Rev. Dr. Anne Hebert, Presbytery Moderator
Remembering a Great Leader
Back in 2013, the world mourned the death of Nelson Mandela, a shining leader. Although there was grief, there was also dancing and joy. He had lived a life worthy of his calling. He had tenacity, perseverance and resilience – gifts of people who are capable of true organization, change and movement. He loved his people and led them from darkness into light.
I hate to admit this, but at the first General Assembly I attended when I was in seminary, I picked up a pamphlet on apartheid – something about which I had never heard – or had not paid attention to in a young adult’s life. I was stunned. I remember questioning how this kind of oppression could be possible in the 1980’s.
Now that I am quite a few years older, I see that oppression is still happening around our globe. Children are still starving and dying. The Herod’s of the world are still in power. People of color are still struggling to be heard and acknowledged. Thanks be to God that God raises up leaders to bring our attention to the things to which Christ attends.
When I lived in Detroit for a short time in the early 1990’s, I never attended a Tigers game but I did go to Tiger Stadium on the day that Nelson Mandela spoke. Only four months after his release from prison, he made a tour of seven U.S. cities: New York, Boston, Washington, Atlanta, Detroit, Los Angeles and Oakland. When he landed in Detroit, he was met by many dignitaries and the first one he ran to greet was Rosa Parks. When he spoke at Tiger Stadium, the place was packed and the energy was powerful. His gentle but commanding voice and his tall presence made a lasting impact.
While still in seminary and before moving to Detroit, I was asked as a seminary student, to join the Committee on Theological Education. I was to serve as a representative of seminary students and served alongside the presidents of our seminaries and those with which we had close association. Dr. James H. Costen, a the former president of The Interdenominational Theological Center of Atlanta, was one of the presidents I had the pleasure to meet. Interestingly, a couple of years later, at the time I saw Mr. Mandela in Detroit, Dr. Costen was preparing a prayer in Mandela’s honor to be presented in Atlanta. Here is Dr. Costen’s fine prayer:
Prayer on the Occasion of the Atlanta Visit of Nelson Mandela
Almighty God, in the midst of this and every chaos you always manage to raise up people and circumstances to bridge the gap and bring hope out of despair. It has been said, “You may not come when we want you, but you are always on time.”
We remember how when Israel was captive in Egypt, you raised up MOSES to start their journey toward freedom in Canaan.
We recall with joy how you caused an emaciated MOHANDAS to gain the strength of body and mind to free the people of India.
MALCOLM also comes to mind. From a background of poverty you enabled him to possess the disciplines of mind and character to inspire millions to higher heights of dignity and self-worth.
Then, Lord, there was MARTIN. Generations presently living, and those yet to be born, cannot thank him enough for the dedication, determination, wisdom and vision of his leadership. He rescued a nation whose sense of morality was skewed by racism and exclusion.
And now, Lord, you send MANDELA, how timely, how needed. What can we say except, “thank you.” For almost three decades his imprisonment in South Africa, while threatening to his body, did nothing but increase his resolve that freedom must come to an apartheid-ridden people. And now he is free. With the single-mindedness of the prophets of old, he is saying to kings, presidents and popes, “Let freedom roll down like mighty waters.” Apartheid in South Africa must be enabled to become a never again used relic of history.
His desire, Lord, is the same as your desire. You did not use your creative mind to bring into being first- and second-class citizens. For this, God of all life, we are grateful, and we will use that portion of life still available to us to be faithful to you and to the cause of freedom.
Hear our prayer, O Lord, and grant us the courage to do that for which we pray. Keep Nelson Mandela safe and productive, and we shall give you the honor and the praise today and forevermore. Amen!
It seems to me that God is always working to enlighten and challenge. Perhaps it is only in reflection that we can see the Great Hand guiding us. Indeed, Mr. Mandela did have a productive life for which we can be grateful. Now, it’s our turn. How will the leadership you and I offer bridge the gap and bring hope out of despair. Coming out of a pandemic, even if it is slowly, offers a great opportunity for us. What will our role as the Presbytery of Mackinac be?
Yours in Christ,