To Change the World/Pass the Torch/Father’s Day

iStock_000003718026XSmall.jpgSome weeks ago, John Dobbs challenged his readers to post articles in honor of those ministers that most changed their lives. I’ve been heading in other directions — and my life hasn’t really been influenced by ministers as much as by others. That’s nothing against the ministers of my youth — good men all — it’s just that I’m much more the product of other influences.

And, besides, it’s Father’s Day, and I’ve been thinking of a story I’ve been meaning to tell.

It was about 1970 in Russellville, Alabama, my home town — population (at the time) of 7,782 or so. It was just a couple of years after forced school desegregation. Racial integration had gone better in Russellville than in many other communities, but feelings were tense and emotions raw.

I was in high school at the time. My freshmen year had been the first year of full integration. It was culture shock for everyone, and both sides were struggling with the change.

My church had hired a college student from Florence State University (now the University of North Alabama) to serve as youth minister just for the summer. He was a good guy and taught us some new music: “Love, love, love, the gospel in a word is love” and “Humble Thyself.”

It was really cool for us kids to have our own music — music written in the singer/songwriter/folk style that was popular at the time. Songs that didn’t require shaped notes or a song leader to beat time. We felt very revolutionary.

Sometimes our youth minister would invite friends of his from the campus ministry at Florence State to hang out with us at youth events. It was exciting to have college kids from the big city of Florence spend time with us small town kids. One of our minister’s friends was black — which was (what’s the word?) strange. Or foreign, even. I mean, my home church — like every church in town — remained racially segregated. Every congregation in Russellville was all white or all black. If there was a black Church of Christ in the county, I’ve never heard of it. So a black college student stood out.

But we kids had been through integration already, we’d come to know black students as individuals. It was okay. Well, it was okay until the Sunday our youth minister was invited to preach to congregation — and his black friend from college showed up at church to support his friend.

Now, in my home church — like most churches — we all had our own pews. Families sat together, and they always sat in exactly the same place Sunday after Sunday after Sunday. If a visitor unwittingly sat in someone’s favorite spot, well, that would be a problem.

Our youth minister came early, being the preacher for the day, and his friend traveled with him. The minister had his friend sit in a spot not yet claimed by a local family, but near the front, on the left side of the center aisle, to be sure he’d have a good view. And then the congregation showed up — 3 minutes or less before church began, as was our custom.

And no one spoke to the young black man sitting all alone near the front. No one sat near him. Families that had sat on the row in front or behind his row for years found other places to sit. There was a great chasm all around him on all sides. And to regular members, such as myself, the ostracism and separation were painfully obvious. It was as though his blackness might be contagious. There he was on about row 4, on the aisle, right in the midst of where most of the congregation normally sat — and he was all alone.

I grew up in a family with four children, and we didn’t get to church any earlier than the rest of the congregation. The service began as we were sitting down. We had the announcements, the opening prayer, three songs (skipping the third verse each time), and then my dad, an elder and the most prominent attorney in town, got up to lead the “main prayer.” He walked to the front, stood before the church at the podium, and led the prayer.

He then descended the stairs, walked up the aisle where the black friend of the preacher was sitting, reached out his hand, welcomed him to church, shook his hand, asked whether he might sit next to him, and then sat down. And there he sat throughout the service, not with his family and not more than an inch or two apart from our youth minister’s friend.

As I sat there taking in this drama — this performance art — I could hear sobbing throughout the church. When the service ended, the young man was surrounded by greeters and well-wishers, hugs and embraces all around. And many a tear was shed in shame.

So what does it mean to live in “faithful presence with”? Well, it means to live like Jesus.

First, his power was derived from his complete intimacy with and submission to his Father. …

[Second is] his rejection of status and reputation and the privilege that accompanies them. …

[Third,] he endured [those degradations] willingly because of his love for fallen humanity and for his creation more broadly. ..

[Fourth] the social power exercised by Christ was the noncoercive way in which he dealt with those outside the community of faith.

