Racial Reconciliation, One Ordination Day At A Time

[Today’s guest post is from Adriana Kassner Cunningham, who blogs at Classical Quest, where she touches on fine literature and the fineness of a family campfire, the simplicity of a woodland walk and the wonder of the written word. This is her second guest post here on racial reconciliation.]

***

I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, and his incomparably great power for us who believe. (Ephesians 1:18-19.) 

Dad and I were the only two white people in the congregation for “Ordination Sunday” twenty-three years ago at a church in downtown Cincinnati. We had been invited by James, a friend Dad had met at the can factory where they were both employed. James was now entering the ministry as a pastor. Dad and I drove nearly an hour from our home in the county to witness his ordination.

This was my first visit to a church made up entirely of African-American members and I was eager to attend. I had watched local news broadcasts from home, so I knew there was an ongoing problem with racial tension in the city, but I felt certain that an inner-city church would feel different. Whatever was happening elsewhere in the city, surely church would feel like home.

Yet upon entrance, I sensed the members were standoffish, perhaps even apprehensive. I suddenly felt very conscious of my whiteness. I slipped a cardigan over my bare arms to cover my pale skin. We spotted James on the front row. He turned, waved, then came back to greet us. After this, those in our immediate vicinity seemed to soften a little.

The choir sang “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,”  as if they were actually leaning on God. In our white church we sang this hymn like a marching band tune — peppy and happy with a trumpet interlude. But here they sang slowly and mournfully; they swayed from side to side with eyes closed and hands lifted.

Near the end of the service Dad’s friend James was called to the front. As he knelt on the platform, every black minister in the entire city came forward and encircled him. I had never seen so many preachers together in one place. It felt historic. They moved in to place their hands on James. There was a round of prayers. After the final “amen,” all the preachers lined up facing the congregation. Then everyone was invited to come forward and greet each one.

Dad and I walked up together and began making our way through the receiving line. I shook each hand and briefly studied each face. I was surprised to find a variety of expressions among these men. A few smiled cordially, a few looked faintly suspicious of me, one preacher in particular seemed angry. He avoided my eyes and shook my hand with disgust, as if it were a dirty rag he’d rather be rid of. James was all smiles. He hugged Dad warmly, they patted each other on the back and praised God together.

Out of all the preachers I greeted that day, there was one face which stood out above the rest. I remember him as taller than everyone else, but maybe he only appeared to be. He was gray and distinguished, certainly the oldest man in attendance. I placed my young white hand in his ancient brown one, a small dove in a large nest. His brown eyes were tender like the eyes of Christ. I felt as if he saw into me. Under the weight of his gaze my eyes moistened.

He said, “Always keep your sweetness, Child.”

At that moment I received all that I had come expecting. I felt accepted, welcomed, and loved like a dear little sister.

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s descendants, heirs according to promise. (Galatians 3:27-29.)

In retrospect I see that pastor gave me something I carry with me still: hope for racial reconciliation. When we embrace the Gospel of Christ every burden becomes light. The great rifts in our nation and our world are repaired. Through the Gospel we receive healing and a peace that surpasses comprehension. When I submit my mind in love to Jesus he helps me to want what he wants.

What does Jesus want? 

He wants all believers to be one, just as he and the Father are one.

How can we accomplish this?

By his glory, which he has given us.

Why does he want us all to be “perfectly one”?

So that the world will know that God the Father sent Christ the Son and that God loves each of us as much as he loves his own Son.

I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me. (John 17:20-23.)

I have a burden for racial reconciliation and I believe it is possible. I desire to experience the riches of my inheritance as a believer — an inheritance which is in his holy people. I want to know the hope I’m called to and to experience God’s incomparably great power.

When I ask God for these things, he enlightens the eyes of my heart. He allows me to see through a lens of grace. All this is possible because I am in Christ. I partake of his glory. Through him I am empowered to live out a life of sacrificial love.

With my enlightened eyes I can see past every exterior, past every bland stereotype. I gaze in awe at the beauty of the human soul and marvel that each one was formed in the image of God.

***

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12 Responses to Racial Reconciliation, One Ordination Day At A Time

  1. Tim says:

    Adriana, thank you so much for allowing me to run this post today. When I think of how God has paid the price to reconcile us to himself, I know I need to reconcile with others in order to love them with the love he has given me. I also know I can do this only through the power of the Holy Spirit. Reconciliation doesn’t come easy, and as Jesus showed sometimes it only comes on a cross.

    • Adriana says:

      Tim, Thank you for giving me the platform to write about this issue that is dear to my heart! It’s been good for me to revisit that memory and to meditate on want Jesus wants for all of my relationships. You are right: reconciliation doesn’t come easy. It usually requires sacrifice of some kind. Often my repair attempts don’t yield the hoped-for response. But the Holy Spirit is persistent. He prods us on!

      ” . . . pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.” (Eph. 6:18)

  2. Jeannie says:

    Thank you so much for this, Adriana – I love how you had that experience of really being “seen” and accepted by the older man, so that you had a glimpse of what true reconciliation could be like. So beautiful!

    • Adriana says:

      Yes, Jeannie, it was beautiful! I wonder how I would feel now if I had gone through the whole line without feeling welcomed by anyone expect the friend who invited us. That older pastor certainly had the Spirit of God resting on him!

      P.S. I could have written the story from another perspective: Several years later, our family invited two older black women to visit our church to hear a special speaker. We felt embarrassed by the coolness in which they were greeted by the regular attendees. Only our dear pastor’s wife cut through the crowd and gave them a greeting worthy of guests.

  3. Christine R. says:

    Beautifully stated, Adriana.

  4. This was so beautiful, and I’m so in awe of how the Lord uses moments in time to shape our entire lives. It is a truly beautiful story.

    • Adriana says:

      Thank you very much, Nancy. Your comment reminds me of Proverbs 25:11 — “Timely advice is lovely, like golden apples in a silver basket.” Such moments are indeed unforgettable!

  5. Laura Droege says:

    Beautiful, Adriana. I love that blessing the older minister gave you. “Always keep your sweetness, child.” If that isn’t a blessing, a kind of grace note on your life, I don’t know what is.

    • Adriana says:

      His words were a gift, Laura. I would love to say I’ve always stuck with his advice! I’ve strayed far from sweetness at times since then. And yet, just like a “grace note, ” his blessing remains in my mind as something encouraging and hopeful.

  6. Pastor Bob says:

    Tears came to my eyes as I read this.
    -past?
    -God’s work?
    -His work then?
    -His work now?
    -Current ministry activities?
    -The mess we are in now?

    Only some suppositions. He knows.

    • Adriana says:

      It means a lot to me to know that this post touched you, Pastor Bob. Thank you so much for reading and listing these questions to ponder. Prayerfully pressing on in faith for what God can do! 🙂

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