One of the great disappointments in the passage of time is its effect on the homes we grow up in. For what feels like a life time, these beloved incubators ground, define and reassure us at every turn.
We could always come back to them and the arms of aging parents. Both reassured and recharged our spirits through the unsettling and triumphant early moments of career and budding families.
Nothing beats coming home to mom and dad. Nothing that is until mom and dad are no longer there. Until the house passes out our hands into the hands of strangers.
My home place in Suffolk was always the source of great lessons and love before and after my parents brought me to “the hallowed grounds and dear old walls” of Virginia Union University.
Once there we absent-mindedly sang “May they forever be.” Never knew we would need them to do just that. Now, instead of walking through my old living room, I wistfully stroll the campus of the only home I have left. There linger fresh memories of soul shadows, father figures who required more of us than we thought there.
Dr. Miles Jones taught me the meaning of “The Sacrifice of Ministry” as I sat with him to protest those who would restrict the freedom of a young single man in seminary. He encouraged me to enjoy those years. “But Son,” he said, “there’s a price we pay to preach this Gospel.” “While representing the Savior you just can’t always do what you want to do.”
In the infancy of my call I was asked to preach on campus. Thought it more important than showing up for a university choir concert. A few weeks later the choir was to sing at my home church. Dr. Odell Hobbs pulled me aside to say “you won’t be going with us. You had a prior commitment and you should have honored it.” It was a lesson about keeping my word I did not like, a lesson I never forgot and a lesson for which I am eternally grateful.
In seminary, under the watchful eye of Dean Paul Nichols, “The Plunge” put us on the streets of Washington, D.C. to learn the challenge of urban ministry. Suddenly it placed us squarely in the presence of the late Spottswood Robinson, one of the legendary legal minds behind “Brown v Board of Education.” Then Chief Justice of the nation’s 2nd highest court, Robinson redefined my perception of racism when in a courtroom session just for our seminary class he said “race in America is a family affair.” I’ve never thought the same way about the subject since.
Six years after graduating from high school, there I was. The 1st African-American anchor at WTVR, the South’s first TV station. Had no idea the academic discipline learned at STVU would make of me an even more effective Investigative Reporter.
From there, and a first pastorate in Richmond, it was on to St. Louis, Raleigh, Detroit and 20 years in Baltimore with the CBS TV stations group. Along the way there were Emmy and other awards, as well as a freelance stint with CNN.
The Emmy won in Detroit was for a 3-part re-creation of “The Plunge” called “Living on Mean Street.” We demonstrated what it was like to panhandle among those who don’t want to be panhandled. Took hundreds of thousands of viewers in the country’s 7th largest market into the abandoned Tuller Hotel where Caseelo Jones, a homeless alcoholic, showed us how the homeless had to break in and seek shelter from the cold.
Then there was the danger of taking a camera into a flop house in notorious Cass Corridor. The night an angry man pulled a gun (just a few feet from me and a photographer) to wave it under the nose of another who dared challenge him for cutting the line.
Through all these life adventures I’ve always been able to come back, return to the only home I have left. “Dear Union we still love (and very much need) thee.”
Dennis Edwards is the Interim Pastor of Richmond’s Historic Fourth Baptist Church. He’s a graduate of Virginia Union University and its Samuel Dewitt Proctor School of Theology. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org