The house given to us for our nights and days in Sarasota was conveniently located and furnished. Our instructions were to leave it as we found it, and we found it spotless. So our work was cut out for us. We cleaned, but Rachel did the most because when I clean something a woman feels it is necessary to clean after me. Rachel has inherited some of her mother’s penchant for details.
We started traveling about4:00 p.m. going first to the home of Cousin John Dennis Lehman and his Mary in Brandon. We were with them for about a half hour and then we went to the home of Walter and Hattie Crawford. Walter and Rachel were childhood friends. Walter and Hattie live in a fine home that they share with a daughter and son, and small granddaughter over weekends.
Pastor’s libraries have always intrigued me. On the shelves in the bedroom where I slept I found bibles that were edited to aid African American pastors and men of color to study through a cultural lens
Rachel had asked Walter and Hattie to take us to their favorite restaurant. They took us to Fred’s Restaurant that served classic southern food said to be from farm to plate. Signs declared that can openers were for sissies. While Fred’s Restaurant boasted of the food and some of the ways of the old South, we sensed none of the bigotry and racism that plagues it still.
The next morning Walter and I had deep sharing on how the College Hill Mennonite Church began in the early 1950s. White Mennonite missionaries began gathering children for Bible story time. They loved us, Walter said, but they did not respect our culture. Then we went to the morning service at the church. First there was Sunday School and we were part of the adult class.
When church time came Pastor Roy William preached on how to prepare to be a preacher. He used his usual energetic preaching/teaching style. Obviously he was pointing his congregation toward a higher ground of service.
At the end of his sermon he called for the introduction of visitors and asked me to bring greetings. I told them about the conversation between Pastor Crawford and me that morning. I told them that he had assured me that there was no lack of love, but that the early missionaries had not respected their culture. I asked the congregations forgiveness for our lack of respect. Pastor Williams responded that they have no shame in being called Mennonite, and that they held in high regard the missionaries who began their church.
Then I told them how pleased I was that the moderator elect of the Southeast Mennonite Conference was a woman, but not just a woman, she was also an African American woman. I did not know that Pastor Williams and his daughter were too humble to inform the congregation of this honor. Taking courage from my words, her father identified Sheri Williams Samuel as the woman I spoke of. The congregation responded with applause. Sheri once worked for Mennonite Mission Network as director of Service Adventure. She has a law degree and has passed the bar examination. She serves as the leader of the church’s worship team. She is well qualified to lead the conference.
Instead of using the worship team to to rally the congregation at the beginning of the service the team concluded the service. Sheri Williams Samuel is in the center, her husband appears to our left, their son is being held by his preacher grandfather in the background.
After the service I was amazed at how many of the people said they remembered me. One dear sister assured me that no matter how things began every thing had turned out all right. One brother crippled by pain in his knees said that he remembered being one of the children that met for service in the rented duplex on Buffalo Avenue. I remembered his name and others of his family. After farewells, Rachel and I set out for home in Indiana. We drove that afternoon and evening to Dalton, Georgia.