Posted on October 18, 2009 on Dr. Abby’s and Rev. Carol’s Place http://www.drabbyreynolds.com/2009/10/a-reflection-from-preaching-as-antoinette-brown-blackwell-by-carol-crawford-rowe/
I had the privilege of preaching at a church near by, where I was asked to speak in my Civil War persona as Rev. Dr. Antoinette Brown-Blackwell. The worship service was an interesting experience, with four components that troubled me.
I do not know who normally presents the Children’s Message, but in the absence of the pastor, one of the lay speakers did so. She was doing a great job, reminding them that Jesus is better than their best friend, always present, always loving them. Then WHAM! She told the children that, when they become adults, Jesus will occasionally “smack you upside the head” when you do something that you shouldn’t do, or fail to do something that you should. I know that she was trying to be cute and clever, but she missed by a mile.
And we wonder why the little ones, who sing “Jesus Loves the Little Children” with such enthusiasm, disappear from our congregations when they become teen agers and young adults. If I were awaiting the day when Jesus ceased being my friend and began to batter me instead, I also would rather leave while I’m ahead.
I was the guest speaker. Should I have interrupted her to tell those young ones that Jesus does not hit us? I believe that, when we fail to do what is good and just, Jesus lays a hand on our shoulder and says, “I’ll bet you’re sorry that you did that in that way. Would you like me to help you fix it?” I wanted to say STOP! You are not talking about the real Jesus. Being polite to her, I confess to you that, by my silence, I failed those young people as badly as she did.
Why should God cease to be a friend and loving presence, and become a harsh, judgmental taskmaster, just because we grow old enough to recognize our failings and mistakes? Is this really the theology that we want our children to learn?
Second, after this disheartening message, every person in the sanctuary age sixteen and under was led away by a cordon of adults, presumably to engage in some activity more appropriate to their age level than the sermon. Huh?!
I was sharing God’s working in the life of Antoinette Brown Blackwell, the first woman in the United States to be ordained a minister of the gospel. She knew as a young child that God had a plan for her life. That knowledge led to a life preaching peace, love, and inclusion of the marginalized and abused. Was this inappropriate for the young people to hear? When did worship become a venue in which children are not welcomed? When are they supposed to learn their roles in the Church and in the world?
Third, the congregation was right “with” me, as I told of the nineteenth century struggles and challenges. They were smiling, nodding, laughing when appropriate. But when I reminded them that we are called to right the wrongs of the twenty-first century, just as nineteenth century heroes and heroines were called to their time, the congregation froze. The smiles disappeared when I reminded them that Jesus also loves people with purple hair, painted skin, and piercings. Their slogan says that they are ministers in the world, to the world. The nods gave way to stiff-necked stares.
Their minds were closed, as were their hearts. As I looked around the mostly grey-haired group, I realized that their doors were also closed to any who are different from their idea of normal and acceptable. Many of the children who were present at the beginning of the service had come with a grandparent. Their parents were not there, an entire generation, mostly missing. What have we done?
And, last of all, at the door, while people were politely shaking my hand, with the compliments that really mean; “I’m not going to take THAT message with me into my world this week”, an elderly man took my hand and said, ‘I’m old fashioned. I believe that God created people to fulfill certain roles”.
I have been condemned before, for being a woman called to ministry. Perhaps that is why my answer came so fast. Smiling, I patted his shoulder and remarked, “Oh, so you believe that a woman belongs in the kitchen. Or, are you willing to allow her into the living room, if she needs to vacuum the carpet?”
The howls of laughter from the surrounding women made it all worthwhile! But I traveled home, saddened in spirit, for the empty shell that our religious institutions have become. To quote an old and dear retired pastor friend, “Who wants to spend their lives in an institution?”
And I felt Jesus’ hand on MY shoulder, as he spoke to me. “You are called to be my messenger. What they do with the message is their responsibility”. Help us, Lord, please help us!