It is a powerful thing to be a stranger and to be welcomed into a new place – a place that is not your own. It happened from the moment we drove up to First Congregational Church of Atlanta in our two huge white vans. Members stopped, seeing our parking struggles… and without question helped us find prime parking to fit them, right up front. It continued as we came in the door and settled down in the pews, as many have already mentioned this morning.
I was particularly impressed when, during the sermon, Pastor Andrews made eye contact with our group and included our teens in his story about hearing his call to ministry at age 15, watching Dr. King on television. The scripture that we read this morning is the same that Pastor Andrews preached on, and the message followed us through the rest of our weekend – “Call and Response.” (A call to meet with Andrew Young, the impromptu sing-a long in the pizza place, the response of those who labored with Dr. King and keep his legacy alive, and our response when confronted with the reality of racism hanging over our heads, less than 30 minutes from Dr. King’s tomb).
In the scripture text, God’s call to Samuel is persistent; and wouldn’t it have been so much easier if it was just Eli needing some water or an extra blanket, but it wasn’t – it was God calling Samuel to a greater purpose. And even though the call was there the whole time, it wasn’t until Samuel recognized it and responded to it, that the spirit could step into the room. The world is calling us to lives of prophecy, just like Samuel, the needs of the world calling us keep us awake, too – and we can keep running to the ones in power and ask what to do, or we can respond on our own accord, let the spirit into the room, and shape our own doing.
There is something else about this particular scripture that I like, something that I think often gets overlooked – the call from God comes to a young person, Samuel the youth becomes Samuel the prophet. The call is not just for the mature, degreed, and well-trained – it is for those still growing and learning and finding their place in the world. And in this story, their place is one of power and prophecy. Dr. Andrews said during his sermon – you never know when the call will come, but you must be ready to respond.
And Dr. Bernice said it last week – never let anyone believe that you don’t have any power, the only worthwhile change that has come in this country is because of young people. You have all the power. BUT – you have to respond to the call and use it.
Somewhere over the rainbow, somewhere over the bridge, somewhere in a big white van, the promised land is waiting.
As the scripture said, “The word of the Lord was rare in those days,” but it was here today, thank you for responding to the call to share with us this morning, the spirit stepped into the room because you responded.
The word was with us in Atlanta when all 24 of you brought compassion, thoughtfulness, fun, and trust to our trip together. You are remarkable and you give me hope that with your response to the spirit’s call to you, the word will no longer be rare, but that your prophesying brings an abundance of peace, justice, and compassion to a world that is calling for you. Amen.
Reflections from Rachael Stein
After staying up till 2 in the morning and sleeping in a freezing yurt (which is like a cross between a tent and a “heated” cabin), of course it was expected of us teenagers to get up for Church Sunday morning. Thankfully the service didn’t start until 11, because they don’t expect most people to get up before 10 on a weekend. Anyways, the church we visited is called the First Congregational Church of Atlanta, and indeed, it lives up to its name. In 1867, the church was donated to the the Congregationalist, and by 1892, the church had a mostly African-American population even though it was never segregated. The current sanctuary was built in 1908 and features beautiful stained glass and even chairs up ON THE STAGE! Considering the church is still a mainly black congregation, I, and many other of the youth group, got to experience what it was like to be a minority. For many of us, this was a first, but I couldn’t have felt more welcomed. Not only did greeters shake our hands, but they even allowed the whole congregation to shake hands and say good morning to each other for a couple minutes, just like we do here on occasion. Reverend Andrews came over and welcomed us personally and we were invited to stay after for a talk with Reverend Doctor Andrew Young, a name I have recently become very familiar with.
The sermon given by Reverend Andrews was particularly powerful for me as well as the whole congregation. The scripture that was given was of Eli and Samuel, the same one we heard today and the sermon focus was on race relations in politics and society today. What really struck me was Reverend Andrews’s understanding of how overwhelming and blatantly racist some aspects of politics and society were. This has been something I personally have been struggling with. I find it hard to know MY place in the discussion as I am still in the process of recognizing all of my privileges. However, Reverend Andrews gave me more confidence in myself. He expressed that God will not only call us only once to action, but She will call us until we are able to hear Her. Sometimes it only takes a few calls, sometimes it takes years to hear the call, but do not let that deter us from listening. In times when we are feeling overwhelmed and if we are moving backwards rather than forwards, all we need is to relax, go to sleep, and listen for our call to action.
After the service we got to speak with Reverend Doctor Andrew Young, and MAN was that guy old. I mean seriously, he has lived through some of the most incredible steps forward for civil rights. He was FRIENDS with Martin Luther King Jr, they marched together to Selma and went to numerous conferences together. And here he was talking to a bunch of teenagers, half of which didn’t even understand how cool he was. Here, again, I will reiterate how old he was and how a lot of the discussion went in some interesting and often off topic directions. But still, Reverend Young was the first African-American United Nations Ambassador. He later became a twice elected mayor of Atlanta itself. I might be a nerd, but I thought it was pretty cool just to see him speak. We talked for maybe an hour on things ranging from smartphones to nike shoes but he left me with a quote that I found extremely relevant. It’s a quote from Martin Luther King Jr and it says “Nothing in the world is more dangerous than sincere ignorance and conscientious stupidity.
This is all too relevant for the world we live in today, but I believe we are making steps in the right direction. For example, I am currently in a class called “thinking skills.” For me, this a Cambridge curriculum class, but for others, it is a normal class by the name of “Humanities.” Besides band, his is the first class I’ve taken at GHS that has put me with non-Cambridge students. It is also the only class I have where there is a large presence of African-American students. Our teacher works hard to put us in uncomfortable situations where we are allowed to voice our personal experience with race, gender, political, and income conflicts. This past week we watched “A March to Remember” where the difficulties of trying to communicate inequality is explicitly shown. When the residents of Selma were finally able to march to Montgomery (after they’re third time), I saw Martin Luther King Jr arm in arm with Andrew Young. It is impressive that Young has lived through so much change and continues to help us grow as a country. I’ll leave you all with this last statement from Reverend Andrews. Equality in America is improving, but racism today is more dangerous than ever because of how ignorant we are kept about it. We need to recognize the injustice in the world and continue to listen for our personal calls to action.