To live like Jesus, you have to hang out with the lepers and publicans and Samaritans of your day, loving them because they need someone to love them — risking name and reputation if need be, because that’s how Jesus did it — trusting God to make it right in the end. Do this, and you’ll change lives.

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
This entry was posted in To Change the World, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

21 Responses to To Change the World/Pass the Torch/Father’s Day

  1. JMF says:

    Wow, Jay! That was great. What a phenomenal memory to have of your father (whether he is still around or not).

    I live in the whitest city in America, and we have one young black fam at our church. They are about my age, and I'm friends with them as they are in my small group.

    Even this day and age, we still treat blacks differently. Seems to mainly be reverse-bigotry…even I notice I laugh louder at the things they say, and I go out of my way to be reasonably affectionate (wouldn't want the blacks to think I was afraid to touch them).

    The whole church treats them this way. People with the best intentions imaginable treating people in a way that would have to make them feel awkward.

    I think my generation is this end of this, though. We weren't bigots (gen X), but we recognized a difference. Kids seem to no longer see a difference (thank God).

  2. Jay Guin says:


    You're right. By and large, kids in college and high school today see race like I saw hair color or height at that age. It's a difference but not a separator. It's astonishing to finally see a colorblind society coming about. Now if we could just get the church to catch up …

  3. Carol says:

    I love this story. What a great dad for helping pave the way and a great son to remember and share this story. Happy Father's Day to my sister's husband!

  4. Ray Downen says:

    In honoring your father by this tale, you are also showing great honor to your mother whose husband is the hero of the tale. Men who might have to ask their wife if it would be all right to do something like this would not have been able to do it! And how good to hear that the church in general was appreciative. An excellent story! I'll recommend it to my e-mail list friends at Viewpoint Discussion list.

  5. Jay,
    Thanks for sharing this. Here is another story of faithful presence – that is a reflection on an event that happened today.

    It comes from Patrick Mead's blog. The good stuff begins several paragraphs into the posting, which you can read at….

    If you haven't been reading his blog, you should check it out. He has some great stuff on both of this blogs, this one and also one he calls tent pegs where he answers questions.


  6. Jay Guin says:


    Thanks for sharing that. There's something special happening at Patrick's congregation.

  7. Sorry that I made mistakes in entering the links in the comment above.

    Here they are corrected:

    The Blog:

    Tent Pegs – Questions Answered –

  8. I know something special is happening there. My daughter & granddaughter are members there as was my son and his family before he moved to Tennessee about 18 months ago. I lived in Detroit for 22 years and was there when Patrick moved to Rochester. I knew him before that as well. In fact, he was the 2nd preacher to follow me in Lancaster, OH. (We prefer not to think about the one in between us who ran off with the wife of one of the elders).

    I've always appreciated Patrick's work. I've grown to love him since I've been reading his blogs.

  9. Terry says:

    That was a great way to honor your father on Father's Day, Jay. Thank you for sharing the story.

  10. Rich W says:


    Thanks for sharing your story.

    Although only three years younger than you, I had a significantly different experience as a teen in the Midwest church. Our congregation consisted of about 20 percent black including our youth group. One of the congregation's most dedicated and revered members was black. One would see the black girls hold hands with the white guys at youth rollerskating parties.

    I never experienced any racial issues at church. If it was there, I didn't see it. Perhaps someone like your father had already broken the ice years before.

    It was a different story at our secular high school where I experienced some near riots. We lived in gang territory.

  11. JamesBrett says:

    thanks, jay, for a beautiful story of love, acceptance, and boldly setting an example for others. my devotional time (and memory verse) time this morning –moments before reading your post — was from the sermon on the mount. it included "let your light shine before men that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven." i always read that passage with non-Christians in mind. but we've got to let our light shine for everyone "in the house" as well. we can rejoice together and praise God that he's changing those among us.

    i cried reading your story, having grown up a few years after you, but deeper south in alabama — and so, perhaps years behind the forward-thinking metropolis of russellville. many a time i've seen blacks ignored, mistreated, or spoken of poorly by others in the church. it's ironic, though, because many of these same people are encouraging and supportive of our mission work in africa. i guess it has something to do with how close to home these issues are hitting?

