Monday, October 4, 2010
I Remember Ernie
I first discovered Campbell when I was a young preacher. He was Pastor at the Riverside Church in New York City. This was during the stormy sixties and seventies. When I was studying in the summers at Princeton I always went to hear Dr. Campbell on Sundays. He was redheaded and sometimes he could be fiery. I was there one Sunday when tourists tromped in, walked noisily down the side aisle taking pictures. He stopped the sermon, turned beet-red and said, “This is a house of worship. You may worship with us or you can leave.” The tourists fled.
I was so struck with his sermons that I began to get them weekly in the mail. I still remember some of those sermons after all these years. “Every Battle is not Armageddon” “The Home-Court Advantage’” One Sunday a group of militant African-Americans stormed in one Sunday and took over the service, demanding reparations. He responded days later by preaching on: “The Case for Reparations.” I remember him telling one story about visiting a prominent family who lived in a mansion outside the city. It was a beautiful place on a lake and was furnished impeccably. In the driveway were two Cadillacs. They had just returned from Europe. And they told Ernie that every Sunday night they called their daughter long-distance. “It’s our only luxury, “ they told him. You can imagine where he went with that!
He told of group of ministers about his own bout with plagiarism. When he was on the speaking circuit many weekends he would change planes in a certain deep-South city. On that strop-over he would read the Saturday paper just to see what the sermon topics were for the next day. He kept seeing titles that had a strangely familiar ring from the same prominent preacher. One Sunday he decided to visit that church and heard one of his own sermons word for word. He asked for copies of the Pastor’s sermons. For months the man had been preaching Campbell’s sermons. Ernie told the Preacher that he could expect legal action and remuneration for using his sermons without permission.
His Pastoral Prayers were memorable and some of them were published in a volume, Where Cross the Crowded Ways. Some would call those prayers old fashioned because he used Elizabethan English. “I deem it more important that God be our Lord and not our pal.” One of those prayers ended like this:
“We look now to our own needs, and the wants that masquerade as needs; and pray for the wisdom to know one from the other:
Help us to accept ourselves, that we may be delivered from the need of self-promotion;
Help us to commit ourselves, that we may shake the need to be diverted and distracted;
Help us to deny ourselves; that the strident clamorings of the flesh and self may be subdued;
Help us to know ourselves, that we may neither overestimate nor underestimate our gifts;
Let Thy love so prevail in the life and ministry of this congregation that each may count the other precious, and all of us tgether erect within these walls, and beyond, a tstimony to the truth that sets men (sic) free. We pray to Thee, O Father, in the power of the Spirit. Through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen."
He dedicated that book and its proceeds to the vision of Caesar Chavez and the United Farm Workers’ National Union. There is no doubt what he would have say about today’s immigrant conflict.