Above: Girls Receiving an Education Via Television in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1958, After the Closure of Public Schools to Avoid the Racial Integration Thereof
Image Source = Library of Congress
COLBERT “BERT” SCOTT CARTWRIGHT (1924-1996)
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) Minister, Liturgist, and Witness for Civil Rights
As I add people to my Ecumenical Calendar of Saints’ Days and Holy Days, I rely heavily on ecclesiastical calendars, feeling free to transfer feasts from one day to another and to merge commemorations. It is my my calendar, after all. Yet, as I read, I find references to individuals whom I think ought to be listed on a calendar of saints; more people should know about them. Colbert S. Cartwright was such a person, so I add him to my calendar today.
Colbert “Bert” S. Cartwright was born in Coffeeville, Kansas, on August 7, 1924, to Lin and Inez Cartwright. Bert was a “Preacher’s Kid,” his father being the pastor of First Christian Church in town. Bert earned his Bachelor of Arts from Washington University, St. Louis, Missouri, in 1946, having joined to honor societies there. He continued his studies at Yale Divinity School, receiving his Bachelor of Divinity in 1948 and his Master of Sacred Theology two years later.
Cartwright’s ministerial record was as follows:
- First Christian Church, Lynchburg, Virginia, 1950-1953
- Pulaski Heights Christian Church, Little Rock, Arkansas, 1954-1963
- Central Christian Church, Youngstown, Ohio, 1964-1970
- South Hills Christian Church, Fort Worth, Texas, 1971-1979
- Area Minister, Trinity-Brazos Area (with offices in Fort Worth), 1979-1989
Cartwright retired in 1989. He served on the committee which produced Chalice Hymnal (1995) before, despite his failing health, beginning work on Chalice Worship (1997), helping to bring it to manuscript form before he died. O. I. Cricket Harrison, Cartwright’s collaborator on Chalice Worship, wrote the following about him:
As Colbert Cartwright and I began this voyage of discovery, seeking to craft a worship resource that would serve the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) well into the twenty-first century, he spoke candidly and often of the fragile nature of his health. It is a testament to his indomitable spirit and his deep, abiding, and amazingly clear-sighted love for the church that Bert completed his work on Chalice Hymnal and the Chalice Hymnal Worship Leader’s Companion, as well as crafting this present volume into final manuscript form. I pray that all those who use these resources will thank God for the many gifts of this servant of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It was my honor, joy, and pleasure to work with Bert on Chalice Hymnal.
In 1987, when Cartwright was still Area Minister, the denomination published his book, People of the Chalice: Disciples of Christ in Faith and Practice. The book helped me understand more about a denomination to which I have never belonged. It also told me much about him and his progressive and ecumenical priorities, which shine brightly there. He used the pronoun “I” quite often. For example, when writing against the death penalty yet admitting to internal satisfaction at the execution of violent criminals, he wrote:
My problem at this point is not that I am schizophrenic or hypocritical (though that is always a possibility) but that I am not my own master. Whether I always like it or not, I must represent Christ. I hope I shall ever grow to integrate Christ’s will more fully into my life. But I feel I shall always represent something beyond my own limiting views and opinions. Does not every Christian have this same experience? We are not our own. We are bought with a price. A part of that price is subjecting our wills to that of Christ our Master.
That commitment to the mind of Christ was evident during Cartwright’s ministry in Little Rock, Arkansas, from 1954 to 1963. (For many details, follow this link: http://libinfo.uark.edu/specialcollections/findingaids/cartwrightaid.html.) During that time the U.S. Supreme Court issued two Brown decisions (1954 and 1955) and the Federal government ordered the integration of Central High School in 1957. The following school year, the local public schools closed rather than integrate. This decision devastated many students for years and decades to come. And I remind you, O reader, of the ferocity of the anger and hatred present in the anti-integration protests. Pulaski Heights Christian Church, Cartwright’s pastorate, had an admirable history of progressive social justice actions. (It still does: http://phcc-lr.org/.) He preached a pro-civil rights sermon the Sunday after the first Brown decision in 1954. The Arkansas Gazette newspaper printed extended excerpts from that sermon. Cartwright also marched with the students who integrated Central High School in 1957, helped form then led the Arkansas Council of Human Relations from 1955 to 1963, worked with the American Friends Service Committee to build community unity after 1958, and engaged in interfaith pro-civil rights activism. All of this required much courage. And Colbert’s stance prompted some people to leave his congregation in protest. But he did the right thing. And the stained-glass windows in the new (1959) worship space of Pulaski Heights Church honor his “courage and conviction.”
So do I. And I hope that you, O reader, will join me in doing so. And perhaps his example will inspire you do to something daring for the glory of God and the benefit of your fellow discriminated-against human beings, whether individually or as a congregation.
KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR
JUNE 29, 2012 COMMON ERA
THE FEAST OF SAINTS PETER AND PAUL, APOSTLES AND MARTYRS
Almighty God, we praise you for your servant
Colbert “Bert” Scott Cartwright,
through whom you have called the church to its tasks and renewed its life.
Raise up in our own day teachers and prophets, inspired by your Spirit,
whose voices will give strength to your church and proclaim the reality of your reign,
through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,
who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and forever. Amen.
1 Corinthians 3:11-23
—Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 60
A Review of Chalice Worship: