hugs and the agony shared by Laurie are shared again today if we feel even a small measure of compassion for these people.
Workcamping is not just a ministry of physical work. It is not just a ministry of being with. It is also a compassionate sharing in the spiritual journey of a people as we appropriately can, bringing our skills such as they are, bringing our hearts which are God given and which allow us to serve as disciples, doing the work that needs to be done. We should always be happy to exercise such discipleship and to encourage our youth to exercise such discipleship as a mark of becoming mature.
Susan Hills and I were not the first Friends to respond to burned African American churches. Lawrence Apsey's memoirs, privately published in 1991, recount the work of the joint committee of Philadelphia and New York Yearly Meetings that took on the leadership in rebuilding 33 out of 44 destroyed churches in the summer of 1964 in Mississippi, led and facilitated by one of the former Gottleib lecturers, Ross Flannigan. This is the perfect time and place to say that when I say "I" in this lecture, I am often referring to the hundreds of interfaith volunteers who have come to help rebuild burned churches from around this country and around the world.
The question we face as Friends is whether we want to continue to follow in the steps of the lead carpenter of 2,000 years ago. And, of course, whether we want to continue Friends' involvement with the African American quest for freedom and equality that stretches back to the time of John Woolman and beyond.
I would like us to wrestle as Friends with the following queries:
Do we really believe that Jesus has more clearly delineated the nature of God in one person than anyone else? Are we as willing as early Friends to put on the mantle of that discipleship?
Are we willing to set up and financially support workcamp programs that teach our youth about such discipleship in concrete ways?
Can we see the hand of God clearly calling Friend Woolman and others to respond to Native Americans and African Americans down through our early history not just because of our testimony on equality but also because they felt the clarity of that call to discipleship?
Do you see continuity in that calling not just in the rebuilding of the 33 Mississippi churches in 1964 but the rebuilding of 146 (phase 1) churches in the last two years?
Do you feel such a call to discipleship that you are willing to move this meeting and other Friends into the awareness that we are now facing another 160 burned churches (phase 2) that have not yet started to rebuild?
Are you willing to serve as staff, as volunteers, or as contributors to see these final churches rebuilt?
The crisis we face is that we are looking at a larger universe of burned churches than ever before. This is compounded with the reality that (1) the media and public attention is no longer on burned churches and (2) churches continue to burn. As proof of that, when I first wrote this Lecture, less than a month ago, there were 150 phase 2 churches that had burned. Today, there are 160.
But the crisis is deeper. Jeremy Mott wrote me a letter a short time ago in which he said, "Friends in 1964 were more concerned then than now." Is this true? Or do we, as Friends, continue to share early Friends' concern for our African American brothers and sisters such that we are willing to sacrifice to assist them? This identity crisis was best illustrated to me when I sent an appeal to every Friends Meeting and Friends Church in North America. Ten per cent replied. One of them was the Berkeley, California Friends. The Clerk wrote that Friends could not find a convenient place in their budget and were ready to lay my appeal aside when an elderly Friend raised the query that since they had a large building fund in their budget, could they not spare $500 as this was certainly "building?"
In my thank you letter, I praised them for searching for a way, even given their daunting budget process, to respond affirmatively to their African American brothers and sisters. Then I shared with them the following letter from a man I have never met. Realize, Friends, he is talking to me and thee:
Dear Mr. Confer,
After reading so much in the paper about hate, my throat knotted up in tears as I read the article in the Washington Post tonight about how you and your organization are reaching out to the people in Alabama to help them rebuild their church. All I can say is, thank you. Thank you very much.
You might would think that it was my church that you were rebuilding the way I am carrying on like this. Well, in a sense you are rebuilding my "church." You see, Mr. Confer, I am a Black man. And I remember reading how Harriet Tubman used to pray, and how it was the Quakers who helped her along the way. It always intrigued me how the "Quakers" kept popping up in history supporting the abolition of slavery. So yes, you are rebuilding my "church." And, you are helping to rebuild your church too, because all of God's people--you, me and all of us, are his "church."
Yours in Christ,
William T Powell, Sr.
The clerk of Berkeley Meeting read William Powell's thanks at the next meeting for worship and they then took up a spontaneous free will offering and sent us another $2,000.
The economics of church rebuilding is deceptively simple! The NCCC estimates that well organized and led volunteers save a burned church between 40--60% of the total cost of rebuilding