I’m here for a week promoting Communities of Shalom at the General Conference of the United Methodist Church. It’s Sunday, and I wanted to attend the Potter’s House to hear Bishop Jakes preach, but heard that Dr. Jeremiah Wright III was in town to preach at Friendship-West Baptist Church, so my colleagues and I decided to attend the 8am service rather than the 11am which no doubt would be more crowed.
The occasion was the 25th Pastoral Anniversary Celebration for Dr. Frederick D. Haynes, III, Senior Pastor. I guess the reason Wright agreed to preach at Friendship-West Baptist was because Haynes is one of his spiritual children. This was billed by the media as Wright’s first public service since his retreat from political scene after he made international news during Holy Week for his controversial remarks as Barak Obama’s pastor.
Wright preached this morning to over 6k on Jesus healing the “messed up man” at the pool of Bethesda (and how Jesus can heal and empower others who need to stand up). His exegesis was biblical, his hermeneutics superb, and his practical applications inspiring. I plan to buy the tape. The congregation was on their feet as he worked his homiletical magic in word, song and dance from the pulpit. The point of his message was for each one of us who remain by the pool of “woe is me, it’s someone else’s fault” to get off their butts, stand up, claim Christ’s healing, and be all we’re meant to be. An Afro-centric empowerment message, to be sure, but I took as also applying to me. Wright was both personal and performance oriented, a mesmerizing biblical preacher in touch with the injustices in society. He reminds me a lot of Cecil Williams, pastor of Glide Church, but more Christo-centric than Cecil used to be in his most radical days. I must say that I really like Wright, and have been an Obama supporter since I first heard him 4 years ago at the Democratic Convention (and said to myself way back then, “I think I’ve just seen and heard the next President of the United States.” )
On a personal and humorous note: I was one of four identifiable white folks in the house this AM. I got busted and detained outside the door for trying to bring in my camera, so my two colleagues found seats in the packed house without me. After ditching the camera, I returned to the security usher who found me a reserved seat on the end of the third row on the left. In his opening remarks, Jeremiah addressed me directly from the pulpit, thinking that I was Rev. Mark Miller, a UCC bureaucrat and supporter of Wright; but when I did not stand up when asked, he quickly looked for where Mark might be sitting (he was way in the back. I guess all white people look alike from the pulpit).
The funniest moment in the service was when he chided the senior pastor, Dr. Frederick Haynes III, for being a member of Alpha… (first Black sorority) while he (Wright) was a member of Gama. They carried on society antics on the platform to the delight of those who understood the secret handshakes etc.
Most impressive moment: How skillfully a lay leader announced that today was the 25th anniversary of their pastor, and that a pastoral offering for Dr. Haynes would be collected. He suggested that each one present give $1/year for each year of pastoral service. I quickly did the math: If all 6K people each gave $25 in the anniversary offering, the pastor would receive a total of $150,000 pastoral offering. Maybe I should suggest such a gift idea in celebration of my 15th year at Drew University.
After the morning service, Wright headed to Detroit to address a NAACP crowd of 10,000, which has been replayed on Fox News and CNN all evening long. The question remains: Will Obama’s association with Wright help him more than hurt him?