  12. Cathy says:

    Thank you for giving me another reason to be proud of Granddaddy.

  13. Laymond says:

    Jerry, this is something I totally agree with you on, Jay, and Patrick, both have great blogs, as a matter of fact I believe they are the best Christian blogs on the net. I learn something when I read either of them, They are great because they are a discussion, not a "my way, or the highway" . I usually come away filled as if I had just eaten a good meal. I don't always agree with every thing they write, but I understand where they are coming from. Sometimes I have to say "pass the wine, I need to wash this down"

  14. Anne says:

    Early in our ministry in a small town my husband became good friends with the minister of the black congregation in town. They thought it such a shame for race to divide us and worked very hard in bringing the congregations together. Everything was working great until the night before we were all to start meeting together. Several of the black families could not let go of the past and refused to begin worshiping together because of some slight that had happened back in the 50's of 60's. Several families did come worship with us and even their preacher became co-preacher at our congregation. To this day the all black congregation is still there.
    We are now at a larger multi-racial congregation. We have not been without problems, but it is a very unique place. I often think the Corinthian church must have looked like our church does.
    Recently we have had a new church start up here for black members and the minister even called one of our brethren (who is black) to come join them. He asked them why do we need an all black church? the minister said for cultural reasons. Yes racism is ugly and detrimental to the body of Christ!

  15. J. Foy Guin says:

    Thank you Jay. I can't think of a better Father's Day present! I have no memory of this occasion perhaps because this was not the first time or the last time that I did this. I remember well the first time. It was in 1944 when only one black 2nd lieutenant was assigned to our mess hall and he sat all alone at a table. After I sat with him the first time everyone else joined in and he had no more trouble at least at Ft. Benning. Several men told me later that they had thought about it but didn't have the courage to be first. They were surprised but gratified that an Alabamian stepped forward.

  16. Jay Guin says:


    You make a good point. It's never made sense that we'd send a missionary thousands of miles away to Africa to convert lost black souls there but wouldn't let a black man or woman through our doors at home. I'm glad things are starting to change — but we won't be there until both blacks and whites see racial segregation in the church as the abomination it is.

  17. Jay Guin says:


    It's an interesting phenomenon. In the world, black men and women fought long and hard to be included into white society, but in the church, they sometimes fight to have parallel, segregated institutions. I suspect part of the problem has to do with the lack of opportunities for leadership of blacks in majority-white congregations.

    I know of majority white congregations with black ministers, but it's still very unusual. (I'm not suggesting your church is guilty of excluding blacks from leadership. Only that it's how things are in general.) It's important that the majority-white church make an effort to include black leadership in the church's professional and volunteer ministries.

  18. Anne says:

    Jay, my personal opinion is that it's not that blacks are excluded from leadership, but so few meet the qualifications of leadership and that as the black father is absent in society, so also they are absent in the church family. That seems to be the biggest challenge for the black family today is the leadership of the father. Our older families are still intact and have that strong male leader role, but it is our middle-age and younger families where that strong male leadership is lacking. I have a few personal opinions of why that is, but can't back that up with any data.
    We also have a diverse leadership, but I think our church is an anomaly rather than the norm.

  19. Terry says:

    Anne makes an interesting point. One of my goals as a father is to raise my son to have the qualities of an elder someday.

  20. Tracey says:

    Thank you for sharing this story, Jay. I've never heard it before, but it doesn't surprise me at all. I'm grateful to come from a man and a family like this.

    Thank you, Granddaddy, for showing and sharing your beautiful character.

  21. Stand up, everyone; Jay Guin's father's passin'.


Comments are closed.