The memory bank of most Southerners has a file for Vacation Bible School. Every summer for over half a century, children have spent a week at church playing games, eating cookies, making crafts, singing, and hearing Bible stories. Many of us would attend the one at our own church and then go to another one or two with our friends. I don’t remember the ones from my youth being major “theme” events like today, but we still had loads of fun. Every year, we kicked off with a parade. We’d decorate cars and trucks and ride around town honking the horns and inviting all the children in the community to VBS. Then one year during the planning some folks got worried about the parade.
Did I mention that this was Birmingham, Alabama in the 70s?
Our church, like many other white churches then, had a policy for dealing with black people who attended a worship service with us. There were men assigned to cancel the service and escort the “troublemakers” out. So, you see how the public VBS parade invitation could cause problems. How would we handle it if the wrong people thought they were invited? We would sing about red, and yellow, black and white all being precious in His sight, but that didn’t mean they could come in and eat cookies with us.
The reason this particular VBS changed my life was not because there were troublemakers. It stands out because of how our pastor, Rev. Jerry Curry, solved the problem. He announced --- from the pulpit, not in some committee meeting --- that the day our church turned away any child of any color from the Lord’s house, it would be his last day there too. After the shock wore off, I was so proud of him for making a stand for what was right. It was the day I realized that sometimes churches need to repent just like individuals do.
All this has come back to mind with the recent election of Rev. Fred Luter as the first black president of the Southern Baptist Convention. It’s interesting that another black minister, Rev. Dwight McKissic authored a resolution in opposition to gay marriage. When asked if he saw similarities in the way gay people are treated now and the way black people were treated then, he said no. His exact words were, “They’re equating their sin with my skin.” I have news for Rev. McKissic. I was never taught that skin was the problem. I was taught that it was a sin for white people to associate with black people. And there are plenty of verses of scripture that can be cherry picked to prove it. I have no idea how the gay marriage issue will eventually play out in churches, but I’ve never forgotten the lesson I learned in VBS --- It’s always risky to pronounce that God doesn’t mind my sins as much as He does yours.
The liturgical calendar of the Orthodox Christian Church designates a week each year to honor the Myrrbearing Women who came to the tomb to anoint the body of Christ after the crucifixion and burial. After most of the others had succumbed to fear and fled, these women showed up to do the right thing by seeing that their friend had a proper burial. There was no reward in doing so. In fact, it was quite the opposite, with a risk of being swept up into scandal for tampering with the corpse. Courageous people show up to do the difficult, sacrificial things in life.
One of my favorite church ladies is Mary Stinson. It’s actually Dr. Stinson, but I knew her for years before her title ever came up. She’s a retired JSU professor and a tireless worker for the Calhoun County Christian Women’s Job Corp (CWJC). This organization provides job readiness and life skills to women in need. They’re not always successful and they can’t reach a multitude of people, but faithful, dedicated volunteers show up to offer tutoring, mentoring, and enthusiastic support to women who seek help. At a recent CWJC fundraiser at Classic on Noble, I watched Mary’s joyful interaction with the attendees and her generous donations in the silent auction. I doubt she’ll ever be famous, but because of her, there are women whose lives will never be the same.
So what’s in it for the Myrrhbearers? Well, they were the first ones to see the risen Christ and to understand that there’s no reason to seek the living among the dead. Watching Mary helps me see what real living is.