Preparing for the 1st Pilgrimage

If memory serves me correctly Dad went on three (possibly four) pilgrimages to the Holy Land. The first was in February of 1977. He had crammed a lot into his nearly 17 years of pastoring (3.5yrs at Second Baptist Church in Mumford, NY and closing in on 13yrs at Heritage United Church of Christ [HUCC] in Baltimore, MD).

Aside from tasks associated with any pastorate, Dad was working on buying another building to house more ministries that would expand the spiritual footprint of HUCC in Baltimore; he had run an extremely successful campaign (“Crusade” he would call them) but lost the election in 1974. As a child, I did not understand how success and loss could coexist. Thank God for the wisdom that comes with age! His was running on empty. His faith needed refueling. And what better place than the Holy Land?

This journal entry was on the eve of his departure for the first pilgrimage. The reader can’t help but feel his excitement.  At the same time, though never stated, one gets the feeling that he is keenly aware this could be the last time anyone he loves will see him again or vice versa  … making “good-byes” all the more imperative and difficult.

All we knew in 1977 was that the Middle East conflict was constantly in the conflict. Moshe Dayan, Yitzhak Rabin and Anwar Sadat were names that appeared in the newspapers daily. It seemed that stories of bombings and assassinations littered the headlines.

As selfish as children can be, I remember not being nearly as worried about Dad’s safe return as I was bothered by the fact that this “pilgrimage” was going to cause him to miss my 13th birthday! I am sure mom was worried enough for the both of us but, true to her characteristic strength, she didn’t let on. She managed a sleepover with four preteen boys and it went off without a hitch … or much in the way of a thank you … so … Thanks, Mom! Oh yeah, the other highlight was a call from Dad – who just happened to be about 7,000 miles away – to wish me Happy Birthday on February 21, 1977. Thanks, Dad!

Peace,

WFP

 

Sunday, February 13, 1977

I’m really excited about my pilgrimage to the Holy Land. I’m as anxious as a five or six year old on Christmas Eve. I really get spaced out when I contemplate the thought that in a couple of days I actually will walk where Jesus walked! That is fantastic. Though I’ve been wanting to get to Africa, the Holy Land has always been my first preference. Those roots far transcend any other roots I may ever discover. The tracing of one’s roots is great if in that discovering process, one becomes more secure in his “wholeness” and therefore is able to move outside of self into others. If, on the other hand, the process sends on further into self to live, then one need not trace their roots. My pilgrimage to the Holy Land will undoubtedly send me inside self, but only that I might regroup and come out that much more together to serve. This undoubtedly will be the climax experience of my life.

It’s amazing! Thirty years ago, 1947, Dad made his pilgrimage to the Holy Land and now I go. The thought gives me peculiar vibes – good vibes however!

As I lay around the day before I left, I became acutely aware of the enormous of love my members and others have for me –I could actually feel the pulling inside when it came time for me to say “good-bye”! I really love those folk – intensely! I guess one never really knows how much others have become a part of him until one withdraws from the scene!

This is also the longest time I’ve been away from Dee and Pooh. It was hard saying goodbye. Pooh is becoming such a fantastically sensitive young man. Dee seemed much more sensitive and caring the last couple of days also.

I touched base with Chan and “J”(ane) – Mom and Dad – Al. Couldn’t locate Tread – Marie was out when I called. I’ll call her from New York City. Porter rode out to the airport with me. We’ve really gotten close since his move to Baltimore. I’ve really developed a great appreciation for Porter. It’s good to see him as happy as he is. He’s been through a helluva lot. I admire his patience and ability to deal with shit from folk who would seek to destroy him. His sensitivity to others is most unusual and seldom seen!

This pilgrimage comes at a most crucial time. I was just beginning to realize how drained I was becoming. Last year was a good but terribly draining year – a real mile marker for me. Chan’s bout with cancer took me through more changes then I’ve ever been through in my life. The thought and dealing with Chan’s death – or the great possibility of it –was scary as hell. I always had a strong desire to want to take his place. I really love that dude, as crazy as he is. It’s strange how Chan’s fight with cancer took me to the lowest part of the valley I’ve ever been -when he passed the six month death date that put me up on top of the mountain.  Everytime I see him, I just quietly thank God for intervening!

I didn’t get the chance to spend time with John and Diane (Eckholdt) as much as I wanted to! Probably it’s because I feel too deeply for them and its difficult saying “goodbye”. I’m as close to them as I am to my family – I really love them. Their love and caring for me since I’ve been to Baltimore has meant much to me and my ministry. Diane’s sensitivity and love for people – her unorthodox life style and her love for me has added great depth to my ministry and, at many times, in my most cynical moments. It’s been her insight and caring that really raised me out of my pit of cynicism. John is to me as a brother. I’d trust either of them with my life. He’s a fantastic person who has grown in his sensitivities by leaps and bounds. It’s not often that one is blessed to encounter those who are consistent in their caring. I thank God for their love!

-WHP-

“I’m at a ‘Cross-Roads’, God!”

This letter to God is an example of Dad’s unceasing prayer. He would constantly speak with God, question Him and even get angry with Him but he always loved Him. While deeply personal, I share this letter not as a betrayal of his privacy but rather a blessing to those of us who may find ourselves stumbling in a similar “cross-roads” experience and to offer a Pastor’s point of view. We seldom wonder or care what they may be thinking or feeling. What do you do when all that you are faced with … when all that God is directing you to goes against all of your personal history, experience and knowledge?

Because I happen to know how this particular story ends I will tell you that the church did buy the property and it did start many ministries that enhanced many and even saved some lives. It was called The Park Community Center (commonly referred to as “Park”).  It was an outreach ministry of Heritage United Church of Christ in Baltimore, Maryland. After about a 15 year run, the building was sold to what became Parklane Baptist Church.

