Thursday, April 20, 2006

William Sloane Coffin, Part Two

On Thursday, there was a memorial service for Rev. William Sloane Coffin at the Riverside Church in New York. I was unable to attend because of travel, but I've been thinking about him a lot this week and reading many reflections by other religious leaders.

When I asked the students at Princeton yesterday to name a current progressive religious leader, none of them could think of one. They could name the religious leaders on the right. That speaks volumes for the need for prophetic voices today on social (and yes, sexual) justice.

But what I've been even more struck by is how many of the reflections I've read on Dr. Coffin's life reflect on his personal kindness and his reaching out to others. I wrote earlier this week about how much it meant to me to receive a personal letter from him thanking me for my ministry even though we had never met in person. What I've learned this week is he did that sort of thing all the time: sending letters of encouragement and praise, calling other clergy on the phone, allowing people he didn't know to visit him.

In other words, pulling on my Jewish background, he was a mensch. A real human being. He never let his celebrity go to his head and he never stopped speaking out for what he thought was right. He knew how much his encouragement meant and he was generous with it. May I do half as well in my ministry and life.

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