The passing of Mary Reimer on December 29 marks the end of an era at Oakhurst Presbyterian Church. She began attending here in 1946 and joined as a member in 1954, over 60 years ago. She was our longest continuous member here at Oakhurst, but even more importantly, she was the last of the white members who were here when the white flight began from the church and from the neighborhood in the 1960’s. It was a very difficult time for the church, as it lost 90% of its membership over a 20-year period, going from 860+ members to 80 members.Mary stayed and formed a core group of white leaders who were determined to see Oakhurst Presbyterian survive. Though many of her friends and colleagues left the neighborhood and the church, she stayed. Some African-Americans came, and as our Mission Statement says: “The faithfulness of those who stayed and those who came gave us courage.” And so it did – Mary Reimer was one of those who stayed and fought and served, and we give thanks for her and her witness, which mirrors the witness of the other few white people – elders, deacons, ministers, members – who stayed.
The next folk up on our list of continuous members are those African-Americans who came into previously white territory.Their dedication and fierceness is just as important to the current life and vision of Oakhurst. (Can you name the 7 African-American women who have been members at Oakhurst
since they joined in the 1970’s? Answer elsewhere in this Log). Worship and church space are intimate spaces in all of our lives. We are deeply grateful to those African-Americans who came and risked sharing such intimate space with those of us who are classified as white. It has taken many of us who are classified as white a long time to learn the cost to African-Americans of sharing such space.
The issues inherent in the story of Oakhurst are the issues that are at the heart of Black History Month, and it is why we have emphasized BHM so much here over the past 30 years. We emphasize Black History Month not so much to make anyone feel better but rather to acknowledge the struggle and the
witness that lies at the heart of American history – all of American history, not just the “Dream” part of American history, as Ta-NeHisi Coates so powerfully deems it in his book “Between the World and Me.” Those of us who are classified as white view the world in “dreamy” way, a way of privilege and demand all systems that flow our way. There is nothing unusual about this – as Calvinists, we understand this tendency to bend the world to suit our understanding and station. The problem in American history is that one of our central and powerful ideas is that of equality, that all people are created with equal dignity in God’s image. Believing in equality yet not wanting to live in equity is one of the other central driving forces in white American history. In order to deal with this dichotomy, we who are classified as white developed the system of race, which posits that the diversity that God has created is hierarchical, not equitable – and the hierarchy is designed so that those classified as “white” are supposed to be superior, with all others being inferior.
Black History Month is a narrative that posits a different narrative, a narrative that emphasizes both the fundamental equality that drives the American dream, while also calling for the equity that is inherent in that dream, an equity that the system of race seeks to deny. During this month, we will hear another Dream, another view. We give thanks for the Mary Reimers and others who stayed in difficult times, and for those African Americans and others who came to Oakhurst and endured difficult times. They all helped us to have a vision of this new Dream, this Dream of both equality and equity. Come and join with us this month, as we explore what it means to believe in both equality and equity, and to seek to live into both.