Tag Archives: forgiveness

Grateful for a Sad Surprise

By Randy Heacock, LEADership Minister

When Steve Kriss, Conference Executive Minister, invited me to consider being a LEADership Minister, I thought I had a pretty good idea of what to expect.  I have a LEADership minister and I have been in the conference long enough to remember the early conversations of the role of a LEADership Minister.  However, one of my first interactions, a phone call from an elder of a congregation I now serve as a LEADership Minster, caught me by surprise.  Steve never warned me of such a call, nor was it listed in the memo of understanding I signed.  I attended the training on mandatory reporting; Barbie Fischer, Conference Communication Manager, provided some guidelines for communication protocol so that confidentiality is maintained.  I was ready to go, so I thought.

An elder called and began with the following statement, “Randy, I need to apologize to you and ask for your forgiveness.”  He went on to explain how he had heard something about me that he allowed to shape his opinion of me.   When my name came up at their elders meeting, he raised some questions based on what he had heard about me.  The other elders challenged him to speak to me directly rather than to rely on what he had heard.  Hence, he began with an apology for not speaking to me first.  His sincere apology and request for forgiveness provided a solid foundation for us to discuss his questions.   I believe we both ended the conversation grateful for the interaction.

Though grateful, I soon felt a sense of sadness regarding this conversation.  Sad, because it made me realize how rarely I have been involved in communication with other believers in which a person requested to be forgiven.  In 30 years of pastoral leadership, I can only recall one other time when a person asked for my forgiveness.  I wondered why this is so rare in the church that proclaims that reconciliation is the center of our work.   At the same time, I have witnessed men with whom I have played basketball with for 15 years apologize to one another on a far more regular basis.   Why is it more common for these men, many of whom do not share a faith commitment, to readily apologize to one another?

While I could provide some possible answers, I prefer to let us think on this for ourselves.  I do know the positive outcome of one elder’s apology.   I was deeply moved and our relationship enhanced by his phone call.  It also challenged me to consider what stops me from freely seeking the forgiveness of another.  I am grateful for this sad surprise.   I pray we all may grow and experience the fruit of forgiveness in our relationships as the norm rather than the exception.

Luke 17:4, “”And if he sins against you seven times a day, and returns to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ forgive him.”

A service of lament

by Jon Tyson, Salford

Service of Lament
Salford congregation hosted a service of lament at Wellspring Church of Skippack, which lies in the shadow of Graterford prison. Photo by Jenifer Eriksen Morales.

On September 28, the state of Pennsylvania granted death-row inmate, Terrance Williams, a stay of execution. Williams, a Graterford (Skippack, Pa.) prisoner, was scheduled to be executed on October 3 at a secret time and location. As the time to execute Williams drew near, calls for a stay of execution became increasingly urgent from religious leaders, law practitioners, and ordinary citizens. The execution of Williams would have been the first non-voluntary exercise of capital punishment performed by Pennsylvania in fifty years. Soon before the scheduled date of execution, however, evidence surfaced that Williams had been perpetually physically and sexually abused by his victim. This development led a Philadelphia judge to charge the prosecutor with concealing vital information from the jury. The prosecutor has vowed to continue efforts to have Williams executed.

In light of plans to execute Terrance Williams and the construction of a $400-500 million prison facility at Graterford, rumored to house eighty more beds for death-row inmates, members of Salford Mennonite Church organized a service of lament beside the sprawling prison. The service of lament was attended by approximately twenty-five people and included hymns, words, scripture passages, and prayers of protest and lament. Each participant shared a statement explaining why they personally chose to protest and lament the execution Terrance Williams, the prison-industrial complex, and the existence of the death penalty. The personal statements were collected and will be sent to Graterford prison.

Graterford

The decision to organize a service of lament became increasingly urgent following an offering of forgiveness from Mamie Norwood, the wife of Williams’ victim: “I have come to forgive Mr. Williams. It has taken me many years. I want his life spared and I do not want him executed. I am at peace with my decision and I hope and pray that my wishes are respected.” Rarely in these kinds of cases do the victim’s beloved offer such unequivocal words of forgiveness. Efforts to forgive transgressions, in our culture of vengeance, deserve embodied support from congregations committed to participating in God’s healing work.

The organizers chose the theme of lament as a means of expressing and confessing our guilt and involvement in this system of perpetual injustice—a system that legal-scholar Michelle Alexander refers to as the “new Jim Crow.” As the prison-industrial complex continues to financially thrive in this age of mass budget cuts, we must confess our complicity in this system of domination and recognize that the gift of living in a democratic society charges us also with the responsibility to work for just and restorative systems.

The service of lament marks only the beginning of our effort to work for prison reform and the abolishment of the death penalty in Pennsylvania. We are followers of an executed God and thus we are called to participate in all efforts that strive for justice and wholeness.