The stone that the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes. Psalm 118:22-23 NRSV

Sunday, November 28, 2010

I. Am. Still. Waiting.

I. Am. Still. Waiting. Here again another Advent season begun, its commencement marking not only a prelude to the celebration of Christmas but also to the anniversary of my birth. And I am still waiting.

Here's the thing: When I first thought about the fact that I am still waiting for so many things, not least of which is the coming of Jesus Christ, I thought that I would really be posting an extended lament or at least a complaint, possibly a rant. I thought I would be more in the frame of mind to be saying "I can't believe that another year has come and gone and all these things still haven't happened." But at this moment, that's not how I feel at all. I feel like celebrating.

I AM STILL WAITING. I haven't given up on any of it. I am still hopeful. Still faithful. Still optimistic. Still determined. Still alert. Still watchful. My ears still perk up at the sound of approaching footsteps. My heart still skips a beat when someone or something new surprises and delights me. My eyes still tear up with joy at the very thought when we sing "O I Want to See Him." I still love love songs.

God knows that I have had some moments between November 2009 and November 2010 when I have considered quitting. But thinking about quitting and quitting are not the same thing. Despair ultimately has not won the day. I am still waiting.

And the longer I wait the stiller I am.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

For Friends

I tell everybody that I am not a big fan of the holidays and yet I appreciate the opportunity that holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries give me for rethinking and reevaluating where I am, how I am, and who I am. Thanksgiving is a good time to pause and reconnect with all the blessings of my life, to express my gratitude to God and to my people for the immeasurable beauty in my life.

One such moment occurred today, as I sat at lunch with my college roommate and dear friend Debby and her family. My joy in the visit began after her 2 year old informed me that she didn't like me within the first three minutes of our meeting. Well, it wasn't her toddler thumbs down that did it; it was her mother's observation that she only dislikes "young" women, of the age when they might turn out to be babysitters. Nina thought my arrival might just represent temporary maternal abandonment. Delightful.

Later, Deb and her husband and I were reflecting on the fact that we have known one another for more than 20 years. Debby and I explained to everyone that Harvard in its infinite wisdom had merged our two chosen rooming groups together - of course without asking us. I said, "It's one of the best things that has ever happened to me." Misty-eyed, Debby jumped up to hug me - "Me too," she said. We've shared the blessings of friendship for more than half our lives. And I didn't even mention how dearly I love her husband Ian too, or how beautiful their five-year-old son Micah is - even wearing a San Francisco Giants hat. I didn't say that the very first time I had Thanksgiving with a family other than my own, I was in Brooklyn with her family.

I have more friends and better friends than anyone has a right to have. For every one of them I am thankful. You know who you are.

Friday, April 30, 2010

Remembering Dr. Dorothy Height

One of the things I learned being raised by and among church-going black folks is that often when you don’t know where to start, the best thing to say is “I thank the Lord for being here.” Yes, indeed, I thank the Lord for being here is the very best way to begin my reflections on the experience of the past two days, when I was privileged to attend the celebrations of the life of Dr. Dorothy Irene Height. I thank the Lord for the unshakeable impulse to be in the number, present bodily with those who journeyed to Washington, D.C. to celebrate a woman who spent the overwhelming majority of her 98 years striving for justice, from the anti-lynching campaigns of the 1930s to the civil rights and women’s rights struggles. I thank the Lord for the resources of time and money, strength and energy, to make this pilgrimage. I thank the Lord for grace and favor embodied in friends and strangers who provided lodging, entrance, seats, and tickets.

I arrived in Washington by train at about 11 a.m. on Wednesday, 28 April 2010, with the plan to meet a relatively new friend who would provide both company and transportation for the memorial events. As soon as I got into the car, she decided that our day should begin with a trip to 633 Pennsylvania Avenue, the headquarters for the National Council of Negro Women, the site where Dr. Height had given so much of her labor. Although the building was closed, we arrived just at the time when Dr. Height's remains were to be transported from NCNW, where she had been honored the night before.

From the NCNW building, we journeyed to Howard University’s Burr Gymnasium where the members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc. conducted the Omega Omega service, the final rite of passage to which every Delta is entitled, for Dr. Height. Dr. Height had served our sorority as the 10th National President from 1947-1956, and had in that period shepherded the organization into greater public service and institutional stability. Dorothy Height was herself an institution in Delta, dearly beloved and sought after, the very sight of her at a national convention or regional conference an important event.

