Back in 1961, Gurdon Brewster was a seminary student at Union Theological Seminary, training to be an Episcopal priest. When this Northern liberal raised his hand to volunteer as a summer intern at Ebenezer Baptist Church, he had no idea what lay in store for him. He tells this story in No Turning Back: My Summer with Daddy King.
What truth was there in your mother's friend's comment that if you went to Ebenezer, you'd never be a bishop?
She felt that working with Dr. King would risk the alienation of many white people that I would later work for, and this was true in part. As I later reflected on it, in a certain sense she was kind of prophetic because once you're involved in such a dynamic way of being the church, it's hard to fit totally into the structure of the church that is often against that kind of dynamic ministry. After having experienced a church like Ebenezer, it would be hard to enter a structure so perfectly and always within the box.
In what ways did this summer influence your plans for ministry when you returned to Union Theological Seminary?
BREWSTER: I came into the presence of Rev. King Sr. and Dr. King and all of the people there, who are really struggling for justice and looking for a larger way of loving humanity. So, I came back to the seminary with this great powerful sense of justice that we really have to struggle for love and freedom across the board, and maybe go into the streets and march and talk and so on. It opened me up to a much larger sense of justice as well as the cost of bringing this about. This was hard work and putting your life on the line, putting your body in harm's way. This was learning how to love your enemy, when I was trained to not have any enemies. So, this really brought me into many different ways of trying to live out the gospel.
How was your prayer life changed after this summer?
BREWSTER: I came out of seminary as an Episcopalian worshipping in the Book of Common Prayer. Most of the time, I would read my prayers and sometimes I would write them and craft them out carefully. But the first Sunday I was at Ebenezer, Daddy King asked me to pray right on the spot in front of the whole congregation. It terrified me because I was used to a much more formal way of praying. Fortunately, I fell back on a formula I had learned at seminary: A-C-T-S -- adoration, confession, thanksgiving, and supplication. I pinned a lot of my prayers on those four words until I began to pray more actually and easily.
[to be continued...]
Becky Garrison is one of the many people interviewed in the documentary The Ordinary Radicals.