For those who experienced worship last Sunday, you heard me conclude my sermon with the powerful story of Ken Parker, a participant in last year’s gathering of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Virginia.
He was a high-ranking official in the KKK, spewing hatred at people of color, Jews and gay people. At the end of the rally, worn out from heat exhaustion and dehydration, he was doubled over in pain when he met a woman named Deeyah Khan. Deeyah is a British documentary filmmaker of Punjabi descent there to chronicle the event. She saw Ken’s physical pain and approached him, asking if he was okay and if there was anything she could do to ease his discomfort.
That little act alone planted a little seed of doubt in Ken’s mind.
In a recent interview with NBC News, in a news segment that aired last week, Ken said, “She was completely respectful to me and my fiancée the whole time. And so that kind of got me thinking: She’s a really nice lady. Just because she’s got darker skin and believes in a different god than the god I believe in, why am I hating these people?”
Last year, on the Sunday of Charlottesville, I preached a sermon based on the encounter between Jesus and Nicodemus. We dared to pray for modern-day Nicodemuses, people among the white supremacists who might come to see the way of love instead of hate, just like Nicodemus did.
Six months after that weekend, Ken Parker, still nurturing the seeds of doubt planted by his interaction with Deeyah Khan, noticed some African-American neighbors having a cookout in his apartment complex in Jacksonville, Florida. He and his fiancée approached them, and they began having a conversation. They were cordial with each other. They asked questions. They listened. They really listened.
He didn’t know it at the time, but the black man was a pastor, Rev. William McKinnon III, of All Saints Holiness Church in Jacksonville. That night would be the first of many conversations they would share with each other.
“God was working on his heart when he came to the table that day. It was divine,” said Pastor McKinnon, in an interview with the local Jacksonville news station.
And then last Easter, just this past April, eight months after Charlottesville, Rev. McKinnon invited Ken and his fiancée to church. In an Easter morning service, in a historically black congregation, the two of them worshipped.
A change was happening in Ken’s life. A month later, Pastor McKinnon asked him to stand up before that congregation and give his testimony.
“I said I was a grand dragon of the KKK, and then the Klan wasn’t hateful enough for me, so I decided to become a Nazi.” He said for a lot of people in the church, their jaws about hit the floor and their eyes got real big. But after the service, not one of them had anything negative to say. He said, “They’re all coming up and hugging me and shaking my hand, you know, building me up instead of tearing me down.”
He had experienced the power of love through a community of people committed to the love of God. People who knew what it meant to be angry at injustice, but who also knew how to be angry without sinning.
Ken Parker looked at his skin and saw the visible signs of his hatred, the tattoos that revealed a Nazi symbol, and the words “white pride.” He has since had them removed through laser surgery. But the biggest change is on the inside.
Last month, nearly a year after Charlottesville, he traded in his old KKK robes for a white robe of baptism. Walking hand in hand into the water with Rev. William McKinnon, he experienced the waters of baptism and the grace of God’s forgiveness.
In the NBC news segment, Ken said, “I want to say I’m sorry. I do apologize. I know I’ve spread hate and discontent through this city immensely — probably made little kids scared to sleep in their own beds in their own neighborhoods.” And now he has a message for white supremacists. “You can definitely get out of this movement. I mean, I was into that so much — it was my life, for six years. I never thought I would get out. Get out. You’re throwing your life away.”
Ken Parker is one answer to our prayers, for modern-day Nicodemuses to be redeemed by the light of Jesus. And we are called to work for more transformations like these in a world addicted to hate and dehumanization. We might wonder: what if the documentary filmmaker Deeyah Khan had chosen to respond to the disgusting dehumanization of the KKK by dehumanizing Ken Parker? What if Rev. McKinnon and his congregation had chosen the easy way of hating Ken Parker?
Now, imagine what can happen when you and I choose to live in love, take the time and watch our words. How many more Ken Parkers might God bring into the light?
As Pastor William McKinnon said, “It is clear to me that love covers all.”
Grace and Peace,
The Rev. Magrey deVega
Senior Pastor, Hyde Park United Methodist
1. Begin Fall Session of classes at Wimauma Community Church of God.
2. Add a brand-new Crochet Class as taught by Sharon Terrell (pictured above)
3. Mix it all together, sprinkling prayer generously.
4. Yields: 8-10 women learning a new skill that will expand their world and will benefit their families.
“Guide older women into lives of reverence so they end up as neither gossips nor drunks, but models of goodness. By looking at them, the younger women will know how to love their husbands and children, be virtuous and pure, keep a good house, be good wives.”–Titus 2:3-5, MSG
Accomplished January – July 2018
9 Million Pounds Gleaned from the Fields
4 Million Pounds Shipped in the Potato & Produce Project
Total of 13 Million Pounds Collected and Distributed
38.8 Million Servings of Fresh Produce Provided
3,096 Events Held and 15,560 Volunteers Engaged
637 Unique Participating Farms and Other Providers
1,255 Unique Agencies Received and Distributed Food
News & Events
Harvest of Hope Draws Participants from Many States to Virginia On a weekend in July, volunteers ranging from age 7 to 77, from Missouri, Virginia, and North Carolina participated in the two-day mission trip in Lynchburg, Virginia. Potatoes went to the Salvation Army, Fairview Christian Church in Lynchburg, God’s Storehouse in Danville, Gleaning for the World in Appomattox, Southside Gleaning in Farmville, and the Blue Ridge Area Food Bank.