During the time it was part of Heritage, it was many things to many people. First and foremost, it put life in a building that would have otherwise been abandoned. It was primarily a recreation center located at 3606 Mohawk Avenue in northwest Baltimore City but it was also 1) a safe haven that kept teenagers off the streets and out of trouble 2) A Summer Camp 3) A Saturday Afternoon “theater” for Movies [shown by the Pastor – complete with candy and popcorn] 4) Campaign Headquarters for various campaigns 5) The Way Inn [Coffee House Ministry] and 6) A location for church picnics, parties and family fun nights

I have great memories of Park Community Center and the lives touched and changed therein. I thank Dad for hanging in there! I thank him for his faith amidst the naysayers and the gnashing of teeth … the fighting with himself and the wrestling with his God. Dad was a visionary but, as you will find in the letter, being a visionary ain’t always easy because you are seeing what others can’t or won’t see. Enjoy and be blessed.

 

 

The wisdom of my giving the totality of my life to pastoring has been called into question, God!

I seem to be at a cross-roads in my ministry. On the one hand God, I’m pastoring a congregation of good, affluent people – nice folk who are relatively warm, biblically illiterate, cautious in the faith and skeptical about even Your leadership, let alone mine. I can sympathize in part God, for they are also insecure in so many ways due to attempts to overcompensate for their insecurities. But God, I love them. Intimacy frightens them as it does most people.  On the other hand, I am also pastoring a community of alienated, oft times hostile teenagers, whom I also love dearly – this is my Park (Community Center) ministry.

Now, You’ve given me an opportunity to marry the “haves” with the “have-nots”. God, this seems worse than a shotgun wedding! Mission is secondary to the age old bastion of selfishness  and the “what about me/us?” mindset. “If we purchase ‘that property’ (instrument of mission) what will happen to our ‘home’ (Heritage) … we can’t pay for that!”

The recklessness and excitement and challenge to their faith gets no hearing at all. The prayerful deliberation with You seems to not be needed in financial matters – God, they attempt to weigh finances with human lives – and of course You know which wins –

God, open our eyes that we may see the need … to launch out in the depths where the hurt is the greatest – the risk, the costliest … that our dependence upon You might grow to the point where we recognize that it is a necessity – not an appendage.  Are you putting me to a test God? Is this another Baptism by fire?

My patience oft times runs short and I sometimes feel the church is a stumbling block for me. So much energy is wasted fighting dumb battles which have no bearing on ministry and mission at all! Is that the way I’m to spend the rest of my life, God? It hurts. I’m tired – I know You must be tired of us God.

God help me to be still

And listen –

To seek Your counsel –

The wisdom to know the difference

Between my wants and Your demands –

The difference between my people’s fears

And Your warnings.

 

Grant us all openness of mind

A quickening of the spirit-

A sensitivity of the heart

And a restlessness of the soul

That we might become better discerners of Thy Will.

Amen!

 

-Rev. Wendell H. Phillips-

The Pregnant Girl

After my father’s death in 1993 I found some of his old writings, thouhgts and insights in the unfinished journals he left behind. Before his death I used to dismiss his writing as “chicken scratch” … I couldn’t read it at all! But after he died, miraculously, I could understand his writings … because I needed to.

Written hurriedly with his left-hand … pages partially filled with small, tight, stingy letters that handwriting experts would likely tell you is exemplary of a selfish person … but I submit it was from a man with the largest heart I will ever know … whose thoughts just happened to form faster than his pen could move. He would always say, “Boy … wait ‘til I write my book!” but, alas, he never got the chance.

I found answers to questions long pondered and sauve for wounded souls in his prophetic words. I thought here would be a safe place to posit some of his thoughts and share his writings with the world as he shared himself. This unnamed poem – that I’ve decided to entitle, The Pregnant Girl – written some 30 years ago is one such example.

 

 

I met a pregnant girl today,

Who seemed so sad inside;

I asked myself, “Why should this be?

On the eve of the birth of her child?”

 

And then I thought as I watched her eyes,

Once filled with joy but now tears

Things have been rough with her delicate heart,

Especially the last few years!

 

She’s torn between a love once felt,

And what her mind screams in her ear;

“It’s over now! To hope is futile!”

My God! Why won’t she hear?!

 

Perhaps the birth of a new life begun,

Will give her the strength she needs

To face reality – and leave him alone,

And surround the babe with good seeds.

 

She’s changed from the girl I once knew,

Who lived, loved and really swung!

And now she’s sad, burdened and troubled,

As if an albatross around her neck has been hung!

 

The marriage ended before it began,

For no foundation was there from the start;

She thought she could change the one she loved,

But they’re only much further apart!

 

God is no fool! He demands the best,

From her, whom He’s given much,

She is destined for so much more in life,

Than to be a useless crutch!

 

I pray she’ll awaken, get hold of herself,

And prepare herself for her child;

Do now what’s best for the unborn babe,

Stop saying, “I can’t” for awhile.

 

The pregnant girl is sad, I know,

Her heart is broken and bruised;

Her cheeks are worn with hurting tears,

And her whole young life is confused!

 

And so I watch her in her struggle,

To break the chains that bind;

Her to her own self-made prison,

Where she now has lived for some time!

 

So now I say, Oh babe, yet unborn,

My heart goes out to you,

I pray the pregnant girl I saw today,

Will become the girl I once knew!

 

She’s leaving now – walks out the door,

An escape she hopes to find;

A walk – a talk – a word – a thought …

“Lord, please keep me off my mind!”

 

-Rev. Wendell H. Phillips-