Howard Thurmond – theologian and civil rights leader- served as Dean of Marsh Chapel at Boston University 1953-1965 and penned these prophetic words that speak to us at this juncture of faith and the calendar:
“When the song of the angels is stilled, when the star in the sky is gone, when the kings and princes are home, when the shepherds are back with their flocks, the work of Christmas begins: to find the lost, to heal the broken, to feed the hungry, to release the prisoner, to rebuild the nations, to bring peace among the people, tomake music in the heart.”
As we await the arrival of the magi– the three kings- on Epiphany and we prepare for our Annual Meeting, we are reminded of what the birth of Christ and the ministry of South Church is all about ~ sharing and spreading the gospel light. We look back upon our celebration of the Word becoming Flesh in Bethlehem . We look forward of how this transforming event will re-shape our lives in the new year. In a world greatly in need of care and compassion, civil discourse and genuine hospitality; we commit ourselves to go forth from the manger. The work of Christmas now begins.
Reflections from BackBay Mission Biloxi, MS 2017
Wednesday, February 22
At the Jetport ready to head south.
Will spend 48 hours with daughters,
Laura and Anna in DC before continuing on to Biloxi.
The full group arrives on Saturday.
Good things await us, this I believe.
Light we bring and light we shall receive.
Friday, February 24
Charles sits on the Board of Directors of Back Bay Mission,
I had dinner with the group on Friday upon my arrival.
The Grahams found the plastic baby in the Mardi Gras
King Cake, thus they are to host next year's party.
They lost their apartment in the next town over –
Ocean Springs- in 2005 Katrina, in fact the entire building.
Now they give back to the cause and needs of others.
Saturday, February 25
Group at the Biloxi/Gulfport airport
upon arrival. On time, but LONG day of travel.
Two days/nights with my daughters Anna and Laura in DC
was a valuable time together, then on to Biloxi.
I arrived just in time for dinner with the Board of Directors,
learning more of this fine program - meeting two folks who
had my Father as a professor in theological school.
Then off to a Mardi Gras parade in Ocean Springs.
Saturday evening the full group arrived and it was bedtime
once we finalized the rental cars.
Sunday morning found us in church at First Missionary Baptist
Church of Gulfport; warmly welcome by Pastor Sonny and the
congregation. Big grocery trip on the way back, and prepared to
meet the other groups we would be with for the week from CT and IL. Maryfrances took the lead on a delicious chicken dinner for 23- so good!
Monday found our group at Roberts Street home, nearly done after 3-5 years of work and/or complications.
I was at this house last year when a leak in the new plumbing ran for a week before discovered!
We were especially blessed to meet the family, five of the seven members.
We cleaned mildew off the exterior, installed all the racks in the
bathrooms, fixed some door problems and began thorough cleaning in preparation for occupancy.
Refrigerator and stove delivered at noon time. Tomorrow two more appliances.
Denise and Maryfrances worked in the food pantry for the morning then came out to our site.
Supper was lasagna, garlic bread and salad; made by the Newtown, CT group. Again, good eating. Already witnessing the mixing of the groups - all part of the experience.
Tuesday found us again at Roberts Street, cleaning house
- installing stove, patching sheetrock around a leak to further
prep it for a move in. Thinking we might be done today,
Benji/Mike said tomorrow we'll likely do scaffolding and
remove dirt/grime/mold from under the eves. This was our
'half day' of work and in light of Mardi Gras, we went to the
afternoon parade in Biloxi.
A major affair lead by the King/Queen whom we saw at the pageantry/coronation
at the Coliseum the night before. Sat next to the Father of one of the dancers
and as we exited spoke extensively with another local couple. Folks so,
so friendly and out-going. This Mardi Gras is another whole culture than
anything we know/familiar with at home. Hundreds of beads....
Kiara came back with 120 strings of beads around her neck.....
thousands lining the parade routes. The Chicago group cooked
supper tonight-- ham, two veggies, salad and garlic bread-
chocolate cake for dessert. In the evening, five of us went to
local souvenir shop (Sharkheads) then to Katrina Memorial and
quick grocery store trip: milk, coffee, juice, Oreos and ice cream.
Wednesday-March 1 Lent begins. Five of us went to Biloxi Lumber
to pick up some windows and doors they were donating. Regrettably,
the company is closing, a great loss to the local community and the
Mission. We also transferred some siding from a flat bed trailer to
a work site in need across town. We may/may not go there to work
if we finish up our work at Roberts Street. Some of our crew worked
at the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen, others at the Micah Day Center.
Then all of us were hosted for dinner at the Baptist Church where we
worshiped on Sunday, then stayed for Ash Wednesday Bible Study. Home by 8:00pm, now quiet.
Each of us needing some down time at different moments, living in a community is a gift and a challenge.
Common space, common meals,arranging 8 people in to two cars (who has the keys?) and watch for God in our midst.
The learning today was to have a plan (or perhaps wiser, to have a direction)..... but await the next step.
This morning, it shifted several times --- and all for the good!
Thursday found many of us at Roberts Avenue once again... AND the carpets would be installed today--- and actually into tomorrow as well. Local workers, most pleasant and quite professional/expertise. I said to one that he could be/should be a surgeon with such cutting and fitting skills. He just laughed and smiled- and added he'd likely be making a lot more money if true. I complemented him once again. We continued with closest and vacuuming and shampooing rugs, touch up painting on the exterior and going through the list. For dinner, our outing was to The Shed; local spot with great food and reputation. However before hand, we went down to the beach for the sunset. This location by the lighthouse is the site of the 1960's "Wade Ins" to call for equal access to the beach for all races and an end to the segregation of public facilities. Several were injured and many more had their lives threatened in those first few years of social action. This included one volunteer from Back Bay Mission. Seeing and being at the precise location of such history is awe-inspiring.
Friday took us to Roberts Ave for final work. More rugs to be laid and cleaned. Final dishwasher arrived and needs a plumber plus the leak under the sink remains. Some of the Chicago group joined us for the morning. Two of our folks were at the food pantry on site here at the Mission and two others at Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen where breakfast and lunch is fed to approx 60 individuals. Abe as the cook, Jimmy assisting, Miss Mary out front plus our folks. Had the opportunity to talk with Brian, the director. An amazing fellow, so committed to the program and people; anxious to connect more and more with the Mission. (The program began as part of BBM then moved along to its own Director and site a couple miles away.) Brian inspired me with his spirit once again.
As a group, we decided to end our week with a nice dinner at area location "Shaggy's" instead of cooking one more meal as the other groups were also going out. It was a nice way to conclude our week together.... and knowing we get up at 3:30AM for the flight back to Maine!! I/We can be so proud of this group who carried the gospel light and love, open to new experiences. Four of our group had been here previously and four were new to the experience and site. A rich blend of ages and spirits, all committed to a cause of kindness and justice for fellow neighbors. We believe there is no separation in Maine / Mississippi people. We all bleed the same red blood. We all have hopes for our children and grandchildren. We all give thanks for the roof over our heads.... and are reminded of the names/faces that have no roof- who have no home. In our own places of poverty, we were enriched on the border crossing experience.
Hearts were touched, horizons were broadened and light was spread. In some small way, I/we believe the gospel is just a bit stronger for we have witnessed God in our midst.