Two Harvest of Hope Events Still Available! Just two Harvest of Hope Intergenerational events still have spaces available – check them out and sign up soon:
September 28-30 in Pennsylvania
November 2-4 in Georgia
Mississippi Celebrates Watermelon Season This time of year, the watermelons are ripe in the fields and the volunteers spread out to load pickup trucks. Everyone loves getting fresh watermelons delivered to their communities and food pantries, and SoSA in Mississippi has not disappointed.
NUMB Rides Again to Fight Hunger in Nebraska with SoSA The Nebraska United Methodist Bike Ride for Hunger (NUMB), celebrating its 23rd year in 2018, is a four-day camping bike tour sponsored by the Great Plains United Methodist Conference Mercy & Justice Team. The group of 110 riders rode for 231 miles and raised more than $60,000 for four organizations, including SoSA.
Indiana Office Goes to the State Fair The new Indiana office has been busy setting up gleaning with farms and recruiting volunteers. Dawn Barnes and Ann Radtke also introduced themselves to the agricultural community by participating at the Indiana State Fair, setting up a display in the Perdue Agricultural Building.
SoSA and the Southeast Produce Council Send Food to Martin County, Kentucky The Southeast Produce Council’s RAMP program recently partnered with the Society of St. Andrew, which worked on the logistics of the donation process, to acquire a massive donation of produce exceeding 120,000 pounds to feed numerous impoverished families in rural Appalachia.
Georgia Provides the Sweet Corn SoSA volunteers in Georgia met at a farm near Albany to harvest thousands of ears of sweet corn to provide to the area food bank. As always, these volunteers enjoyed being up to their ears in ears.
Florida AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer Works to Expand Gleaning Last month, SoSA’s Florida AmeriCorps VISTA Volunteer, Elise Tillema, met with the Tampa Bay Network to End Hunger. She spoke about the benefits of gleaning, the history of SoSA, and how the Tampa network and SoSA can work together toward common goals. Several of the organization’s nonprofits have already begun follow-up. SoSA Florida will work with these new partnerships as gleaning continues to expand statewide.
First Annual Memorial Potato Drop Held in Florida Nearly four dozen volunteers representing nine groups gathered at Trinity Lutheran Church to bag 12,500 pounds of potatoes for 13 area food banks and agencies. The event, the First Annual Neena Eisenberg Potato Drop, was organized by Sam Eisenberg, whose wife of 66 years passed away this spring.
North Carolina Shares Tomatoes
Youth from Dilworth Church in Charlotte gleaned about 2,800 pounds of gorgeous tomatoes at Frank Patterson Farm / Twin Oak Farms in Rowan County. Gleanings went to East Lincoln Christian Ministry and to agencies in three counties.
Peaches Distributed to Agencies in Alabama A load of peaches was gleaned by this group and was sent for distribution in Tuscaloosa. Thanks to friends from Alberta BC and Patton Realty for gathering early on July 13 and working the peach orchard.
Thank you for the early wake-ups. Because of you, I will never sleep away my life.
Thank you for the bedtime troubles. Because of you, I will always know how it feels to be needed.
Thank you for your sweaty hand in mine. Because of you, I will always know what if feels like to hold on to life.
Thank you for taking your sweet time, Because of you, I will never rush through all the best parts.
Thank you for making me laugh until I cry. Because of you, I will always know how to feel young at heart.
Thank you for counting on me. Because of you, I will always know that giving up is not an option.
Because of you, I will always have someone who comes to my arms for comfort, someone who grants unlimited do-overs, someone who never runs out of kisses, someone who reminds me that the best days are not defined by grand occasions or money spent, but simply by the fact that I am in the company of someone who loves me.
Yes, the people I care about can be exhausting and even maddening at times, but I get to love them. I get to hold them. I get to comfort them. And in return, I get to be loved by them.
Excerpted from Only Love Today by Rachel Macy Stafford.
Sunday, Aug. 12, we recognized students returning to school in many of our worship services. Students were called forward and the following liturgy was read:
Leader: As we begin this new school year, we give thanks that God has given us the ability to learn many things in many ways. We learn in school, but we also learn in church, in our family, in our community and in the world. All: Learning is a gift from God. Leader: The Bible tells us that Jesus learned and studied, just as we do. All: And Jesus grew in wisdom. Leader: We ask God’s blessing on this new school year, that it may be a time when we appreciate and fully use God’s gift of learning. All: We ask God to bless our schools and teachers. Leader: We ask God to bless our classmates and friends. All: We ask God to bless our principals, counselors and librarians. Leader: We ask God to bless those who prepare our lunches, those who drive us to school and those who keep our schools clean and safe. All: We give thanks to God for books and computers, for bookbags and backpacks, for pens and pencils and all the things that help us learn. Leader: We ask God to bless the students, staff and volunteers of our schools, our Children’s and Youth Ministries, and at our partner school Dunbar Elementary. All: We pray that all children everywhere may be able to learn so they can become all that you intend. Leader: We give thanks to God for the gift of learning! The children and adults hold their backpacks high or in front of them. Leader: Loving God, sometimes a new school year seems exciting or scary or both. Sometimes school is great, and sometimes it is hard. But we know that whether we are excited or scared, you are with us. We know that whether school is great or hard, you are with us. We thank you for always being with us. Help us to remember to show our thanks for your gift of learning by doing our best every day. Bless us as we learn and bless these backpacks as they represent everything that you would have us be, as we learn how to make God’s love real in our world. Amen.