UCC General Minister and President the Rev. Geoffrey Black
Photos by Eric Anderson
by Eric Anderson
HARTFORD (06/19/2012) -- Faith Congregational Church UCC welcomed the Rev. Geoffrey Black, the United Church of Christ's General Minister and President, to the pulpit for the annual Men's Day service last weekend. The Father's Day observance seeks to encourage all men to take up their ministry of caring, service, and brotherhood, and Faith Church has an established tradition of inviting a speaker of stature to deliver the message.
Rev. Black's presence had taken two years of planning and scheduling, said pastor the Rev. Stephen Camp, and he was delighted to welcome him. "It's a wonderful thing to see a congregation greet each other so warmly, and take their time to do it," Black told the worshipers, who spent nearly eight minutes moving about to offer a handshake or a hug. "I was sitting here thinking, man, how they love one another."
Speaking from the story of the prophet Samuel's anointing of King David in 1 Samuel 15, when God prompts Samuel to go through each of Jesse's sons until he finds the youngest, least regarded, and least likely, Black asserted: "Our God is full of surprises, thus the will of God is not always what we would assume it to be. So if we want to do God's will, it is important for us to stop, and to look, to discern and to look beneath the surface to the heart. Look beneath the surface to the heart: that's the message. That's it. You got it."
The theme of men's significant responsibilities in family, civil, and religious life sounded throughout the service. Hartford educator Al Collins, who had that week comforted a grieving teen on the shooting death of her cousin, urged men to take up their task as fathers and citizens.
"I don't know about you but I get tired of driving through the streets of Hartford and finding little candle monuments sitting on the sidewalks," he told the congregation as they murmured agreement. "These are all our children. We need your help as educators. We need your help because we need to stop parents from burying their children... Fathers, we need to be fathers, be grandfathers, be mentors to our youth."
|Standing in prayer.|
In his prayer for the day, the Rev. Arthur Gaither asked God's help for the men who stood with hands clasped at the front of the church. "It seems overwhelming at times," he prayed, "because there seem to be so many obstacles against us trying to be Christian men and Christian fathers... We desire to be better fathers. We desire to be better husbands. We desire to make a greater and more positive impact here in Faith Church, in our city, and wherever we go, and we can only do that if you would continue to lead us and guide us, give us the right words to say, and at the right time."
Like the prophet Samuel, Black had his own experiences of making assumptions about people and learning to look deeper. The congregation laughed appreciatively as he told of his first visit to Ghana in 1973, when a van driver demanded a higher price as his passengers disembarked than he'd promised when the journey began. A crowd gathered to enjoy the bargaining -- it was something of a spectator sport in that area, Black said -- between the frustrated Americans and the driver. "We missed the point. The point was that the price was still negotiable: but we didn't know that."
After the van drove off, Black realized he'd left his camera bag, including lenses and all his film, aboard the vehicle. He and his companions began to chase it down the street, sure that they'd seen the last of it. But then a boy came running toward them from the van, carrying the bag, and so grateful that they were close at hand.
"Again, we missed the point," he mused. "For the Africans, it wasn't about cameras, it wasn't about things, it wasn't about stuff. But we looked at them and we didn't see their hearts... They were people of deep tradition, of honor."
In a world where people are called to make snap judgements again and again, the Biblical text challenges Christians to look deeper.
"A look at the heart is appropriate anytime," Black asserted; "a look at the heart is appropriate all the time."
Rev. Camp presented Rev. Black with two prints celebrating Faith Church's part in the successful effort to free the Amistad captives in 1839, when their trial was held in Hartford. Funds raised for their aid not needed in the defense became the foundation for a larger missionary effort which today help the UCC plant new churches.
The Rev. Eric S. Anderson is Minister of Communications and Technology for the Connecticut Conference UCC.