I saw color, and his color made a difference.
Rev. Don Wilson was my first pastor, or at least the first pastor I remember, and he is white. Why does that matter? I grew up in a small town in Mississippi in the late 60’s, a time when the fight for racial equality was (arguably) at its height. Medgar Evers was killed trying to integrate the University of Mississippi, which was 20 minutes from my hometown, two years before I was born. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was killed 45 minutes from my hometown just three years after I was born. So, racism was alive and well. To be true, good ole southern hospitality existed, and white and blacks were cordial and friendly to one another. But, we also knew where we stood with one another. There was no going out to dinner or being invited to one another’s home for a meal. We lived among one another but not with one another.
Rev. Wilson was the exception; he served as one of my spiritual teachers, and demonstrated the unconditional love of the Sacred. You see, he faithfully served the small all-black congregation that shaped my faith foundation. He did not act superior but humbly, always speaking with kindness, quietness and confidence. He did not profess to be a Christian. He lived the life of a Christian. He graced our home for dinner on many occasions. Rev. Wilson always inquired about our well-being and knew what was going on in our lives. His sermons always included an object lesson, so children could understand his scriptural text. He was paid very little but was a consistent presence in our lives. I can tell you for certain that pastoring is not easy, but his devotion was inspiring. Years after he no longer pastored my home church, he and his wife drove from Mississippi to Texas for him to officiate my niece’s wedding.
So, in spite of - or perhaps because of - his being white, I learned that though there are folks who are in a group that differs from my own and who treat my group with disdain, not all members of that group are the same. I must open my heart to receive and to be a blessing. I must accept the individual and trust what I see and not what I’m told. I must let go of judgment, fear, anger, and so on to learn, grow and live, really live, in harmony with those who differ from me.
I learned that the Sacred is no respecter of person. I am loved unconditionally. My race, skin tone, weight, socio-economic status, size, gender, good or bad habits, etc. does not take away that love. It is there for me. No one else can take that away. Rev. Wilson taught that in his lessons and demonstrated it with his life.
I learned to be authentically who I am, at all times. He did not try to “act black” and we did not try to “act white” to ease any discomfort. We accepted and embraced one another’s differences. Funnily, years later, I found myself pastoring a predominately white congregation. Though I wasn’t conscious of it, his behavior had likely helped to shape mine.
Rev. Wilson reinforced what my parents taught me. What we do matters and has long-reaching consequences. When he was asked to serve our small congregation, he could not have known the strong bond he would have with the members or the profound effect he would have on a little girl who later tried to pattern her sermon object lessons from him. (I didn’t succeed. It was too much for me.)
As he transitions from this life to the afterlife, I salute Rev. Don Wilson and am grateful to the Sacred for allowing him to grace our congregation with his teachings.
I invite you to consider whether you are living your life in a manner that is consistent with what you say.
Do you believe that you are loved unconditionally?
Do you love unconditionally?
Think about it.
Because what you do matters!