Blog Post by
Rev. Dr. Craig M. Howard
On Sunday afternoon, I enjoyed a heartfelt and joyful celebration of the ministry of Mark Thomas. Mark is retiring after 14 years as Head of Staff of Ladue Presbyterian Church. Ladue is the largest congregation in the presbytery and leads the presbytery in several areas, including mission giving, membership, and growth. During his remarks, Mark, in his usual style, refused to take credit for the success of the ministry. He said, “I stand on the shoulders of those who came before me. I can only hope I’ve done something that others who come after me can stand on the ministry I’ve been a steward of.”
As a nation, the Fourth of July is a reminder that our accomplishments and struggles are a result of those who went before us. The breaking away from Britain, the revolutionary war, the writing of the constitution and subsequent Bill of Rights paved a path for freedom. It is a freedom that didn’t come all at once for all people. It is a freedom that continues to build and develop on the work of those who came before us.
A few weeks ago I wrote an article and mentioned Juneteenth, which is the celebration of African-Americans being freed from slavery. I received an email from pastor Mark Wiley in Son Parish that touched me deeply. He wrote:
“First let me thank you for the blog you wrote this week. Since I was not aware of the chronological events that led to freedom for those held in slavery, the article by Gates was very informative. As an FYI, I was raised on a farm that had been worked by slaves and there was a family cemetery on this land. When I thought my parents were being overbearing, I would go there and sit among the grave stones knowing the irregular stones set with no carvings marked those who had worked in the house honorably. It reminded me I had no idea what overbearing was since the field hands had been buried in unmarked graves on a different hillside.”
Every time I read this, my eyes fill with tears. I appreciate that Mark Wiley is aware of the suffering and sacrifices of slaves. In a way, I have the cemetery in my heart. I often think of my ancestors and the sacrifices they endured so that I can have a chance at freedom and choice for my life’s work. To stand on their shoulders means a life dedicated to expanding freedom for others who are bound because of their race, ethnicity, class, gender, or sexuality.
My Presbyterian faith reminds me that all people are broken and sinful. As sinful people, we create and support broken and sinful institutions. We can never expect our broken systems to create God’s perfect kingdom on earth. But on this Fourth of July, perhaps we can take the opportunity to advance issues of justice in our nation. We can do it in the name of those who went before us, upon whose shoulders we now stand.
Rev. Craig M. Howard