Archive for February 2010

Feast of Steve de Gruchy (February 21)   Leave a comment

South African Congregationalist Minister, Social Activist, and Professor; died on February 21, 2010

Steve de Gruchy was born in Durban, KwaZulu/Natal, on November 16, 1961.  He graduated with a B.A. from the University of Cape Town in 1982 and a M.A. in 1985.  Then de Gruchy attended Union Theological Seminary in New York City, from which he graduated in 1987.

In 1988 de Gruchy married Marian Loveday, a medical research scientist.  They had three children:  Thea (born in 1991), David (born in 1994) and Kate (born in 1997).

In 1992 de Gruchy received his Doctor of Theology degree from the University of Western Cape.  He wrote his dissertation on Reinhold Niebuhr’s view of human destiny in the light of the doctrine of the Atonement.  That same year de Gruchy became a minister in the United Congregational Church in South Africa.

De Gruchy understood the link between theology and society.  Therefore he opposed Apartheid, signing the 1985 Kairos Document.  (Read it here:  Also, de Gruchy worked for community development, focusing on land rights, small business development, leadership training, and early childhood development.

In 2005 de Gruchy became  a Professor of Theology and Development at the University of KwaZulu-Natal.  Three years he later he became Head of the School of Religion and Theology at that institution.  His 2008 Curriculum Vitae listed 6 books, 16 chapters, 3 theses, 10 peer-reviewed articles, 4 critical reviews and special editorials, 3 reports, and 10 other articles he wrote.

In late February 2010 the de Gruchy family was spending a weekend at a cabin.  On February 21 de Gruchy and his son, David (aged 15) were tubing on the Mooi River in the Natal.  De Gruchy disappeared on the rapids.  Police found his body three days later.




Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.  Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.  Help us, like your servant Steve de Gruchy, to work for justice among people and nations, to the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

Feast of Bennett J. Sims (July 17)   10 comments

Episcopal Bishop of Atlanta (February 1972-December 1983); died on July 17, 2006, at Hendersonville, North Carolina


I’ve developed a strong attachment to the churches, especially the smaller ones….These churches are like persons to me, with their distinct individuality, the fulfillment they are reaching in different ways, their idiosyncrasies and failings and strengths.  I will miss this most–the Sunday visitations.

–Bishop Sims in September 1983, shortly before his retirement from the Diocese of Atlanta


Surely we don’t have to park our brains at the church door to feel again the warmth of the Spirit’s fire.

–Bishop Sims in The Time of My Life: A Spiritual Pilgrimage Grounded in Hope (2006), page 72


The War in Iraq is waged by an administration led by a Texas oilman and a ranch owner in the name of a domesticated god who blesses America on demand.

The Time of My Life, page 37


Seal of the Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta


Books by Bishop Sims:

Invitation to Hope: A Testimony of Encouragement (1974)

Purple Ink: A Selection of the Writings of Bennett J. Sims as Bishop of Atlanta (1982)

Servanthood: Leadership for the Third Millennium (1997)

Why Bush Must Go: A Bishop’s Faith-Based Challenge (2004)

The Time of My Life: A Spiritual Pilgrimage Grounded in Hope (2006)


Bennett Jones Sims was born in Greenfield, Massachusetts, on August 9, 1920.  He spent much of his youth in the Midwest, growing up in the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.  Sims graduated from Baker University, Baldwin City, Kansas, in 1943.  That year he married Beatrice Wimberly, with whom he had three children, and entered the U.S. Navy, where he served aboard destroyers for three years.

In 1946 Sims entered Princeton Theological Seminary.  After becoming an Episcopalian in 1947 he transferred to Virginia Theological Seminary, from which he graduated in 1949.  Ordained deacon in 1949 and priest the following year, Sims served the Church of the Redeemer as Curate from 1949 to 1951 and as Rector from 1951 to 1964.  While at Church of the Redeemer Sims became increasingly progressive, a fact which irritated some of his conservative and affluent parishioners.  First there was the controversy surrounding the building of a new and necessary worship space.  People argued over the color of the carpeting and the internal arrangement of the furniture.  The more substantial matter, however, was the fact that Sims attended the 1963 March on Washington, an event he described years later as mind-changing.  Church of the Redeemer lost 50 families over the Rector’s attendance at the March on Washington.

Sims realized something others did not.  Christian faith is not entirely individual; it carries a societal component, also.  This understanding informed his career, beginning at Church of the Redeemer.

By 1964 Sims felt the need to leave Baltimore.  So he accepted an offer to become a Harvard Fellow for a semester in 1964 then Rector of Christ Church, Corning, New York.  In this autobiography Sims wrote that accepting these offers was a mistake.  He left Baltimore angry at his congregation.  And Sims accepted the offer to become a Harvard Fellow out of ego.  He wrote in 2006:

For all the seasons of my long pilgrimage, I have been driven by a need to be better than I think myself to be.  This terribly distorting need may be, in some measure, everyone’s Achilles heel, everyone’s core of emptiness that only the supreme gift of God’s forgiveness and the parallel acceptance of one’s self can remove.  (The Time of My Life, page 176)

At Corning Sims made changes in parish life.  These, no matter how well-considered in the abstract, alienated many parishioners.  When, in 1966, Sims resigned to become Dean of Continuing Education at Virginia Theological Seminary, the senior warden was glad. Sims wrote of this experience in his 2006 autobiography, agreeing with the parishioners.

