I was so struck by Inez Haynie-Dodson’s reflection on The Lines Between Us of her first visit to St. Bartholomew’s Church in the spring of 1965. She recalled hearing a pastor who just days before had stood up for civil rights on the Edmund Pettus bridge in Selma – and yet, when she observed there were no other African-Americans in the congregation, she resolved to make a quick exit and not come back. It wasn’t until members of the church surrounded her after the service, and made her feel welcome, that she thought this could be her new home.
I don’t doubt that the commitments of a faith leader affect those s/he leads, so I imagine the welcome Ms. Haynie-Dodson received after the service had the same roots as the sermon she heard from the pastor. Many of us in a community may feel like whatever little expression of its values we could do won’t have much impact – it won’t matter if I stay home or keep silent; the folks at the top will carry the word. Here’s a case where a small gesture by ordinary folks made a huge difference.
This all took place a little more than four years after John F. Kennedy told us, “… here on earth, God’s work must truly be our own.”