Bishop Kelly: Overcoming

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5/18/1993
This morning I had the pleasure — if not honor — of listening to United Methodist Church Bishop Leontine T.C. Kelly.  Some thoughts:
{From the program: Bishop Leontine T.C. Kelly, United Methodist Church (Retired). Born in Washington, DC, one of eight children reared in a parsonage, Bishop Kelly and her late husband Dr. James David Kelley were both Methodist ministers. Her four children and four grandchildren are a source of joy and continuing encouragement for her. As a single parent, black, female, and clergywoman, her faith has deepened and sustained her on her personal journey. Her career includes service as a public school teacher, school board member, church pastor and Resident Methodist Bishop to the San Francisco Area. She currently serves as a visiting Professor at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley. Much acclaimed as a speaker throughout country, her honors include YWCA “woman of the Year,” “Brotherhood Award” from the National Conference of Christians and Jews, and in 1988 was included in the Ladies Home Journal “One Hundred Most Important Women in America.” Bishop Kelly, recently returned from a conference in Japan, will speak to us “Making Space for the Spirit of God.”}
“I am not a joke,” said the bishop who was introduced following some jokes from the MC. “I am black, I am a woman and I am a bishop. I am very real. I am a mother and there are not too many bishops who can make that claim.”
What proceded in the next half hour or so was perhaps one of the most inspirational sermons I had heard in years — if ever.  I was moved to tears, as were so many of the 300+ audience who were assembled for this prayer breakfast in Cupertino.
Her blackness and feminity did not make her unique. Rather it was the command she had of (over her calling) her calling. 
A story she told:
One day, while serving in her first parish (somewhere in the South) she was standing at a bus stop. A man came up to her and asked if she was the pastor of the Methodist church on 22nd St. She said she was.
The man said, “I’ve heard a lot of good things about you. You’re doing a great job there. But… you have no business doing it.” And he proceded to quote the writings of Paul, re: women and priests.
Kelly replied, “I don’t have time for this. You see, Paul talks about slavery and as a black woman there is no way that I can even think about ‘Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling…’ Paul was writing to the people of the time. I know, that if Paul were here today, I would have no problem with him, nor he with me, because we believe in the same basic faith of the resurrected Jesus. And finally, my calling is not from Paul but from the Lord Jesus.”
Bishop Kelly went on to tell of the important factors that move her — the need for social change. The song, “We shall overcome” is not a song of the civil rights movement. It was a song which the slaves would sing in the cotton fields, knowing that the human spirit is a free one given by God and no shackle or chain made by man could ever confine that freedom.  They sang the song as hope for freedom. Today, when the wall in Germany fell, the people sang that song in German. It is being sung in South Africa during their struggle for freedom. It is being sung in Chinese in China by the democracy movement. 
Some personal thoughts:
As this year has been filled with personal struggle re: faith and our response to it, I was moved by Bishop Kelly’s comments. First, it was not a holy-roller BS — rather very practical religion.
Here in America we are being bombarded by these religious fanatics and their brand of Chistianity.  The message of Christ must penetrate beyond the sexual issues which the fundamental right is so hung up with. There is a message of human freedom which must be addressed in a civilized way without all this secondary stuff.
Bishop Kelly talked to my heart that morning as she recounted so many of the subjects which have been of concern to me. She actually said, “Why are we so concerned about the 2nd coming, when we’re not concerned with Christ’s first coming!” — Wow– I made that statement during the Lenten season this year — shook up some people, needless to say.
Finally, what was very clear, after hearing bishop Kelly is the gender issue.  How dare anyone argue against the priesthood of women? This woman spoke to my heart. She was an instrument of the Holy Spirit — even if only for a brief moment — she was and I believe is. Who can argue today against the ordination of women? This is the BS we have to get away from. Let’s get on with doing the real work of touching and helping people.
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Vazken Movsesian

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