Give Honor to Whom Honor is Due
Two scenes play in my head, touch my heart, and cause me pray to God for change among His people, but most of all, in me.
I recently reviewed videos and pictures from the three-day Legends Ball hosted by Oprah Winfrey in 2005 in which she celebrated the lives of twenty-five women who made an impact in “art, entertainment, and civil rights.” Oprah said that these women “have been magnificent in their pioneering and advancing of African-American women. It is because of their steps that our journey has no boundaries.” Among them were Coretta Scott King and Rosa Parks, Nikki Giovanni and Toni Morrison, Leontyne Price and Nancy Wilson, and Katherine Dunham and Maya Angelou. Many who were honored during those three days are no longer with us. Oprah had given them their flowers while they could smell them and assured them that their lives had not been in vain. The “young’uns” who came to honor the legends were accomplished women in their own right. Angela Bassett and Alfre Woodard, Alicia Keys and Yolanda Adams, Mariah Carey and Mary J. Blige lifted their voices in a tribute entitled We Speak Your Names by Pearl Cleage. One stanza is as follows:
My sisters, we are gathered here to speak your names. We are here because we are your daughters as surely as if you had conceived us, nurtured us, carried us in your wombs, and then sent us out into the world to make our mark and see what we see, and be what we be, but better, truer, deeper because of the shining example of your own incandescent lives. Notable guests included men who came to help celebrate, to honor, and to witness this historic celebration. Men such as Sidney Poitier, Senator Barack Obama, Tyler Perry, John Travolta, Quincy Jones, Lionel Ritchie, and Spike Lee. These men stood, clapped, hugged, and escorted; their presence welcomed and enriching. How inspiring!
I recently attended a service to celebrate an Afro-American female pastor’s twenty-fourth-year anniversary. She is a pioneer in the East St. Louis Metropolitan area; ministering through home Bible studies, founding a ministry school, and founding a church. She has a shepherd's heart, a mentor’s spirit, and a true friend’s dedication. Her life has been exemplary, her faith in Jesus strong, and her commitment to her community limitless. She is a woman well deserving of honor.
Yet, there were less than twenty people in attendance, some of whom arrived over an hour late. My heart was broken. I sat there wondering where all the people were whom she had fed, clothed, paid their rent, visited in the hospital, prayed for, taught the scriptures to, and helped start their ministries.
As I sat there, God reminded me of all the things this woman had done for me over the years and how many of her appreciation days I had missed. I could barely hold back the tears.
I looked around me, and the men present were sparse and seemingly on assignment – one preached, one was with the preacher, one was a ministry partner, and one appeared to be a member. Four men in attendance “to help celebrate, to honor, and to witness this historic celebration.”
I wondered what happened? Did she not send invitations early enough for people to schedule it on their calendars? Was her church still too small for some to want to associate with, even though she had supported them on their way up?
My reasoning in the past had been that I could not be everywhere and there was only so many things you could do in a day. So, I sent a check each year to let her know I loved her. But I did not minister to her with my presence.
Even though it is true that I cannot go to every event everybody has, it is also true that I must make time for those who have made time for me. Over the years, this Pastor has shone her love for me over and over again, in a myriad of ways. I must do the same for her.
Not an Isolated Case
I might be extra sensitive to this topic because I was recently selected by PreacherWoman to be a 2018 honoree on June 9, 2018. I resisted the honor at first. I said it was because there are many in our area, like my Pastor friend, who have labored untiringly in the East St. Louis Metropolitan area and been ignored or taken for granted. But God, by His Spirit, let me know that I am my friend. I too have labored in God’s vineyard for over thirty years. I have buried the dead, preached the gospel, visited those in hospitals and prisons, founded three ministries, taught in Bible colleges, and poured my life out for the sheep. I have held many services and dinners honoring others. But, other than the obligatory pastor anniversaries or birthday parties (many of which I paid for myself), I have never been honored for anything! No one has said, “I appreciate the struggle, the insults, the threats, and the loss you have suffered.” Now someone wanted to say “thank you” and I was resisting. I could hear the Holy Spirit saying, “Get over the neglect of the past, Dorothy, and embrace the love being expressed in the present. Beside, although you have been taken for granted for over thirty years, you are also guilty of neglecting your deserving friend. Repent and move on.”
The Celebration to Come
I have decided to join the other honorees with a glad and appreciative heart. They are women who have made an impact as prophetess, apostle, pastor, teacher, and preacher. They have been magnificent in their pioneering and advancing of African-American preaching women. I speak the names of Prophetess Linda Holloway, Pastor Karen Jethro, Apostle Ariette Murray, and Dr. Patricia Phillips. The young’uns, led by Pastor CeCe McCoo, include Pastor Cynthia Ringo, Pastor Stacey Mims, and the PreacherWoman members. They have decided to give us our flowers while we can smell them and to assure us that our lives have not been in vain.
Powerful Men of God from our families and respective churches will be in attendance to help celebrate, to honor, and to witness this historic celebration. These men will stand, clap, hug, and escort; their presence welcomed and enriching. How inspiring!
2018 honorees, the following stanza of Pearl Cleage’s poem could well have been written for you – and me:
We are here to speak your names because of the way you made for us. Because of the prayers you prayed for us. We are the ones you conjured up, hoping we would have strength enough, and discipline enough, and talent enough, and nerve enough to step into the light when it turned in our direction, and just smile awhile.