On November 3, 1971, Sims won election as Bishop of Atlanta, a post he assumed the following February.  As Bishop he continued to emphasize social issues, including opposition to the Vietnam War, support for the integration of public schools, support for the ordination of women and the adoption and use of the revised Book of Common Prayer.  These positions caused consternation in some quarters, but, as Sims prepared to retire in 1983, an Anglo-Catholic priest who opposed most of the Bishop’s positions expressed private support for Sims as a human being.  And, in his autobiography, Sims wrote of his response to a letter from St. Paul’s Church, Atlanta, an African-American congregation.  It thanked him for his leadership, especially with regard to civil rights.  Many parishioners signed the letter.  Sims broke down and cried in private.

In his candid autobiography Sims wrote in a confessional tone that he had used theology as a blunt weapon sometimes, but evidence indicates that this was not a dominant pattern.  Rather, Sims stood up for what he believed and maintained warm relationships with many people who disagreed with him.

During his time as Bishop of Atlanta Sims issued two statements he retracted during his retirement.  First was the 1977 pastoral letter on homosexuality, in which Sims accepted gay identity but not behavior.  He meant the pastoral letter for the diocese alone, but Christianity Today published the document and the Church of Sweden adopted it.  During the following years Sims rethought his position and published a retraction.  He came to accept full equality of homosexuals in church and society.

The second pastoral letter Sims took back dealt with marriage and divorce.  In 1979, concerned about the documented effects of divorce in society, Sims wrote of the “indelibility of marriage.”  As the Bishop wrote candidly in his autobiography (see pages 64, 155, and 175), his 42-year marriage ended in 1985.  He described his first marriage in its final stage as “the mounting disaster of a mismatched pair of one-time lovers” plagued by “the strange undercurrent of insecurity,” which had been present in the relationship from the beginning.  Also, Sims confessed in his autobiography that, for most of his career, he had placed the demands of work first and the needs of family second.  By 1985 the marriage was no longer salvageable.

In 1983 Sims had founded the Institute for Servant Leadership (ISL), which began life at Emory University.  (Sims severed its relationship with Emory and moved the Institute to western North Carolina in 1988.)  The ISL was (and remains) committed to teaching leadership as the empowerment of people, not the domination of them.  (This understanding underpins many the critiques Sims made of U.S. foreign policy.  Based on readings of Sims and of current events, I conclude that, if alive today, he would continue almost almost all of his 2004 and 2006 condemnations of U.S. foreign policy.  Sims was an intellectually honest man, not a partisan hack and hypocrite.)

Mary Page Welborn had been administrative assistant to Sims when he was Bishop of Atlanta.  During the 1980s she had changed careers and become a consultant in teaching and applying the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator, a personality test.  In retirement, Bishop Sims asked Welborn to work with him on ISL seminars, and she accepted the offer.  Over a few years they fell in love, and so they married in Atlanta in August 1988.  At that time Sims received much support from the clergy of the diocese.  This marriage ended only when Bishop Sims died.

Bishop Sims retired as President of the Institute for Servant Leadership in 1999, at age 79.

I have finished reading four of the Bishop’s five books.  (I have not read Servanthood.)  His writing revealed a keen intellect, a warm heart, strong moral convictions, and great candor.  Sims, especially toward the end of his life, did not fear to admit his errors and faults, as he understood them.  As one ages one needs to reflect on one’s past and evaluate one’s positions and decisions.  Sometimes this entails admitting error, and this can be healthy.  Do not trust a person who does not think that he or she has made few or no mistakes.

As I write this post I reflect on a few facts.  First, I have reached a stage in my life when the date of my high school graduation is approximate to that of the birth or conception dates of many of my college students.  Second, I have a few white hairs on my chin and temples.  Time has afforded me greater perspective than I had once.   And, if I live much longer (Who knows how much time one has?) time will afford me even greater perspective.  May I approach my past with at least as much candor as Bishop Sims approached his.





I read Servant Leadership last Summer, and I am glad I did.  You, O reader, might also find the volume edifying and thought-provoking.


