He drove the rest of the way in complete silence. He was trying to gather his thoughts. He was not a big fan of the Concerned Clergy meetings he was forced to attend once a month. Truth be told, he wasn’t a big fan of most of the “Concerned Clergy” members either.
Some were there just to be seen. Some were there because they loved, more than anything, to hear themselves talk. He bristled at hearing another 20 minute greeting from Rev. W.H. Garrison. As one of the other preachers mentioned at the last meeting, Garrison “caught the Spirit at the sound of his own voice.” Rudy tried to imagine sitting through one of Garrisons sermons and thought it impossible. He was sure after every three words, Garrison shouted “Hallelujah, thank you Jesus.”
The Concerned Clergy was started in the early 1990s as a way for the church to address gang violence that had crept its way from Los Angeles and New York, into small towns, across the nation. Several young teenagers were caught up in the violence. Many were arrested, beaten, shot, and killed in the city. It wasn’t until a 14-year-old boy had been gunned-down in the street, just steps from the Ebenezer AME church that the church decided to jump in. The pastor of Ebenezer at the time, Rev. Clayton Harding, had buried 2 young people at his church in one summer, and decided he wasn’t going to do it any more.
He contacted every Christian church in the city, with no regard to race or denomination and asked the pastor to meet him at his church on a Thursday afternoon. Only about 12 pastors showed up to that first meeting, but Harding gave such an impassioned plea, that those same 12 came back the next Thursday and brought their preacher friends with them. By the third Thursday, those preachers were walking the neighborhoods in groups. From the pulpit, the involved pastors started preaching on family love and values, and the precious commodity of human life.
The efforts were not without cost. In the first few months, real gangsters managed to shoot all 4 tires of Ebenezer’s church van, and were so bold to leave nasty notes and death threats on the front door of the church and the parsonage next door. At the annual conference, Harding was moved to a tiny church in southeast Kansas, where his Bishop and Presiding Elder thought he would be safer.
The coalition he started, however, continued, though only as a shell of its former self. Though its beginnings were noble, the coalition had now become so political, that the group could no longer hold its regular meetings in churches. A fight nearly broke out when two Baptist preachers, jockeying for position in the National Baptist Convention, couldn’t peaceably agree whose church should host the next meeting. To avoid future conflict, The Concerned Clergy met in neutral locations: college campuses, library conference rooms, and community centers.
Twice a year, they met at a church. The very first meeting of the year was held at the newly installed chairperson’s home church. Every November they met at St. Ann’s Apostolic Church of God, because it was the church with the largest fellowship hall in town
- and because the pastor’s wife baked the best sweet potato pie in all the state. Every preacher in town showed up to the November meeting, if for no other reason, than to eat the meal Bishop Keith’s kitchen staff cooked up, and to sample some of Marva Keith’s sweet potato pie. Rumor had it, she put a good amount of bourbon in her pie, and that’s how she got the Bishop to marry her.