One of my favorite memories as a bishop was a retreat with the extended cabinet in Mississippi. I invited two special friends and natives of Mississippi who have courageously championed justice and inclusion for at least six decades.
We spent two days engaged in conversation with Will Campbell (here) and Tex Sample (here)! They shared their experiences growing up in Mississippi and their own struggle to counter prejudice, racism, and exclusion. What a memorable experience!
With disarming wit, intriguing stories, and prophetic insight, Tex and Will invited us to confront our own racism and exclusion and to expand our circle of justice and hospitality.
I first met Tex in the 1980s when we served on the General Board of Church and Society. We have been friends for more than thirty years; and I treasure his continuing support, guidance, and inspiration.
Tex is equally at home swapping stories with “hard living” folks in a local hangout, delivering lectures at top universities, and organizing local communities to challenge city hall. He has spent his life on the frontlines and in the trenches in the struggle against injustice and exclusion in both church and society.
Will Campbell and I met in prison! I had read his Brother to a Dragon Fly. Now, here he was sitting across from a condemned man awaiting execution! He lived what he preached. His circle of compassion and concern was wide enough to include Klansmen and leaders of the civil rights movement, a convicted murderer and a United Methodist pastor.
During my years as bishop in Nashville and Mississippi, Will would show up unexpectedly at an event or call on the phone. Every encounter left me laughing and inspired. I always felt that I had been visited by one of God’s choice prophets and angels! Though he died June 3, 2013, he continues to inspire and challenge me to broaden my circle of hospitality and deepen my commitment to justice.
I give thanks for holy friendships that challenge my prejudices, widen my circle of compassion, and call forth courage to seek justice for ALL people. Special thanks today for Tex Sample and the late Will Campbell!
(I am indebted to John Moore for this photo taken at the retreat.)