July 15, 2012 Common Era


Almighty God, you have raised up faithful bishops of your church, your servant Bennett J. Sims.  May the memory of his life be a source of joy for us and a bulwark of our faith, so that we may serve and confess your name before the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Ezekiel 34:11-16 or Acts 20:17-35

Psalm 84

1 Peter 5:1-4 or Ephesians 3;14-21

John 21:15-17 or Matthew 24:42-47

Feast of Josiah Conder (December 29)   2 comments

Bread of Heaven

Abolitionist and Hymn Writer; died on December 27, 1859

Josiah Conder was born on September 17, 1789, into a Congregationalist family.  His father owned a bookshop, and Josiah assumed control of the family business in 1811, at the age of 21.  He ran the bookshop for eight years and pursued literary interests.  Thus he edited The Eclectic Review (a literary journal) from 1814 to 1837, edited The Patriot (a religious nonconformist newspaper) from 1832 to 1837, published volumes of poetry from 1805 to 1856, edited The Congregational Hymn Book of 1834, and wrote biographies of Isaac Watts (1851) and John Bunyan (1838).  Also in 1838, Conder published Analytical and Comparative View of All Religions Now Extant among Mankind, the first European work to analyze non-European faith systems.

Conder wrote hymns, also.  These include “Bread of Heaven, on Thee We Feed,” “Followers of Christ of Every Name,” and “‘Tis Not That I Did Choose Thee.”

Bread of Heaven, on Thee We Feed

Bread of Heav’n! on Thee I feed,
For Thy flesh is meat indeed.
Ever may my soul be fed
With this true and living bread;
Day by day with strength supplied,
Through the life of Him who died.

Vine of Heav’n! Thy blood supplies
This blest cup of sacrifice.
’Tis Thy wounds my healing give:
To Thy cross I look and live.
Thou my life! oh, let me be
Rooted, grafted, built on Thee.

‘Tis Not That I Did Choose Thee

’Tis not that I did choose Thee,
For Lord, that could not be;
This heart would still refuse Thee,
Hadst Thou not chosen me.
Thou from the sin that stained me
Hast cleansed and set me free;
Of old Thou hast ordained me,
That I should live to Thee.

’Twas sov’reign mercy called me
And taught my op’ning mind;
The world had else enthralled me,
To heav’nly glories blind.
My heart owns none before Thee,
For Thy rich grace I thirst;
This knowing, if I love Thee,
Thou must have loved me first.

And Conder was an active abolitionist.  In 1839 he helped found Anti-Slavery International, originally the British and Foreign Anti-slavery Society for the Abolition of Slavery and the Slave-trade Throughout the World.  Furthermore, published a biography of abolitionist Thomas Pringle (1835) and wrote and published antislavery poems.


Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.  Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.  Help us, like your servant Josiah Conder, to work for justice among people and nations, to the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

Feast of Percy Sutton (December 23)   Leave a comment

Attorney; died on December 26, 2009

On my calendar of saints December 24-28 are reserved for Christmas Eve, Christmas Day, the Feast of St. Stephen, the Feast of St. John the Evangelist, and the Feast of the Holy Innocents, respectively.  Thus I transfer Sutton’s feast back three days.

Sutton, buried from Riverside Church, New York, New York, was a pioneer who empowered African Americans in the pursuit of much spoken-of inalienable rights.  Such men are giants.  And if we can see farther than some who have come before us, the reason is that we stand on the shoulders of giants.



Sutton’s obituary from The New York Times:

Percy E. Sutton, Political Trailblazer, Dies at 89

Published: December 27, 2009

Percy E. Sutton, a pioneering figure who represented Malcolm X as a young lawyer and became one of the nation’s most prominent black political and business leaders, died in a Manhattan nursing home on Saturday, his family said. He was 89.

Entering politics in the early 1950s, Mr. Sutton rose from the Democratic clubhouses of Harlem to become the longest-serving Manhattan borough president and, for more than a decade, the highest-ranking black elected official in New York City.

Mr. Sutton, whose passion for civil rights was inherited from his father, was arrested as a Freedom Rider in Mississippi and Alabama in the 1960s, yet once described himself as “an evolutionist rather than a revolutionist” in matters of race. “You ought always to keep the lines of communication open with those with whom you disagree,” he said.

He was the senior member of the group of prominent Harlem politicians who became known, sometimes derisively, as the Gang of Four. The other three were David N. Dinkins, New York’s first black mayor; Representative Charles B. Rangel; and Basil A. Paterson, who was a state senator and New York’s secretary of state. Mr. Sutton was also a mentor to Mr. Paterson’s son, Gov. David A. Paterson.

“It was Percy Sutton who talked me into running for office, and who has continued to serve as one of my most valued advisers ever since,” Governor Paterson said in a statement on Saturday night.

In a statement on Sunday, President Obama called Mr. Sutton “a true hero to African-Americans in New York City and around the country.”

Mr. Sutton was the first seriously regarded black candidate for mayor when he ran in 1977. But after he finished fifth in a seven-way Democratic primary, his supporters saw the loss as a stinging rebuke of his campaign’s strenuous efforts to build support among whites. Still, Mr. Dinkins, who was elected in 1989, called Mr. Sutton’s failed bid indispensable to his own success.

“I stand on the shoulders of Percy Ellis Sutton,” he later said.

Mr. Sutton’s business empire included, over the years, radio stations, cable television systems and national television programs. Another business invested in Africa. Still another sold interactive technology to radio stations.

