I've written so much about myself - blabbed, actually - that I thought I'd have this transformative moment be someone else's!
In 1977, I was a new 'single' and looking for a church home, preferably one that had an active singles group. I found one, at the Memorial Drive Presbyterian Church. This group, called TGIS (Thank God I'm Single, as they somewhat irreverently nicknamed it, instead of Thank God It's Sunday), met at 11 am each Sunday morning in a very large fellowship hall.
The vast majority of its members came only for TGIS, altho several arrived an hour early to attend the "folk" services. I asked about these. What were they like? I was told that these services were more 'relaxed', that the songs were often composed by the choir director and accompanied - not by the majestic organ, but by jazz combo-type performers and that parishioners often laughed, clapped and sometimes even shouted during the service.
That sounded very strange to me - yet, at the same time intriguing, and so I went to one. Then I went to another. And another. It was while I was attending one of those folk services that I first heard Dr. Wharton speak.
I was so impressed! His central message always seemed to be "God's love", "God's grace", "God's forgiveness". I couldn't get enough of listening to this man! He filled my heart with such joy. I attended every class he taught and dragged every one of my friends who would allow themselves to be 'dragged' to church with me, hoping they might feel just a wee bit for themselves some of the happiness that welled up inside me every time I heard such good news.
One of these was Ruth, one of my best friends, who was a Unitarian church member. I asked her after the service what her impression was and she said, "If I had to try and describe him in one word, that word would be 'nonjudgmental'."
As a Christian born in the late 1930's, I was taught early on that only those who believe that Jesus Christ is our Lord and Saviour will go to Heaven. However, I often heard Dr. Wharton say he had trouble believing that the God he loved so much could be so narrow-minded (his exact words).
He had many friends - close friends - outside of the Christian faith, but there were those within the church who felt threatened by his publicly-stated views. He had a profound influence on me, and to this day - 30-some years later - I am often reminded of his stance on judging others when I find myself being critical.
It is Dr. James A. Wharton's "transformative moment" that I would like to share with you ... ... the definitive moment in his life that forever changed him from a smug, anti-social and rebellious teenager into a lifelong and nonjudgmental servant of God.
He and his group were walking along down the sidewalk, seeing what kind of trouble they could get into, picking on whomever and rudely laughing at others' misfortunes when - all of a sudden - they heard the screeching of brakes and the unmistakable sound of 'something' being struck.
Quickly, they all looked around. There, lying almost in the gutter, was a woman. It was she who had been hit by the car. She was bleeding. Badly-injured, it appeared. She was unkempt and filthy and reeked of liquor. The group began to laugh and point.
Young James, however, went towards her to get a closer look. He felt compelled to take the dying woman in his arms, and as he did so he felt the love, grace, forgiveness and power of Jesus Christ go through his arms and enfold the woman.
"Even to the least of these," he thought, and was overwhelmed with God's love and mercy.
I'm sure I haven't told his story very well, but that's the truth as I remember him telling it many times over. In preparation for this post, I tried to look up James A. Wharton, to see if he's still with us here on earth.
He spoke on "Ichabod or Ebenezer?" at Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary's centennial celebration in 2003, the text of which can (supposedly) be read on-line. However, when I went to the site, it's not there. But, this would have been six years ago. Tomorrow*, if I get a chance, I'll call their library to see if the text of his sermon can still be read.
*This is being written on Tuesday evening, the 18th.
I hope that you and your readers will forgive me, Steven, for not writing about myself here. You had such a splendiferous idea and I can't wait to read all of the linked entries!