP, I learned to put that creative energy into a different form. And, Western’s allowed me much, much more freedom in what I can write. So, I guess that’s where I am. Just struggling to find my own gifts, my range. Figuring out where I stand in this larger chorus. And hoping, praying I can be used, in some way.