This was the beginning for me. In June 1963 I returned from Quantico, VA and the Marine Corps Platoon Leaders Class. I needed to do something with the rest of that summer. Don Farrow, my parish priest, suggested that I go work for Fr. Paul Washington at the Church of the Advocate in North Philadelphia.
It was a large staff, black and white, rich and poor (and then me), young women and men. We were running a summer day camp for a couple of hundred children. Those of us from outside the neighborhood lived in the curatage (the men) or the rectory (the women).
There were three years of conversion and formation. Years shaped by three forces.
Patricia, my girl friend, was a faithful Roman Catholic caught up in the adventure of John XXIII and Vatican II.[i] She drew me to faith and practice. She had passion about the church. For her it was a progressive force. Through her I found myself a better Episcopalian and fell in love with that way of being a Christian.
The United States Marine Corps connected me with the values of honor, courage, and commitment. I didn’t realize it until recently but the Corps stance of endurance in the face of suffering touched a deep part of my own temperament.[ii]
The civil rights movement, specifically CORE (the Congress of Racial Equality)[iii], with its national leader, James Farmer, and the chair of the Philadelphia chapter, Jimmy Williams, called me to non-violent direct action and strangely enough to the same values I knew from the Marine Corps.
When your heart desires, When your soul’s on fire[iv]
Church, the Marine Corps, and the Movement—the three intersected, combined, and fed one another.
Coming back early from the Platoon Leaders Class at Quantico brought me to Paul Washington and the Church of the Advocate. When I got there Jessie Anderson, Jr. was the curate (he heard my first confession.) Before the summer was out John Black was there as curate. John was a former Marine Corps drill instructor. He had that spirit of aggressiveness and movement. He introduced me to the Daily Office and got me to go to my first civil-rights demonstration in Chester, PA.[v]
That led me to CORE, which moved me into leading two college civil rights groups, being trained in non-violence and civil disobedience, and spending considerable time on picket lines. When CORE moved into voter registration work I spend a lot of time on the streets of North Philadelphia registering people. Then there was demonstrating on the Atlantic City boardwalk outside the Democratic Convention in support of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party.
All three had stories, heroes, martyrs, and habits of mind and action. Each called for a piety, a participation in a historic narrative.It was an offering of self in devotion and warm duty to the group that was providing you with a life of identity and purpose. Each valued a sense of community, venerated sacrifice, and held together collective action and individual responsibility. And each held a special attraction for young people, those of us 18 – 20, idealistic, seeking a place to give our hearts.
I remember sitting with Pam and others on staff in 1964. The three CORE workers had disappeared and we all assumed they had been killed.[vi] Pam’s brother was also down there registering voters. She hadn’t heard from him for some days. She was worried. We prayed. We drank beer.
Toward the end of the summer program in 1965 the staff heard that an Episcopal seminarian had been killed in Alabama. We prayed. We drank beer.
Those were holy years for me. Years of conversion and formation.
They were also holy years for our nation[vii] and in many ways for our church.
Here’s an invitation for you and your parish to join the Parish of Saint Clement of Rome in a recollection of those years.
An invitation to remember, celebrate and act
During the next three years the Parish of Saint Clement of Rome, Seattle, will weave into its liturgical life times of recollection in regard to the events 50 years ago.
Those years are holy years. They were a time in which the eternal cause for human dignity was focused in the American struggle for voting rights, jobs, and equal treatment.
We invite you to join us.
· Come to St. Clement’s and join us in common prayer
· Add these times of recollection to your own parish calendar
· Invite parishioners to recall these days as they say the Daily Office
· Take some action to advance voting rights, jobs, and equal treatment for those facing oppression and injustice
Father Dennis Campbell
Rector, The Parish of Saint Clement of Rome
See the full invitation on the parish web site This includes a civil rights time line.
I hope you’ll join us at Saint Clement of Rome in recalling these three holy years. This can be part of your parish’s identity. Maybe it will help your parish develop a parish culture that grounds acts of service and advocacy in awe and adoration; that understands the foundation of faithful service and advocacy is Eucharist and Office, Reflection and Community.
The Feast of Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Amelia Bloomer, Sojourner Truth, and Harriet Ross Tubman
Related posting: Independence Day 2013: Piety and the Unfinished Work
[i] Vatican II 1962 - 65
[ii] The USMC seemed to have worked itself into my soul as a young man and now many years later as an old man. I took the oath on August 15, 1962 and received my Honorable Discharge on September 6, 1963. Only two weeks were active duty for training. A recruit died on a forced march of an asthma attack. Hundreds of us with hay fever were let go. They wisely didn’t want trouble with Congress over more recruit deaths and maybe people with hay fever weren’t ideal for fighting in Vietnam. While the Corps may have meaning for me I’ve never regretted missing Vietnam or the path that opened up once I left Quantico.
[iii] Founded in 1942 in Chicago, the Congress of Racial Equality (CORE) pioneered the use of nonviolent direct action in the civil rights struggle. CORE supported southern blacks during the sit-in movement of 1960; CORE ﬁeld secretaries traveled throughout the South, training activists in nonviolent methods. CORE organized the Freedom Rides in the spring of 1961. CORE then began to focus on voter registration. In 1962, along with other civil rights groups, CORE joined the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) and supported the 1964 Freedom Summer and the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party, which challenged the state’s all-white ofﬁcial delegation at the Democratic National Convention of 1964. Three CORE workers, Michael Schwerner, Andrew Goodman, and James Chaney, were killed in Mississippi that summer of 1964. By 1966 a power struggle within CORE forced James Farmer to leave as national director. CORE then adopted a platform based on Black Power, limited white involvement in the organization, and ended its commitment to non violence. Sometime later CORE was taken over by a faction that aligned the group with conservative political forces.
[iv] From “Say Freedom” by Mitchelle M. Hattiesburg, in “Freedom School Poetry” from the SNCC Freedom Schools of 1965.
[v] Before he started the practice of saying the Office in the church, John would sing Morning Prayer, in Russian, in his shower.
[vi] Three CORE civil rights workers were murdered by members of the Mississippi White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, the Neshoba County's Sheriff Office and the Philadelphia, Mississippi Police Department. James Chaney, Andrew Goodman, and Michael Schwerner had been registering black voters in Mississippi. On June 21 they went to investigate the burning of a black church. They were arrested by the police on speeding charges, incarcerated for several hours, and then released into the hands of the Ku Klux Klan. Their bodies were found on August 4.
[vii] One hundred years before were also Holy Years.
1863 - The Emancipation Proclamation freeing all Confederate slaves. The action allowed the Union to recruit black soldiers. Over 180,000 of them joined. The Battle of Gettysburg and a few months later the Gettysburg Address.
1864 – The war continues and Abraham Lincoln is reelected President in an overwhelming victory
1865 - The Second Inaugural Address March 4, 1865
Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman's two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said "the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether."
With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right, let us strive on to finish the work we are in, to bind up the nation's wounds, to care for him who shall have borne the battle and for his widow and his orphan, to do all which may achieve and cherish a just and lasting peace among ourselves and with all nations.
The Civil War ends. Abraham Lincoln is assassinated. The 13th Amendment to the Constitution is ratified abolishing slavery. The Ku Klux Klan gets formed to prevent the black population gaining civil rights.