Mr. Sutton had an immaculately groomed beard and mustache, tailored clothing and a sonorous voice that prompted a nickname, “wizard of ooze.” Associates called him “the chairman,” a nickname more to his liking.

Percy Ellis Sutton, the last child in a family of 15 children, was born on Nov. 24, 1920, in San Antonio and grew up on a farm nearby in Prairie View, Tex. His father, Samuel Johnson Sutton, born in the last days of slavery, was the principal of a segregated high school in San Antonio. His mother, Lillian, was a teacher.

The 12 children who survived into adulthood went to college, with the older ones giving financial and moral support to the younger. (One of the brothers, Oliver C. Sutton, became a State Supreme Court justice in Manhattan.)

His father was an early civil rights activist who farmed, sold real estate and owned a mattress factory, a funeral home and a skating rink — in addition to being a full-time educator.

Percy milked the cows and sometimes helped his father deliver milk to the poor, riding in the same Studebaker that was used for funerals.

At 12, he stowed away on a passenger train to New York, where he slept under a sign on 155th Street. Far from being angry, his family regarded him as an adventurer, he later said.

From an early age, he bristled at prejudice. At 13, while passing out N.A.A.C.P. leaflets in an all-white neighborhood, he was beaten by a policeman.

Mr. Sutton attended Prairie View A & M, as well as Tuskegee in Alabama and Hampton University in Virginia, without earning a degree. During college, he took up stunt-flying on the barnstorming circuit, but gave it up after a friend crashed.

When World War II began, he tried to enlist in Texas but was turned away. He finally enlisted in New York, and served as an intelligence officer with the Tuskegee Airmen, the famed all-black unit of the Army Air Forces. He won combat stars in the Italian and Mediterranean theaters.

After the war, Mr. Sutton entered Columbia Law School on the G.I. Bill on the basis of his solid college grades, but transferred to Brooklyn Law School because he worked two jobs — at a post office from 4 p.m. until midnight, then as a subway conductor until 8:30 in the morning. He reported to law school at 9:30. This schedule continued for three years until he graduated.

The punishing pace so annoyed his wife, the former Leatrice O’Farrell, that she divorced him in 1950 — only to remarry him in 1952. In between, he married and divorced Eileen Clark.

Mr. Sutton is survived by his wife, Leatrice; a son from their marriage, Pierre; a daughter from his second marriage, Cheryl Lynn Sutton; his sister, Essie Mae Sutton of New York; and four grandchildren.

After law school, Mr. Sutton made what he called “a major miscalculation” — enlisting in the Air Force because he mistakenly thought he had failed the bar exam.

He served in the Korean War, and in 1953 opened a law practice in Harlem. The initial going was tough; he had to take extra jobs, one of which involved scrubbing floors.

Mr. Sutton threw himself into the civil rights movement, representing more than 200 people arrested in protests in the South. He heard Malcolm X preaching at 125th Street and Seventh Avenue and introduced himself, telling the activist that he was his new lawyer.

Mr. Sutton represented Malcolm X beyond his assassination in 1965, when cemeteries refused his body. Mr. Sutton arranged for burial in Westchester County.

“Had it not been for Percy, I don’t know where Malcolm would have been buried,” Mr. Dinkins said.

In the 1950s, Mr. Sutton worked in political campaigns, both for others and for himself. He lost seven times in 11 years in challenges to established Democrats for a State Assembly seat, finally winning by a slim margin in 1964.

In 1966, the Manhattan borough president, Constance Baker Motley, was appointed to a federal judgeship, and the City Council chose Mr. Sutton to replace her. He was elected that fall to serve the remaining three years of her term, then was re-elected twice, in 1969 and 1973. When the Beame administration, engulfed in the fiscal crisis, could not come up with the $20,000 needed to expand the New York City Marathon into a five-borough race in 1976, Mr. Sutton solicited $25,000 from Lewis and Jack Rudin, the real estate executives.

In 1973, Mr. Sutton threw his support to Abraham D. Beame, who faced a strong challenge from Representative Herman Badillo. Mr. Sutton hoped that, in return, Mr. Beame would support him in 1977 in the race for mayor of New York.

Mr. Sutton saw his path to victory as combining minority support with that of the white liberals and organization Democrats who had elevated Mr. Beame. But the mayor delayed making a decision on running for re-election, causing Mr. Sutton to tell The New York Times, “It’s rather castrating to be waiting on others for your future.”

Mr. Beame finally decided to run again, and Mr. Sutton embraced a strategy of appealing to whites by taking strong anti-crime stands and championing white ethnic neighborhoods. But polls suggested that many New Yorkers saw mainly the color of his skin. This, to Mr. Sutton, was “the most disheartening, deprecating, disabling experience.”

As the Democratic primary grew more crowded, with seven candidates running, Mr. Sutton eventually switched tactics and tried to shore up his black support. It was not enough, though the eventual victor, Edward I. Koch, later called Mr. Sutton “one of the smartest people I have met in politics or outside of politics.”