Her service began promptly at 2 o’clock, under the leadership of the 24th National President, Dr. Cynthia Butler-McIntyre, with the eulogy being offered by the 16th National President, Dr. Thelma Daley. Other Past National Presidents offered reflections. Bishop Vashti Murphy MacKenzie, Delta’s National Chaplain, led the prayers.

There were many highlights of the service and many memorable moments. Particularly moving was the letter of tribute sent by the 11th National President, Dorothy Penman Harrison, who had been the National Treasurer when Dr. Height was President. She told the story of the purchase of Delta’s first headquarters building, including a humorous observation about the amazement of the realtor when three black women showed up to view the property and were able to write the deposit check for $1000 on the spot. Each speaker offered her own tribute to the dignity, determination, commitment, and fortitude of Dr. Height. Several commented on her indomitable spirit and boundless energy. All agreed that it was impossible to tell her no. The 19th National President Dr. Yvonne Kennedy offered one of the many quotable statements: “All Deltas are smart. Dorothy Height was brilliant.” Interspersed in the service was the musical offering of a quartet from the Philadelphia Alumnae Chapter, three of whom I am proud to say are my line sisters. Their harmonies, like the service itself and the woman it honored, were exquisite. Especially moving and fitting was the singing of “Grateful” as the violets were placed next to a portrait of Dr. Height by former Secretary of Labor Alexis Herman. Following the singing of the Delta Prayer, the service concluded with the combination of solemnity and buoyancy as the pallbearers removed Dorothy Height’s remains and the rest of us felt the inspiration and joy of knowing the impact that her life had made on Delta and on us all.

Friday, January 1, 2010

The Best of 2009

Early last year, I wrote on my Facebook page that I believed that "2009 is going to be really special." It was far more than special. It was extraordinary, marvelous, amazing, blessed. Last year was a simultaneously a year of fulfilled promise and growing expectation.

St. Paul's Baptist Church

Without a doubt, the major highlight of the year centered on my call and installation as the Fifth Pastor of the St. Paul's Baptist Church, 1000 Wallace Street, Philadelphia, PA. In reflecting on why this was a "best of" moment, I really have to start with the search process itself and the way that, because of the committee's treatment of me, many wounded places were healed, even before I received the call. To be treated with respect by a search committee, to have one's gifts and worth and dignity honored matters, whether one ultimately becomes their choice or not. By the time it was clear in April that I was one of the final two candidates, I already had much to thank God and St. Paul's for. I walked through the doors of St. Paul's for the first time on April 14th. On April 19th, I preached there for the first time and talked about God's ability to restore our faith even in the midst of our despair. Beyond our imaginations, I testified, God knows how to make believers out of us.

On Sunday, 17 May 2009, the St. Paul's Baptist Church extended to me a call to become their pastor. After I had verbally accepted the call in a conversation with Deacon Jackson, the chair of the deacons, I called Reverend Charisse Tucker, and we went down to St. Paul's so that I could take pictures of my new church. Here's one of my favorites.

I began my pastorate at St. Paul's on Pentecost Sunday, 31 May 2009. Friends from around the region came to share with St. Paul's and me as we began our journey together, and I had the blessed surprise of a visit from the venerable and legendary Rev. Dr. Henry Mitchell who offered the pastoral prayer. Thanks to the wonderful public relations work of Leslie Patterson -Tyler, we had extensive media coverage, including an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer. I preached a sermon titled "It's Time" about the fulfillment of God's promise in the birth and empowerment of the church. Following the church-sponsored reception after service, my friends and I went to Maggiano's for some serious eating. Below are pictures of me in the sanctuary, the congregation at worship, and my friends after Maggiano's. What a glorious day!

Just when I thought that the celebratory feeling would overwhelm me at St. Paul's, then the funeral season began. I was privileged to preside at several funerals during my first two months at St. Paul's, which allowed me to get a feel for the congregation. It also allowed the congregation to get a real feel for me. I am particularly mindful of the funeral for Mrs. Clara Gilliam Lightfoot, about whom I blogged here.

After a much busier summer than I anticipated, the time for the installation arrived. I need to admit that although I was really hearing a promise from God that the installation festivities would be heavy with the divine presence, I still had some anxiety as the day approached. We began the month of September with a series of pre-installation revival services and were blessed by the preaching of my friends Reverends Ernest Flores, Jacob Chatman, and Alyson Browne Johnson. Each brought his or her own special flavor to the moment, and the worship grew increasingly intense from week to week.

