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For the past two years I’ve been writing a book. A memoir. It’s not just the story of my life. It’s the story of how God has fulfilled many of my hopes over the years. Writing and publishing this book has been one of my hopes for about 15 years. Most of that time I was so busy with other things, that I thought I’d never see that hope fulfilled. But the God-given inspiration was always there. I came to believe that this project was God’s will for me. Therefore it would be fulfilled. In God’s time and God’s way. Now the book has been written. Some editing still needs to be done, and it will soon be published in the form of an e-book on a newly established web-site. It will be available to all interested persons without charge. I will be announcing the details as soon as it is published.
So what does this have to do with today’s blog? I am sometimes inspired to relate what I write to something that is happening on or about the time of writing. I usually check the calendar to see if there are any important dates coming up. Thanksgiving, Christmas, Memorial Day, etc. So I checked the calendar and noted that January 20 was Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. You might recall that Dr.King told us that he had a dream – which I believe can also be called a hope. And while that hope hasn’t been totally fulfilled, it is in the process of being fulfilled, in God’s time and God’s way.
I also noted that in my memoir, I wrote a few pages about how God had fulfilled one of my hopes concerning the American civil rights movement, which was largely led by Dr. King. So I was inspired to adapt that small portion of my memoir in remembrance of Dr.King’s leadership, with the hope that it will also help assure readers of this blog that God really does fulfill faith-based hopes, as he did for me many times.
Here’s the excerpt from my memoir :
During 1974-82 I served as the Director of Public Relations for a non-profit organization which operated a number of retirement homes in New Jersey. During those years there had been many successful efforts at racial integration in the USA. However, in some areas racial segregation was still alive and well. One of the observations that came to my attention was that our facilities were segregated. Not intentionally, of course. But the fact was, just as in many neighborhoods in our towns and in our churches, the resident population and staff of my organization were all white. The elected members of the Board of Trustees of my organization were also all white. The exceptions were two Afro-Americans, who were District Superintendents of our United Methodist Conference, who were not elected, but appointed by our Bishop. These two men were the first persons to strongly suggest that we needed to do something about this situation. I was assigned to meet with them and ask them to participate in developing a long range plan to bring about the changes which were needed.
As we proceeded I came to know and greatly respect them. They explained that the feeling in the black churches was that their people were not welcome in our facilities. Yes, we said all were welcome, but those were just words. So what could we do to change words into reality? Two things were suggested. One was that we needed to have Afro-American employees in proportion to the general public, including in the top level administrative positions. Also, we needed to have a presence visiting predominantly Afro-American churches and congregations as we did the white churches in our denomination. Finally, we needed elected Afro-American members on the Board of Trustees.
In cooperation with these two men I arranged a schedule of Sunday visits to all or predominatly Afro-American churches. During these visits I would preach at the morning services and follow up with some informal time with those who wished to remain, including the pastor. We also put together a plan called The Minority Administrative Internship Training Program. In this plan we selected a black person to spend a year in training to become a Certified Nursing Home Administrator. That person would live at and engage in hands on training at one or more of our facilities. There would be no cost to those going through the training. They would be paid a salary, since they would be working with us as they were in training. They would also be provided with free meals, room and board within our facilities. As the training period neared its end, the trainee would then be recommended as an administrative staff member to our own United Methodist facilities and others throughout the USA. We would also ask the churches to recommend minority persons to serve as elected members of the Board of Trustees.
The area that I was most involved in was the visits to the Afro- American pastors and their churches. I always felt good visiting these churches. My most memorable visit was to a church in Newark, NJ. I arrive about a half hour early and found myself in the area where a Sunday School class for little kids was being held. The teacher didn’t seem surprised to see this white guy in the church. I asked her how to get to the sanctuary. She told me she would take me there, and added that there was plenty of time. Would I sit in with the Sunday School class? I was concerned about being late for the start of the service, but she really seemed to want me there.
Next she told the kids that since God sent me to the Sunday School class, he must want me to do some teaching. Now I had no idea what I was supposed to do. In any case, God assured that I would be able to say the right things. I don’t remember what was being taught, but I added some comments in support of what I had heard the teacher say to the kids. From that I transitioned to explaining why I came to the church. I tried to explain in a way a little child could understand, that I was going to preach a sermon and let the people of the church know that they were welcome to come and live and work at our presently all white facilities. Then the teacher told the kids, and through her, God was assuring me, that what I was doing at that and other churches was going to be successful. The day would come when black people would live, work, and hold important positions in our facilities. Then she took me to the sanctuary, where the service was already under way. She made sure I was seated next to the pastor, near the pulpit, and then left.
The pastor, who had invited me to preach, also didn’t seem to be surprised at the white guy sitting next to him. He just leaned over to me and asked who I was, which did surprise me. Quickly I realized he had forgotten that he had invited me to preach that morning, so I quietly explained it to him. The service continued. He asked me to give the pastoral prayer. He didn’t introduce me by name, but just said “we have a guest that God has sent us, who is going to pray for us.” This was probably the first time I had offered a pastoral prayer at any church service, let alone in a setting which was so different to me (at the time, I was not a member of the clergy). But all went well. People were responding with joyful sounding “amens” all through the prayer. Then I sat down, expecting that now the pastor would introduce me and ask me to preach the sermon. However, while he might have introduced me, he proceeded to preach the sermon. I realized I was not going to be preaching that morning. Finally, after the pastor’s sermon, he did invite me to say a few words about my purpose in coming. But I left feeling disappointed that I didn’t get to give my sermon and that I had really wasted almost three hours that morning traveling back and forth to and from that church.
Today, about 35 years later, I believe that I didn’t waste any time that day. What mattered was not my sermon. What mattered was my time with the Sunday School class, and my opportunity to pray for the people during the worship service. Over the years I have learned that in situations that go as this one did, it may well be that God wants to use me in a somewhat different way – his way.
To be honest, despite the hope that God had given me that day through the words of the Sunday School teacher, I didn’t see any evidence that our goal of racial integration was being fulfilled. I wasn’t so sure it would ever happen. However, a few years later, after I was no longer employed by the organization, I began to hear and see some positive news. Yes, Afro-Americans were beginning to become residents and employees of the facilities. The new Assistant Executive Director, second in command at the executive offices, who I came to know quite well, was Afro-Americana. During my last year with the organization the first Afro-American member lay person to be elected to serve on the Board of Trustees. Not too many more years later he was elected as the President of The Board of Trustees, which was the governing body of the entire organization. Only a few of years ago, he resigned from that position, after 31 years of volunteer service with the organization. The grand rotunda of one of the relatively new retirement homes was been named after him. When I think about all this, just as when I think about the reality of an Afro-American being elected and re-elected as President of the USA, I am reminded – listen for God’s direction, do what he says to do, and leave it in his hands. If it is God’s ultimate will, it will be fulfilled – in God’s way and God’s time. Our time and effort will never be wasted.”
Grace and peace, Ray Gough