Pathways through Lent

Ordinary Lives Lived in Extraordinary Ways

Anna Cooper

Most often, we think of Saints as the celebrity class of Christians – the martyrs and other heroes of the faith, most of them ordained.

Instead, I urge the definition by Richard McBrien, maverick Roman Catholic theologian and professor at the University of Notre Dame: “[Saints] are signs of what it means to be human in the fullest and best sense of the word … lay people who lived ordinary lives in extraordinary ways….”

An example is Anna Julia Haywood Cooper who had an extraordinary impact on the education of African-Americans in Washington, D. C.

Born in North Carolina in 1858, her white father (and also the father of her siblings) was her enslaved black mother’s owner. At age 10, Anna received a scholarship to study at an Episcopal school (now Saint Augustine’s College) that prepared African-Americans to be teachers and clergy, successfully demanding to be admitted to courses reserved for men seeking ordination.

Anna’s husband died in 1879 after only two years of marriage. Anna continued her education at Oberlin College before moving to Washington, D. C. She taught at the Preparatory High School for Negro Youth (now Dunbar High School) and in 1902 was appointed its principal. In 1906, the Board of Education did not reappoint her because she refused to lower academic standards. While she continued to teach there, she wrote A Voice from the South: By a Woman from the South, an early treatise of African-American feminism.

At age 55, Anna adopted five children of a relative. Ten years later in 1925, she became the fourth African-American woman to earn the Doctor of Philosophy degree, granted by the University of Paris – Sorbonne. She delivered speeches in this country and in Europe about African-American women and their need for appropriate education.

Over the years, Anna was instrumental in establishing or developing Washington institutions for African-Americans: The Colored Women’s League, the first Colored Settlement House, and Frelinghuysen University (located in the Shaw neighborhood) serving as President of the last from 1930 to 1942.

Anna Cooper’s home was in the LeDroit Park neighborhood of Washington, where the nearby circle is named for her. She died there in 1964 at age 105.

Is your ordinary life lived is such an extraordinary way?

-The Rev. Dr. Theodore William Johnson

Pathways through Lent

Why My Mother Became a Presbyterian


Over the last several years, I have examined my own journey of faith through the lens of my mother’s experiences.  I watched as my mom progressed from being a sometimes church-goer to becoming an usher, an Elder, and a participant in a bible study group at her Presbyterian church.  Mom preceded me on her journey by a couple of years but I was paying attention. In 2011, I was fresh from attending the Adult Inquirers’ Class and intending to join St. John’s Church, so I asked my mother why she became a Presbyterian. Mom answered that it was the only church she visited where she was greeted and made to feel welcome.

Recently I was in route to St. John’s. The cab driver asked why I didn’t attend church in my own neighborhood. “St. John’s is the only church where I have felt at home,” I heard myself say aloud to the cabbie.

During this Lenten season, I am challenging myself to welcome others in the same way that I have been warmly greeted and welcomed into St. John’s. Someone may be beginning her journey….

-Sandra Hackworth

Pathways through Lent

Greater Sense of Purpose


During the past several months, St. John’s has been conducting its annual Stewardship Campaign. The focus of the “campaign” has been on encouraging parishioners to consider making a financial pledge to the church for 2015. We have emphasized that whatever money we have has been given to us by God – that it belongs to God – and that we have a responsibility to be good stewards of it.

Although stewardship of our money is important, it is also important for us to focus on our responsibility to be good stewards of God’s gifts of time and talents, as well. Each day, God gives us 24 hours. The way we spend those 24 hours is influenced by many factors, including our work responsibilities, coping with illnesses, demands placed upon us by family and friends, and, not to be underestimated, the choices we make as to how to use our “free time.” Since I retired four years ago, I have had to reassess how I spend my free time, now that I have more of it. The temptations to sit around the house watching TV shows that aren’t really that important, or to put off getting back in touch with friends and family that were once very important to me, or to just “play,” are very easy to succumb to.

However, an article written by a Christian minister, Dr. David Jeremiah, reminded me that time, just like talents and money, belongs to God, and has been given to us to use in a conscious manner, consistent with God’s desires. I now look forward to my next gift of 24 hours with a greater sense of purpose, and with a greater appreciation of the need to prioritize how I use the time that God has given me for whatever purposes God has in mind.

-Ralph E. Olson


Pathways through Lent

Granny’s Prayer

Alma Paty - PathwaysThis past Christmas, I saw upon my mother’s mantle a new porcelain Santa figurine.  Noticing its jewel-box design, I opened it to find a music box vignette of a winter train scene.

I asked, “Mother, where did you get this Santa?”

She replied, “From the town garbage men.”

And with that response I was transported back 30 plus years.

Until the fall of 1983, my 94 year old grandmother, Fannie Rhea Bachman Summers, had a very healthy life. She was a matriarch of netted hair, a proper dress, and her string of pearls. I can always see her—absorbed in either the Christian Observer, Modern Maturity, or the Bible. (I won’t mention her daily intake of “As the World Turns.”)