Mr. Sutton blamed the news media as much as his opponents for his defeat. “It’s racism pure and simple,” he declared.

Mr. Sutton began investing in media companies in 1971, while he was Manhattan borough president, and he was part of a group that bought The New York Amsterdam News, New York’s largest black newspaper. Later that year, the same group’s purchase of an AM station, WLIB, made it the first black-owned radio station in New York.

Critics said the borough president was using the weekly to further his own political career, but he insisted he wanted to “liberate” blacks by expanding their influence in the media.

(Skeptics could not help noting that an Amsterdam News writer wrote that he had never seen “a more diligent or competent public official” than Mr. Sutton.)

Mr. Sutton sold his stake in the paper in 1975, calling it “a political liability.”

In 1974, he and his investors bought WBLS-FM, and the group, Inner City Broadcasting, grew to own, at various times, 18 radio stations in other cities and cable franchises in Queens and Philadelphia.

In 1981, Inner City, of which Mr. Sutton was chairman, bought the Apollo, the celebrated Harlem theater, at a bankruptcy sale for $225,000. He presided over a $20 million renovation, which included building a cable television studio used to produce the syndicated television program “It’s Showtime at the Apollo.” The theater reopened in 1985.

In 1992, a nonprofit foundation took over the theater after Mr. Sutton said he could no longer afford to run it. Some years later, Mr. Sutton became a defendant in a lawsuit by the state attorney general, Dennis C. Vacco, that accused the foundation, of which Mr. Rangel was chairman, of failing to collect $4 million from Inner City. Mr. Sutton denied wrongdoing, and the suit was eventually settled. When Inner City began producing a program called “Showtime in Harlem” in 2002, the theater accused the company of violating the Apollo trademark and filed suit.

Feuds and controversies materialized in Mr. Sutton’s political career, as well. There was bitterness between him and Mr. Badillo over the 1977 mayoral race — when the supporters of each accused the other of splitting the black and Hispanic vote — as well as the 1985 race, when Mr. Sutton and other Harlem leaders refused to endorse Mr. Badillo. They instead backed Assemblyman Herman D. Farrell Jr.

In 1970, Mr. Sutton was criticized when he helped Mr. Rangel unseat Representative Adam Clayton Powell Jr. Ebony magazine said Mr. Sutton’s actions “did little to endear him to blacks in New York and across the nation.”

Mr. Sutton sometimes recalled how his father would not let his children play in a segregated San Antonio park on the one day of the year that they were allowed in — on June 19, the anniversary of Texas’s implementation of the Emancipation Proclamation.

But Mr. Sutton also remembered something else he had learned from his father: “Suffer the hurts, but don’t show the anger, because if you do, it will block you from being able to effectively do anything to remove the hurts.”


O God, your Son came among us to serve and not to be served, and to give his life for the life of the world.  Lead us by his love to serve all those to whom the world offers no comfort and little help.  Through us give hope to the hopeless, love to the unloved, peace to the troubled, and rest to the weary, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

Feast of Marc Boegner (December 18)   Leave a comment

French Ecumenist and Human Rights Advocate; died on December 18, 1970

Marc Boegner was born on February 21, 1881.  After studying law at Paris, he became (in 1905) a minister of the Reformed Church of France.  During his ministerial career Boegner served congregations and trained clergymen.

And he wore more than one hat at a time:

  1. President of the Protestant Federation of France (1929-1961)
  2. President of the National Council of the Reformed Church of France (1938-1950)
  3. President of the World Council of Churches (1948-1954); he had helped to form the organization from 1938 to 1948

During the German occupation of France (1940-1944) Boegner defended the Jews as best he could.  He saved from of them from the Holocaust and interceded (unsuccessfully) with authorities in the Vichy regime on behalf of Jews.  (Boegner, who belonged to the French Resistance, sat also on the Vichy National Council.  He had access to high-ranking collaborators, and tried to use it for the best possible results, usually unsuccessfully, as when he protested against the forced sending of French workers to Germany.)  It is no wonder that the State of Israel declared Boegner a “Righteous Gentile.”

Aside from Boegner’s ecumenical work in France and with the World Council of Churches, one can add the title of observer at the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

One who wishes to read Pastor Boegner’s thoughts on ecumenism may consult The Long Road to Unity (French, 1968; English, 1970).



Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.  Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.  Help us, like your servant Marc Boegner, to work for justice among people and nations, to the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

Feast of Frank Mason North (December 17)   Leave a comment

U.S. Methodist Minister; died on December 17, 1935

Frank Mason North was born on December 3, 1859, in New York, New York.  He attended and graduated from Wesleyan University, in Connecticut, and entered the New York Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church (a forerunner of The United Methodist Church) in 1873.  Then he transferred to the New York East Annual Conference in 1887.

From 1892 to 1912 North served as Corresponding Secretary for the New York City Missionary and Church Extension Society.  Then, in 1912, he became Corresponding Secretary for the Board of Foreign Missions of the Methodist Episcopal Church.  And, from 1916 to 1920, North served as President of the Federal Council of Churches, a forerunner of the National Council of Churches.

