What a disastrous meeting! We had been invited to give feedback on a creative project. The listening was careful, the comments thoughtful, but the man receiving the feedback took offense and stormed off. In an instant, community broke down. Come, unity — gone. “When the storms of life are raging, STAND BY ME.” All of us were stunned. Suddenly there were raised voices, pointing fingers, hurt feelings.
“When I’ve done the best I can, and my friends misunderstand …” Why is communication so difficult? Today, we have many options — e-mail, snail mail, text messaging, Twitter, conference calls, call-waiting, call-forwarding, face-to-face. News arrives from the other side of the planet in mere seconds, but we still fail to communicate.
CHARLES ALBERT TINDLEY
Born in Maryland to an enslaved father and a free mother, Charles Tindley (1851-1933) never had a chance to go to school, so he became an independent scholar, always curious, always learning.
When he was seventeen, he married his sweetheart and together they raised eight children. He found work as a brick carrier and church custodian, all the while studying. He learned Hebrew from Jewish friends in a Philadelphia synagogue and Greek through a correspondence course. He passed his ordination exam with flying colors and in 1902, after serving churches throughout the northeast, he was made pastor of the same church where he’d worked for fifteen years as a janitor — the Calvary Methodist Episcopal Church.
Before long, he became known as the Prince of Preachers. In the thirty years that he served as its pastor, his congregation grew from 130 members to over 10,000, proudly boasting its racial and ethnic diversity. They fed the hungry, taught classes, worked with politicians and business leaders to help community members get loans and find jobs and homes.
And they led antiracism protests. In 1915, Rev. TIndley and other members of the congregation were attacked by a white mob when they marched against the showing of the racist film The Birth of a Nation at local theater.
The community continued to thrive. The church had to be expanded in 1924 to hold the overflowing congregation. After the pastor’s death, the church was renamed the Tindley Temple United Methodist Church. It continues today as a lively, progressive church in South Philadelphia known for its good preaching, good music (with a 6,000 pipe organ), and good food. Oh, and it live-streams its services!
STAND BY ME
Rev. Dr. Charles Tindley is considered a founding father of American gospel music. Most beloved of his hymns are “I’ll Overcome Someday” (which became the Civil Rights anthem “We Shall Overcome”), “Leave It There,” “We’ll Understand It Better By and By,” and “Stand By Me,” for which he wrote both the words and the music in 1905.
Did we do the best we could at that disastrous meeting? Did I? I felt hurt, silenced, unheard, confused, like the world was “tossing me like a ship upon the sea.” Others felt that way, too. Anger rippled around the fringe of the room. Resentment throbbed at its core. The whole experience left everyone suspicious and reeling. The man who had stormed off must have felt even worse — embarrassed, hurt.
Satellites fill the heavens. Gadgets fill our lives, all to help us talk with each other. We are bewildered by our constant failure to communicate effectively. Most of the time, we really don’t intend to hurt each other. How grateful we are that there is One who knows all about us and stands by us in our times of misunderstandings, or worse, during times of persecution. Stand by me, thou who saved Paul and Silas, stand by me.
TO GO DEEPER
“Stand By Me” hymn lyrics and music on the Hymnary website
“History of Hymns — Stand By Me” by Dr. C. Michael Hawn, UMC Discipleship Ministries website
“Charles Albert Tindley: The Prince of Preachers,” Kentake Page website
Tindley Temple United Methodist Church website
“Tindley Temple: A Highlight of Methodist History” with 4 min. video of the church
“No Loss of Dignity at Tindley Temple” by Nathanial Popkin, Hidden City: Exploring Philadelphia’s Urban Landscape, March 24, 2014 (about how gentrification is impacting the neighborhood around the Temple)