On Saturday evening, May 2, I drove to Downtown Baltimore. I couldn’t stay home and watch or read or listen any more to what was haunting me. The old questions: How can we continue to do this to one another? What can we do to change this? What can I do? I’m supposed to help carry the message of the Good News, aren’t I? How do we do that in times like these?
Thanks to my work in hospital chaplaincy, I have learned the power of prayer and presence. It is what keeps my sanity and my faith in the midst of such a feeling of overwhelming challenges. I have learned, too, that I am not alone but part of a great cloud of witnesses in which I can be present and in prayer, without having “the answers.”
So midweek, I called Pastor David Harris at First and Franklin Presbyterian Church and said I would be with them on Sunday, just wanting to join them in worship and to be present. I called John McLucas, an Elder and brother of our good friend and departed saint Pam Byers. I left John the same message. I had to do something, and this I could do.
We believe we are all ministers in the PC(USA) and that felt deep and true at First and Franklin. There was a pastoral presence all about: in the welcoming of one another, the music and song, the readings from the Bible, David’s powerful message, Communion, and the coffee hour discussion that followed. There was neither dismissal of hope nor demise of spirit, even though it was clear how difficult life had become in Baltimore. There was instead an understanding that this was the tension into which God had called them and that they were going to figure out ways to do all they could, partner with all who were willing to end what seems like endless suffering and injustice for so many.
And, as loud as anything that might have been said, there was an unspoken conviction in the hearts of those there, that they were going to do their God-given best to make sure that this loss of Freddie Gray’s life in the latest example of systems gone awry – was going to mean something and be a reflection of their faith in the community they loved, and in which they lived and served.
As I drove from Baltimore to Rochester, NY, I heard it in my heart, again: this is why we are here: to love God with all our hearts and our neighbors as ourselves. From there, from that prayerful place in the loving presence of God nothing is insurmountable.
It seems, once again, I was the one being ministered to.
As I was leaving, I had a conversation with a woman who said to me that it was hard to believe how bad things sometimes need to become before our society becomes ready to end the pain and the suffering. I was immediately transported back to the narthex of South Presbyterian Church in Dobbs Ferry on October 11, of 1998. It was the day before Matthew Shepard would die from the injuries he received on the night of October 7th. As the national press picked up the story and the grief grew, I couldn’t help thinking, “Maybe now. Maybe now they will understand what they have been doing to us and see how wrong and hateful they have been.”
I pray that prayer, again: Maybe now…