North supported church efforts to address social conditions.  Thus, in 1908, he wrote a report called “The Church and Modern Industry,” which the Federal Council adopted.  This document, set in a time of rampant child labor and scarce workplace safety rules, called on churches to ally themselves with working people, toward the end of improving working conditions.  An excerpt follows:

Rich and poor, capitalist and laboring man, are not classifications and distinctions made by the Church of Christ.  To the Church there are but two kinds…those who follow Christ and those who do not.

North the consequences of racial discrimination in 1910, when Jim Crow laws were the law of the land.  He wrote that second-class citizenship for African Americans hindered their optimal role in society.  This discrimination, he said, was immoral.

Also in 1910, North wrote about urban circumstances in terms which sound contemporary.  (Keep this in mind you think overly fondly of the “good old days.”)  He stated:

Tens of thousands, yes, hundreds of thousands, of the boys and girls in our cities are growing up into citizenship and home-making, with no spiritual sanction for conduct, no conception of God, no knowledge of the Bible, no reverence for essential truths, and with an atrophied moral sense.

North’s urban fixation flowed naturally from his life.  He was born in New York City and died at home in New Jersey.  Between those two events he lived and worked in urban settings.  And his missionary offices were in New York City.  One day North was preparing a sermon based on Matthew 22:9 (American Standard Version): “Go ye therefore unto the parting of the highways, and as many as ye shall find, bid to the marriage feast.”  Envisioning the “parting of the highways,” he wrote a hymn, one of about a dozen, “Where Cross the Crowded Ways of Life.”  The lyrics follow:

Where cross the crowded ways of life,
Where sound the cries of race and clan
Above the noise of selfish strife,
We hear your voice, O Son of Man.

In haunts of wretchedness and need,
On shadowed thresholds dark with fears,
From paths where hide the lures of greed,
We catch the vision of Your tears.

From tender childhood’s helplessness,
From woman’s grief, man’s burdened toil,
From famished souls, from sorrow’s stress,
Your heart has never known recoil.

The cup of water given for You,
Still holds the freshness of Your grace;
Yet long these multitudes to view
The sweet compassion of Your face.

O Master, from the mountainside
Make haste to heal these hearts of pain;
Among these restless throngs abide;
O tread the city’s streets again.

Till sons of men shall learn Your love
And follow where Your feet have trod,
Till, glorious from Your Heaven above,
Shall come the city of our God!

This hymn appeared first in The Methodist Hymnal (1905), a joint venture of the Methodist Episcopal Church and the Methodist Episcopal Church, South.  (I own a copy of this hymnal.  Thank you,!)

In 1919, in the wake of World War I, wartime crackdowns on free and dissident speech in the U.S.A., two Russian Revolutions in 1917, postwar labor strikes and riots, and domestic bombings, the Red Scare of 1919-1920 commenced.  The federal government, based on scant evidence (mostly innuendo), rounded up and deported over 3,000 people.  Attorney General A. Mitchell Palmer described the characteristics of those the federal agents rounded up.  They had “sly and crafty eyes, …lopsided faces, sloping brows, and misshaped features.”  Allegedly these sheltered “cupidity, cruelty, insanity, and crime.”  Federal tactics in investigating and arresting alleged radicals did not follow proper legal procedures, or the Constitution.  After the hysteria died down Palmer’s political career was over; he had harbored presidential ambitions, but for naught.  He had trampled the Constitution of the United States.  (For more details, consult Geoffrey R. Stone, Perilous Times: Free Speech in Wartime–From the Sedition Act of 1798 to the War on Terrorism, W. W. Norton and Company, 2004, pages 220-226.  Stone is a distinguished law professor.)

In the context of the Red Scare North spoke out for free speech, fair trials, due process of law, and open-mindedness.  Those should never be too much to ask.




Holy and righteous God, you created us in your image.  Grant us grace to contend fearlessly against evil and to make no peace with oppression.  Help us, like your servant Frank Mason North, to work for justice among people and nations, to the glory of your name, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Hosea 2:18-23

Psalm 94:1-15

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 6:20-36

Feast of Venantius Honorius Clementius Fortunatus (December 14)   1 comment

Roman Catholic Bishop of Poitiers; died circa 600/609

Venantius Honorius Clementius Fortunatus was born in northern Italy circa 530.  Educated at Ravenna when it was a Byzantine city, he moved to Germany then Gaul in the middle 560s, hoping to become a poet at the Merovingian court.  He did not become a Merovingian court poet, but did remain in Gaul, becoming Bishop of Poitiers prior to 600.

Eleven books of his poetry survive.  Here is an English translation from book eleven:

4. Good Wine

Your devotion, your holy love, bring you what you ask

through prayer. But listen to me, you who are so generous to others;

we have something to say to you!

Fortunatus will strike up a tune, and Agnes will sing the verses:

“When you are not well, drink some good wine,

because the Lord, whom you love,

will look with favor on whatever you do.”

