This past Sunday was Father’s Day. A few days prior, I called my father, now 82 years old, and ashamedly informed him that I had gotten his present in the mail a little too late. He would likely be receiving it the week after sometime. In a forgiving tone, Dad said that was alright. And he began to reminisce a bit.
“I remember a few months after you were born,” he began. “It was sometime around my very first Father’s Day . . . I put you and your mom on an airplane bound for Portland, Oregon. You both flew all the way there from Oklahoma, where we were living at the time. I drove an old truck to meet up with you guys a few days later.” Apparently, while waiting for my father to arrive, mom and I lived in a tiny apartment with very little in the way of worldly possessions. I’m not even sure there was furniture. But Dad, having just graduated seminary school, had applied for and received his first ministerial position at Lynchwood Church in East Portland.
The year was 1968, a year when civil unrest, the Vietnam War, and issues of social justice dominated the social and political consciousness of the country. Dad told me one of the very first things he did upon arriving as the new minister of his church was to organize groups of Black churchgoers from North Portland, inviting them to his nearly all-White church in East Portland. Apparently, this did not sit well with some of the congregation of the Lynchwood Church. Dad recalls vividly being questioned for his integrative efforts on several occasions. “We’re White here,” he remembers one woman venomously spitting out at him one day.
Over time, my father eventually began receiving invitations to preach at some of the all-Black churches in North Portland, the very community in which he would one day, after leaving the ministry, finish a hard-earned career in social work. In my father’s recollection, he was the only White person to preach in some of those churches during that tumultuous period.
“What I’m watching on the news now,” he told me, “reminds me very much of the struggles for social justice we saw back then.” Dad told me he was eventually fired from his first job. Folks didn’t want to work toward social justice. They didn’t want to protest the war. They wanted to go to church on Sunday. So Dad went on to search for other ministerial positions. After all, he had a family to support.
As I listened to my father on that sunny day last week, I could hear sadness in his tone as he lamented the fact that there was never any recognition or awards for the kind of work he was trying to do back then. But then, I thought to myself- feeling so proud of my father- that is likely not why he did it.