A little over a year ago, my partner and I stumbled upon a wedding that was about to begin on the shore of Lake Michigan at Little Sable Point Lighthouse. The wedding coordinator was making sure everything and everyone was in place. The pre-wedding music was fun, and many of the wedding guests and beachgoers ran joyfully through the sand. The atmosphere was magical! With a wink and nod to one another, my partner and I chose to stay for the service.
It was one of the best weddings I have ever attended. I was moved to the point of tears several times during the ceremony. The officiant was a middle-aged woman dressed in a white robe. She was as radiant as the bride, and it was clear that the joining of the young man and woman as husband and wife brought her great joy.
As the pastor began to speak, she pointed to the Lighthouse and reminded us of Matthew 5:14-16
“You are the Light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden; nor does anyone light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on the lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your Light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven.”
She then told the couple that each of them is a Light and that their union would create a brighter Light, and with the support of family, even more brilliant. And, lastly, with the help of the church, they would become no less than a beacon of Light. Pastor Sarah followed up by singing This Little Light of Mine.
At that moment, I knew that the pastor was an extraordinary person and that I needed to find out where she served. My search led me to Trinity Lutheran Church in New Era. The unexpected joy of a spontaneous trip to the beach, and the decision to crash a wedding have changed my life significantly. It ended a 15-year hiatus from church, healed a tremendous amount of church hurt, and led to a great friendship with the woman I now know as Pastor Sarah.
Pastor Sarah was born in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in 1961, during immense social upheaval. Her father, a Lutheran Pastor, was active in the Civil Rights Movement. Her family commonly discussed issues related to race, equality, and human rights around the dinner table. Sarah began attending marches, peaceful protests, and rallies with her father by the time she was five years old.
In the spring of 1967, Pastor Sarah, at the age of 6, had an experience that she feels solidified her commitment to work toward equality and to end racism. She was leaving school, and the safety guard shouted in agitation, “They are coming, they are coming.” She asked: “Who is coming.” The boy replied: “The niggers are coming, the niggers.” Sarah knew this was not a word that should be used and sensed that there was big trouble to come.
Trouble did come. The decision to bus black students to achieve racial balance within communities was met with resistance and anger. Unrest continued, and by mid-summer, the issues of civil rights had become so heated that riots occurred. And, at school that fall, young Sarah watched as black students were beaten and bullied. Sarah was outspoken and fought hard to make a stand against the abuse and discrimination of her classmates. For this, she was often ostracized by her peers and had few friends. Eventually, many of Sarah’s classmates did support her efforts, but it took several years.
Sarah’s interest in ending racism continued. In high school, she sought out classes taught by the one and only black teacher. She learned much from him and her black classmates. As time passed, it became clear that one day she would go to the seminary and then serve as a pastor with a focus on social justice.
Pastor Sarah continued to immerse herself in black culture after high school. She moved to Oakland, California, where she lived in a black community for several years. It was during her time in Oakland that Pastor Sarah states that she gained a very brief glimpse at what it feels like to be a minority or “the other.” She admits that there is still no way for a white woman to know what it is to be black in America.
Pastor Sarah received her undergraduate degree from Michigan State University, where she studied English, Political Science, and Religion. While there, she sought out black mentors and advisors to help her understand issues of race more deeply. Additionally, Pastor Sarah received her Master of Theology Degree from Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago.
Upon receiving her Master’s degree, Pastor Sarah fully believed she would work in an urban community. That expectation was not met. As it turns out, Reverend Sarah Samuelson served in small farm communities in West Michigan until finding her permanent home at Trinity Lutheran Church of New Era. Regardless of city or country, Pastor Sarah remains a passionate voice for equality. Her sermons are filled with compassion, understanding, and encouragement to put aside personal bias, judgment, and prejudice, and to love one another as Jesus demonstrated.
I asked Pastor Sarah about her role as a pastor, racism, and healing. Here is a bit of what she said.
Role As A Pastor
Pastor Sarah feels she is to love her parishioners right where they are, no matter what they believe. Then, to gently guide them to live more Christlike.
Loss is the fear that fuels racism. Power can be lost. But the loss of special status, and our history, and the way we define ourselves may be more significant. Pastor Sarah shares two stories to clarify her thoughts. First, as a child, her mother often told her that they were proud Swedes and special to be a Swede. In second grade, the teacher asked that each student stand and share their nationality with the others. Sarah could barely wait for her turn and shook with anticipation. She knew that upon sharing, the others would see that she was incredibly special due to her heritage. When it was her turn, she shouted, “I am a Swede.” No one reacted. Sarah was confused. Did they not know she was special? Or, could her mother have lied to her? At that moment, she lost her story, her history, her special status.
Second, Pastor Sarah points to the cemetery next to the church. The cemetery is a part of the story and identity of Trinity Lutheran. Twenty-two families started this church. Those buried in the cemetery are often mentioned as the saints on the hill from which we came. It is a unique and marvelous story. But it is not the end of the story. The congregation has grown beyond the original 22 families, and everyone is welcome to attend. The story is the beginning, but it is not the end.
Today she knows that we all long to feel special, but that God loves us all the same.
Where are we going, Pastor Sarah asks? We are going to the same place where we will all be together. We can look backward or forward. Looking forward, we need to get over our issues of race. How? By imitating the Kingdom of God here on Earth.
Pastor Sarah, you are a Light. I have heard you quote not only the Bible but also bits of poetry here and there. I will end this post with wise words from Leonard Cohen. “There is a crack in everything. That’s how the Light gets in.” Thank you for lovingly helping us find and heal our cracks.
A Time To Heal is a project that promotes peaceful and constructive conversations related to difficult topics. Topics are related to the events of 2020. They include but are not limited to Covid-19, Essential Workers, Race, Racism, the LGBTQIA community about the recent supreme court ruling, and more.
Please Note: The purpose of the A Time To Heal is to create a safe space to allow others to express their feelings and opinions. The opinions of those interviewed may not be the same as my own or the reader. If you choose to comment on a post, please do so respectfully.
A Time To Heal, the Exhibit will be on display at City Center Arts in Muskegon beginning September 1, 2020. Please check the website before attending to verify hours of operation. http://citycenterarts.com/
Gail is the owner of Lakehouse Photo LLC and The Gratitude Project By Lakehouse Photo LLC. Learn more about Gail, The Gratitude Project, and her photography at the sites listed below. Additionally, Gail’s photography can be purchased from Lakehousephoto.com, City Center Arts in Muskegon, http://citycenterarts.com/, NCCA-Artplace in Fremont, http://www.ncca-artsplace.org/ or directly from the artist.
Photography Website: https://www.lakehousephoto.com/
The Gratitude Project: http://gratitudebylakehouse.com/
2020© Gail Howarth, Living At The Lakehouse, and Lakehouse Photo. Unauthorized use or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author or owner is strictly prohibited.