(We both plead, high-born mother,

that this demand not offend you,

and that you pardon us for our boldness.)

“Drink wine! Not for its taste on your tongue,

but because it is excellent indeed for your digestion.

Remember that Paul, trumpet to the pagans,

commanded Timothy: take a little wine for your stomach!”

Fortunatus wrote hymns, too.  These include “The Flaming Banners of Our King,” “Sing, O Tongue, the Glorious Struggle,” and various versions of “Hail Thee, Festival Day.”


Hail, Thee Festival Day



Hail thee, festival day!
Blessed day to be hallowed forever;
Day when our Lord was raised,
Breaking the kingdom of death.

Lo, the fair beauty of the earth,
From the death of the winter arising!
Every good gift of the year
Now with its Master returns.


Rise from the grave now, O Lord,
The author of life and creation.
Treading the pathway of death,
New life You give to us all.



Hail thee, festival day!
Blessed day to be hallowed forever;
Day when our risen Lord
Rose in the heavens to reign.

He who was nailed to the cross
Is Ruler and Lord of all people.
All things created on earth
Sing to the glory of God.


Daily the loveliness grows,
Adorned with glory of blossom;
Heaven her gates unbars,
Flinging her increase of light.




Hail thee, festival day!
Blessed day to be hallowed forever;
Day when the Holy Ghost
Shone in the world full of grace.

Bright and in the likeness of fire,
On those who await your appearing,
You Whom the Lord had foretold
Suddenly, swiftly descend.


Forth from the Father You come
With sevenfold mystical offering,
Pouring on all human souls
Infinite riches of God.



God the Almighty Lord,
The Ruler of earth and the heavens,
Guard us from harm without;
Cleanse us from evil within.

Jesus the health of the world,
Enlighten our minds, great Redeemer,
Son of the Father supreme,
Only begotten of God.

Spirit of life and of power,
Now flow in us, fount of our being,
Light that enlightens us all,
Life that in all may abide.

Praise to the giver of good!
O lover and author of concord,
Pour out your balm on our days;
Order our ways in your peace.


Almighty God, beautiful in majesty, majestic in holiness: You have shown us the splendor of creation in the work of your servant Venantius Honorius Clementius Fortunatus.  Teach us to drive from the world all chaos and disorder, that our eyes may behold your glory, and that at last everyone may know the inexhaustible richness of your new creation in Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Isaiah 28:5-6 or Hosea 14:5-8 or 2 Chronicles 20:20-21

Psalm 96

Philippians 4:8-9 or Ephesians 5:18b-20

Matthew 13:44-52

Feast of Martin Rinckart (December 8)   Leave a comment

Archdeacon of Eilenburg, Saxony, Germany; died on December 8, 1649

Martin Rinckart (or Rinkart) was born at Eilenburg on April 23, 1586.  He studied theology at Leipzig, where he sang in a choir.  In 1611 he became Archdeacon of his hometown.

During the Thirty Years’ War (1618-1648) many refugees fled to Eilenburg, a walled city.  During a siege Eilenburg became lethal place to be, for a pestilence killed about 8,000 people, and a famine followed the pestilence.  In 1637 Rinckart was the sole clergyman in the city, for one left and the others died.  Some days Rinckart said 40 or 50 funerals, burying about 4, 480 people, including his wife, over time.

Prior to the siege, pestilence, and famine, Rinckart had written a table blessing for his children.  Today, thanks to Catherine Winkworth (July 1 on this calendar of saints) we can sing this in English.  This table blessing consisted of the first two verses of “Now Thank We All Our God.”

Now thank we all our God, with heart and hands and voices,
Who wondrous things has done, in Whom this world rejoices;
Who from our mothers’ arms has blessed us on our way
With countless gifts of love, and still is ours today.

O may this bounteous God through all our life be near us,
With ever joyful hearts and blessèd peace to cheer us;
And keep us in His grace, and guide us when perplexed;
And free us from all ills, in this world and the next!

The third verse came later:

All praise and thanks to God the Father now be given;
The Son and Him Who reigns with Them in highest Heaven;
The one eternal God, whom earth and Heaven adore;
For thus it was, is now, and shall be evermore.

The basis for this hymn is Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 50:22-24.  In the New Jerusalem Bible it reads:

And now bless the God of all things, the doer of great deeds everywhere,

who exalted our days from the womb and has acted mercifully towards us.

May he grant us cheerful hearts and bring peace in our time,

in Israel for ages on ages.

May his mercy be faithfully with us,

may he redeem us in our times!

When I wonder how Rinckart found the strength to carry on under such heavy burdens I discover the answer quickly.  All I have to do is read his hymn.