Yet in August of 1983 she began a precipitous decline into poor health. While still in acceptable physical health, Granny began to lose her mind.

But the one activity that remained clear and concise were her daily prayers. As a proper daughter and eighth child of a Presbyterian minister, prayer came easily to her—as easy as breathing.

So it was in the last month of her long life, that even in her delirium, she prayed out loud.

As her cognitive decline progressed that fall, the drop in temperature with November elicited this prayer:

“Father, it’s growing cold.  Please remember the garbage men who have to work outside in the cold.”

That’s it. Just a quick prayer from a dying woman, about the men in a necessary—but often thankless—job. In her delirium, she remembered Christ’s admonition to love thy neighbor.

So every Christmas since 1983, her daughter (and my mother) recognizes each of the town garbage men with a monetary gift in Granny’s memory.  And they in turn recognized her with the simple gift of a bright and happy Santa.

Neighbors, all.

-Alma Paty


Pathways through Lent

Freedom in Understanding

St. Matthias, Apostle

Acts 1:15-26 Philippians 3:13-21 John 15:1, 6-16 Psalm 15

Who we are and who we will be are the simultaneous product of our own free will and the will of God at work in us. This has been a difficult truth for me, but lately I’ve learned to be more comfortable with this. I’ve learned that there is freedom in understanding that our own actions can only take us so far. Much of our lives’ journeys are in God’s hands.

Today’s lesson in Acts explores the aftermath of Judas Iscariot’s death and the selection of St. Matthias by random lot to replace Judas among the Apostles. Judas’ choice to betray the man he loved set in motion a cornerstone of our faith: Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. Judas’ betrayal was foreseen but neither stopped nor forgiven by God. Forces beyond Judas’ control put him in a place to make that fateful choice. For doing so, Judas suffered death at his own hand and is scorned for eternity.

Conversely, St. Matthias used his free will to live a righteous life, accept the path in front of him, and preach the Gospel in faraway lands. For this choice, according to one tradition, he met his death at the hand of cannibals near the Black Sea.

Thankfully few, if any, of us will ever contend with issues as profound as those that link Judas and St. Matthias. I am grateful that we live smaller lives than that. We are though, in our smaller way, connected by the same equation. Like them, our destination in life is the result of both choice and fate.

Who we are, and who we will be, are never fully in our control. Once we accept that, we can be grateful for the good, and the not-so-good, things that come our way—and we are truly free.

-Collin Klamper

Pathways through Lent



“It is worth living long enough to outlast whatever sense of grievance you may acquire.”

When I came upon this line in Marilynn Robinson’s novel Gilead, I thought of my father, toward whom I held a deepening grievance through much of my life.

My father was a good man, a traditional and respected breadwinner, who left kinder and kitchen to my mother. He was an engineer operating in a black-and-white world, one with no gray edges, no poetry.

The older I grew, the more I resented his emotional absence. Though I spoke often with my mother, he rarely came to the phone. He never once asked about my work, thoughts, or feelings. There was ample sustenance in my life, so eventually I made my own way, leaving him to his silence.

Late in his life, everything changed. My mother sank into dementia, and he became her caretaker. He and I started having real conversations about our hopes, fears, and disappointments. We both expressed gratitude for this unexpected intimacy; yet I deeply regretted all the lost years: he was ninety-three.

We carry around all sorts of grievances, some petty, some legitimate.  It is natural to resent an insensitive remark, unjust treatment, a father’s silence. But it can be wasteful and unproductive to take these affronts on face value, to infer ill will where there may be only carelessness or to assume a cold heart in someone who possibly speaks a different language and longs to be heard.

 -Livy More



Pathways through Lent

Not So Different After All

I had the opportunity this past fall to instruct a 16-week course in the United Arab Emirates (UAE). The students were young Emirate college graduates entering into the UAE’s government service. The western instructor staff and the Emirates were different in so many ways – culture, dress, and religion. But as we developed a relationship with them, those differences went from stark to not noticed at all. Over a short period of time, we knew them. First by name and then by personality. Mansour was there because he wanted to serve his country. Thabit was married and had a new baby boy that brought joy to his life. Shaika was following her father’s footsteps and hoping to make him proud.  Nayla was diagnosed with cancer. Badr, was Big Man on Campus, commanded everyone’s attention. Abdulla was the smart, quiet one with a charming personality.  Saeed worried for his father when he had major surgery. Hessa was the instigator who showed me what my own mother was probably like at her age. And so go all 41 of the students.

Being in relationship makes a difference. For us, it erased the difference in culture, dress, and religion and allowed us to see them for who they were – people, like all of us; human like all of us; children of God, like all of us.

How will each of us live out a relationship with those who are different from us? Perhaps joining St. John’s on its next trip to South Africa and getting to know the children?  Perhaps joining Saint John’s at Grace’s Table, providing a meal, eating and praying with the homeless in Georgetown? Perhaps spending time tutoring? Perhaps calling the homeless you pass every day by name? How will we be in relationship so that we see people who are different from us as not so different after all?

-Marilyn Jenkins