This week, our extended family of faith lost a tremendous woman of faith, one of our neighbors, the Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon. She grew up in Kannapolis and was a member of the Catawba Presbytery, the local presbytery of African American churches created by freed African American slaves in 1866.
Dr. Cannon was ordained as a minister of word and sacrament in 1974 and in so doing became the first African American clergywoman ordained into what became the PC(USA). At the time, 154 white women had been ordained as clergy in the same tradition, in addition to, of course, thousands of men.
One year, when asked to reflect on her monumental ordination, Dr. Cannon said, "I simultaneously recall, reconnect, and remember antecedents. As Toni Morrison says, "there is always a 'before' that makes our 'beginnings' possible."
Some of what came "before" for Dr. Cannon was being able, by five years old, to recite the Lord's Prayer, the Beatitudes, Psalm 23, the 10 Commandments and answers to catechism questions, such as "Who is God?" and "Why did God make us?" She remembered, "My mother, father and maternal grandmother were ordained Ruling Elders. Our home was a house of prayer." Dr. Cannon was raised to take her faith seriously and look to it for direction.
Other things that came "before" were more frustrating:
"From my earliest conscious moments, each night when I said my prayers, I talked to God about the pain of living in a racially segregated world. Using the notion of sin in my catechism class as a lens, I wanted to know what wrongdoing my kith and kin had committed that made it a crime for me to swing on swings, slide down slides and build sand castles in sandboxes in tax-supported public parks where white children played.
I wanted this good, loving and forgiving God to help me understand the entrenched reasons why my signing up to participate in the Kannapolis city-wide spelling contest was a life-threatening transgression. Askew and unjust feelings contributed greatly to who I am."
Dr. Cannon's faith tradition gave her a clear sense that God had created her and the world good, and that God's vision for it all held far more beauty and coherence than the painful limitations she experienced. Her words reveal that clinging to this vision in the context of ugly social realities caused her significant frustration. The testimony of her life suggests that it also helped her to realize and reflect a beauty that many people had, to that point, not been able to see. And we, her brothers and sisters in faith, were privileged to receive the gift of her perseverance.
This weekend, we'll
read from Romans 8.14-26
and talk about other gifts we receive when we allow ourselves to be captivated continually by God's vision for the world.
See you soon,