Loving God, we do not understand why misfortune befalls us sometimes, especially when we did nothing to cause it.  It is easy to fall prey to discouragement when these circumstances escalate consistently.  Yet, even then, not all is lost.  Through your grace, may we recognize the multitude of reasons we have for giving thanks, and do so.  In the name of Jesus of Nazareth, the Suffering Servant and our Lord, who reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Ecclesiasticus (Sirach) 50:22-24

Psalm 34 or Psalm 34:1-10

Philippians 4:4-9

Luke 6:20-36



Feast of Joseph Mohr (December 4)   Leave a comment

Austrian Roman Catholic Priest; died on December 4, 1848

Joseph Mohr was born out of wedlock to an embroiderer and a mercenary soldier on December 11, 1792.  He grew up entered the Roman Catholic priesthood, ordained in 1815.  As a priest Mohr donated generously to charities, founded a school for children in Wagrain (where he served a church from 1836 to 1848), created a scholarship fund for poor children in Wagrain, and established a system for caring for the elderly of Wagrain.  Mohr died of lung disease in 1848.

If Mohr had done only those deeds his legacy would be laudable, if limited only to the Wagrain area.  Yet you and I can appreciate Mohr’s universal legacy, the Christmas carol, “Silent Night,” which he wrote in 1816, while serving an alpine church.  Franz Gruber composed the immortal music.


Silent night, holy night!
All is calm, all is bright.
Round yon Virgin, Mother and Child.
Holy infant so tender and mild,
Sleep in heavenly peace,
Sleep in heavenly peace.

Silent night, holy night!
Shepherds quake at the sight.
Glories stream from heaven afar
Heavenly hosts sing Alleluia,
Christ the Savior is born!
Christ the Savior is born.

Silent night, holy night!
Son of God love’s pure light.
Radiant beams from Thy holy face
With dawn of redeeming grace,
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth.
Jesus Lord, at Thy birth.


Heavenly Father, shepherd of your people, we thank you for your servant Joseph Mohr, who was faithful in the care and nurture of your flock.  We pray that, following his example and the teaching of his holy life, we may by your grace attain our full maturity in Christ, through the same Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Ezekiel 34:11-16 or Acts 20:17-35

Psalm 84

1 Peter 5:1-4 or Ephesians 3:14-21

John 21:15-17 or Matthew 24:42-47

Feast of John Owen Smith (December 3)   Leave a comment

Methodist Bishop in Georgia, 1960-1968; United Methodist Bishop in Georgia, 1968-1972; died on December 2, 1978

John Owen Smith was born on December 1, 1902, in Johnston, South Carolina.  He attended and graduated from Wofford College and Yale University.  In 1924 Smith married Mildred Brown; the couple had two daughters.  Smith joined the South Carolina Annual Conference of the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, in 1925.  He served as a district superintendent, sat on denominational boards, and attended Methodist General Conferences and Jurisdictional Conferences as a delegate.

In 1939 three branches of U.S. Methodism, including the Methodist Episcopal Church, South, reunited to form The Methodist Church.  One aspect of the newly unified denomination was the creation of jurisdictions, or groupings of annual conferences.  Five were geographical:  Southeastern, Northeastern, North Central, South Central, and Western.  The sixth, the Central Jurisdiction, was purely African-American.  Thus The Methodist Church was segregated.

When Smith became Bishop in 1960 and received his appointment to the Atlanta Area (then the North Georgia Annual Conference and the South Georgia Annual Conference) the denomination had resolved (in 1956) to find a way to abolish the Central Jurisdiction and to integrate the annual conferences.  This was controversial Georgia, especially in the South Georgia Annual Conference, which passed resolutions opposing this integration.  Bishop Smith stood with his fellow bishops and supported racial integration in general, and the abolition of the Central Jurisdiction in particular.  In fact, one of his final acts as an active bishop was to preside over the integration of the annual conferences in Georgia, in 1972.

Consider this statement from the 1964 Doctrines and Discipline of The Methodist Church (page 685):

Racial segregation has been expressed in the life and structure of The Methodist Church.  The bishops of the church, meeting in council, have spoken sharply to the racial issue: The Methodist Church stands for the equal rights of all racial, cultural, and religious groups.  We confess with deep penitence that our performance as a church has not kept pace with our profession….

Consider, also, this, which Bishop Smith addressed to the South Georgia Annual Conference in 1963:

Nothing during the next twenty-five years is more important than learning how to live together in understanding and peace around the world.  Whatever hurts people is wrong; world peace will come when there is a setting in which peace can grow.

And Smith addressed the following to the South Georgia Annual Conference in 1964:

We may not always agree on every point.  Some of the twelve hand-picked disciples differed with Christ during their association with Him.  Our Methodist Church is big enough and great enough to include people of differing points of view.  As long as we are well blessed spiritually, appreciate the full significance of salvation in Christ and have the thrilling concept of the Kingdom idea, we can work toward a Christian solution to our problems.

History has proven Bishop Smith correct.


Almighty God, you have raised up faithful bishops of your church, your servant John Owen Smith.  May the memory of his life be a source of joy for us and a bulwark of our faith, so that we may serve and confess your name before the world, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Ezekiel 34:11-16 or Acts 20:17-35

Psalm 84

1 Peter 5:1-4 or Ephesians 3;14-21

John 21:15-17 or Matthew 24:42-47


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