The installation weekend began on Friday, 25 September, with a youth concert designed to benefit Philabundance, Philadelphia's largest hunger relief agency. Although there were many challenges in the planning of it, even up to the last minute, once the event began it was marvelous. We were blessed with the ministry of Minister Antonio and his group. We heard Chad Sisk. Shadia Combs presented spoken word. And our own children's choir sang beautifully. We raised $1000 and a great deal of nonperishable food items. Most of all, God's presence was thick in the room. Within 20 minutes of the service's beginning, I knew that the whole weekend would be unforgettable.

I don't want to go through a blow-by-blow of every event. Let me just offer some observations. My friends who spoke, whether at the banquet or in the installation, gave a rounded picture of who I am. It was fun to hear about the Leslie, the Rev., the Professor. But they did even more than that because they helped me to remember aspects of my own self and story that I hadn't thought about for a long time and that I needed to remember. The support of my family, whose pride beamed like a spotlight, induced gratitude and healed old wounds. The preaching of Reverend Dr. Raphael Warnock who preached the temptation at the luncheon; Reverend Dr. J. Alfred Smith, Sr., who preached about Phoebe on Sunday morning; and Reverend Felicia Y. Thomas who preached about higher ground at the installation service, inspired, provoked, corrected, and encouraged. And the generosity the congregation, from the cards to the offering to the Phillies playoff tickets (from the installation committee) showed me how blessed I am to have become St. Paul's pastor. This is the Lord's doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.

I do have to say a word about the actual service of installation: AMAZING. The turnout of clergy who came to support me, including women in ministry - some of whom I didn't even know - blessed me tremendously. I was especially encouraged by the elders: St. Paul's Pastor Emeritus Rev. Dr. Arthur Lee Johnson, who offered greetings and his blessing, and the Rev. Dr. Henry Mitchell, who prayed the prayer of installation. The support of my family reinforced the sense of blessedness and favor. The joyful worship encouraged my heart and exalted the Lord. (Perhaps those of you who were there and who read this would like to elaborate more on the specifics, but amazing is about all I can say.)

The installation really was a kickoff to the ministry. Since then, we have grown numerically. Our worship is intensifying, even though we were without a permanent minister of music for the last 3 months of the year. The work of pastoring is showing me more and more about my own strengths and weaknesses. Mostly, I am learning that this really is Jesus' show. We are going somewhere, but I am not driving. I too am a passenger, and I am enjoying the ride.

Best Sports Experience - My Beloved Phillies

My love for the Phillies only grew this past year. And because I was not the only one who was loving on them, it was very difficult to get tickets at Citizens Bank Park to see them play.
Seeing the Phillies in Pittsburgh and then in the playoffs at Citizens Bank Park (thanks to the generosity of the installation committee) was so much fun. I am only sorry that they did not beat my American League team the New York Yankees in the World Series.

Best Meals

During restaurant week in Philadelphia on September 18, I went to Amada a Spanish tapas restaurant. The food was magnificent. From the lavender-infused honey to the cafe con leche with dessert, this is just marvelous eating. I also want to give an honorable mention to Honey's Sit and Eat, which is near the church.

I have to say, though, that on a consistent basis the food, fun, laughter, and fellowship at the home of Deborah and Ernie Flores during the weekly Monday night taco nights represents the best eating I do from week to week.

Best Medical Procedure

I know that sounds crazy, but I needed to be able to say something about finally having my wisdom teeth extracted.F

Best Sermons/Lectures I Heard

I have to give a major shout out to the the Hampton Ministers Conference, where the President Rev. Dr. William Curtis, along with morning preacher Rev. Dr. Claudette Copeland and conference presenter/prophet Rev. Dr. Renita J Weems brought it with prophetic power, passion, clarity, brilliance, and anointing.

Just as I did last year, I need to note the consistent preaching of Rev. Dr. Albert F. Campbell and District Elder Brenda (Birdie) Cuthbertson. District Elder Cuthbertson brought an extraordinary word at Easter "Same Story, Different Ending." That was some preaching!

Turning Forty

My last comment about 2009 is that I turned 40 in the midst of a record-setting snowstorm that ruined my plans to spend my 40th birthday with my new church family. Despite my disappointment, I had a marvelous day, as some dear friends braved the snow to bring my gifts and take me to dinner. See me on my 40th birthday at Maggiano's below.