It's nothing personal, but I have a hard time with most preachers. They say many are called, but few are chosen. In my opinion, many are chosen, but too few actually are called into the ministry. Sometimes there is a real lack of commitment on the part of preachers to their congregations and the communities they serve.
For example, an old friend recently commented that far too many black ministers today no longer live in the communities where their churches are located. They drive into the community a couple of days a week and head to their offices or the pulpit on Sunday morning. They see little of the challenges the people in the neighborhood face daily.
When I was a kid attending Wesley United Methodist on Meeting Street, the Rev. J.D. Boone and his family lived in the parsonage next door. My family lived a few blocks away, so I often walked over to the church to play with Rev. Boone's two boys. My relationship with the church in those days was about more than Sunday school and worship service; it was personal. Though many churches still own parsonages, their pastors rarely live in them.
Today, a lot of congregations are so big it's really impossible for the pastor to know many of the people he serves. Of course, churches being the businesses that they are, the preacher usually knows all the movers and shakers in their church, but unless you're one of those, yours is just another body in the pews.
That's not to say that there aren't quite a few preachers in the area who are really committed to their faith and, consequently, the people they serve.
One of them is African Methodist Episcopal Church Bishop Z.L. Grady. I've known of Bishop Grady since starting work in the newspaper business almost 30 years ago. As a reporter for a local black-oriented weekly paper, half the stuff I wrote was in some way related to area churches and ministers. Grady, at the time, was pastor of Morris Brown AME Church downtown, one of the centers of local activity during the civil rights movement. Bishop Grady built Morris Brown into one of Charleston's most prominent black churches. He organized a child daycare center and kindergarten and took its worship service to the community by instituting a radio broadcast. Along with Emmanuel AME Pastor H.B Butler and Ebenezer AME Pastor B.J. Finkley, Bishop Grady helped establish the Emanuel-Morris Brown-Ebenezer Apartments on Johns Island.
In 1969 Grady was instrumental in facilitating a strike of black hospital employees at the Medical College Hospital (MUSC today) and Charleston County Hospital. The strike was a defining moment of the local civil rights struggle. Both my mother and I were hospital employees at the time.
Although he retired in 2004, Grady continues to preach two or three times a month, nationally and internationally. "I haven't retired from giving," he said.
Bishop Grady's service to his church and community will be commemorated in a book he's writing in collaboration with historian Dr. Bernard Powers, and on March 28 at North Charleston's Radisson Charleston Airport Hotel well-wishers will celebrate Grady's years as a minister.
For information, call Thomasina Cook at (843) 722-8796.