Of life in the still-Christian South (a retired cleric’s occasional reflections)…

In Christ…

The St. Louis of my birth and formative years of the 1950s and 1960s was a segregated town. Blacks lived principally in the neighborhoods of the inner city and those running west and on the near north side. Whites lived largely on the south side, the far north side and, beyond the municipal boundaries, in the suburban areas.

In 1982, I was called to serve a church in Charleston, South Carolina. As I toured the city in search of housing, wherever I looked, though there were areas that were chiefly black or white, in the main, the neighborhoods were integrated. The realtor, noting my surprise, pointed out, in an airy, matter-of-fact fashion, a conspicuous reality of institutional slavery: “The distance between the master’s big house and the slave shacks was never that far.” His point. In the South, blacks and whites always lived in proximity. In this, I recall a Civil Rights Era maxim: “In the South, the white man doesn’t care how close the Negro gets, as long as he doesn’t get too high.”[1]

This apparent, what I deem, Southern racial/relational closeness comes to mind in light of a number of weddings that have been held at Clevedale Historic Inn and Gardens, Pontheolla’s and my Spartanburg, SC, bed and breakfast and events facility.

On more than one occasion, I’ve had my assumptions (read: biases) overthrown when white couples and black couples have commissioned black clergypersons and white clergypersons, respectively, to officiate at their nuptials. In speaking with the clerics, almost to a person, I discover that their affiliations with those to be wed extend far back into the years and are rooted in long-lived familial and neighborhood connections. Although the church communities of the South (everywhere?), by and large, remain racially segregated, personal relationships of deep affection across color lines have stood the test of time. In this, for me, a blessedly beatific counter-image in these days of rising racial animus, I, with gratitude, sing:

In Christ there is no east or west,

in him no south or north,

but one great fellowship of love

throughout the whole wide earth.[2]

Amen, I say! Again, I say, amen!



[1] “High” used interchangeably with “big”; meaning socio-economically prosperous and/or politically prominent. The other part of the saying is: “In the North, the white man doesn’t care how high the Negro gets, as long as he doesn’t get too close.” I don’t know the author of this aphorism, but Dick Gregory (Richard Claxton Gregory, 1932-2017), a comedian and social critic of no mean genius, and a fellow St. Louisan, was fond of repeating it.

[2] Words by John Oxenham (aka William Arthur Dunkerley), 1852-1941

Of life in the still-Christian South (a retired cleric’s occasional reflections)…

More on public prayer

On each of the past two weekends, here, in Spartanburg, South Carolina, at Clevedale Historic Inn and Gardens, Pontheolla and I have had the pleasure of hosting and housing a bride, her maid of honor and her bridesmaids.

On both occasions, on Saturday morning, in the serving of breakfast, whilst expeditiously ushering hot plates of freshly and lovingly (that is, Pontheolla-) prepared culinary fare to the table, I was brought to an abrupt and dutiful halt by the voice of prayer – the bride and her entourage, with hands joined and heads bowed, sharing in supplications to God…

On each occasion, though different the groups in nearly every ostensible social category, in their eloquent prayers, I found, I heard a striking similitude – if I had to (and I will!) characterize – of praise to God for being God, of thanksgiving to God, the Giver of all gifts, especially life and love, and of oblation to God in the offering of themselves in service to glorify God and to edify all whose lives they touched.

As both groups were 20-and-30-somethings, I offered to God a silent prayer of gratitude for the gift of renewed hope for the next generation, which these women, to a person, embodied.

retirement = change & transition – reflections on the first days

37½ years of active ministry. From my July 1977 ordination as a deacon in the Episcopal Church, then as a priest in April 1978. Service in five congregations in Missouri, Chicago, Charleston, SC, and Washington, DC. To this last weekend’s wondrously generous, warmly loving Saturday night party and final Sunday liturgies at St. Mark’s, Capitol Hill, a community of spiritual breadth, intellectual and emotional depth, and rambunctious vitality, expressed in free-thinking, open-questioning, liberal-mindedness, that I’ve been privileged to serve as rector for the past 16½ years.

It’s been a grand run. All of it. The good and bad moments, the successes and failures, the times of clarity and crisis. I am grateful for it. All of it. For all of it constitutes shared life freely, fully, faithfully lived.

Yes, it’s been a grand run. Now, it’s done. And, with my wife Pontheolla, in co-owning and operating our B&B in Spartanburg, SC, Clevedale Historic Inn and Gardens, I have a place to go and a wealth of things to do. Yet that will come soon enough. For now, right now, I have a moment or rather I will take a moment, a few moments to think about change and transition.

No one likes change. Or so I’ve oft heard folk say. I’m not sure I believe that. I think that none of us likes certain changes. Discomfiting change for one is another’s long sought transformation, and vice-versa. (Here, I use “one” in a universal way; believing that the principle of what works for one may not work for another is equally applicable whether the subject is one person, one family, tribe, or clan, one community or culture, one city, state, region, nation, continent, or world.)

Applying this to myself in my here-and-now-state-of-retirement, I anticipate that, at one moment, I will be comfortable with change and, in the next, not. I also imagine that it is possible that at another moment I will experience both ease and unrest!

I am calmed by a distinction made by William Bridges, author of Managing  Transitions (which, though written with organizations in mind, given my universal use of “one”, I consider true for me as an individual): Change and transition are necessarily related, but essentially not the same.

Change (I think of aging) is beyond my intent and control, my want and need. And whether I adjudge change good or bad, it happens. Transition is an internal process regarding how I think and feel about the change I experience. Change also can occur speedily; transition usually more slowly.

More tomorrow…