When I was a child my father was pastor of Shiloh Baptist Church in Bennettsville, South Carolina, and my mother was director of the youth and senior choirs, church organist, founder and head of the Mothers’ Club, and fundraiser-in-chief. We watched Daddy and Mama staying up to date by subscribing to theological and church music publications and buying the latest books by leading theologians and thinkers, and they did not confine their self-improvement to reading. They went to Union Theological Seminary, to a Black Mountain, North Carolina conference center, and to Oberlin College for summer courses and other enrichment, and they went away every year for a week to the Minister’s Institute at Hampton Institute in Virginia, sometimes taking me along. I would wander along Hampton’s waterfront and through the chapel and library at the college Booker T. Washington attended and where he later taught while my parents listened to the latest developments in their fields. I’d join them in the evenings to listen to great sermons and choirs.
Today, the Children’s Defense Fund shares some of the same opportunities for learning, development, great preaching, singing, and much needed fellowship at the annual Samuel DeWitt Proctor Institute for Child Advocacy Ministry. At the Proctor Institute, civil rights icons and students, community organizers and seminarians, and advocates and artists come together in an intergenerational, interracial, multi-ethnic, ecumenical Beloved Community committed to pursuing justice for our nation’s children. This year’s Proctor’s Institute will be a hybrid event with both virtual and in-person options July 18-21. Everyone is welcome!
The 2022 theme is “Raising Democracy by Resurrecting Hope.” Study sessions, plenaries, and the Great Preacher Series will all reinforce this theme while workshops give participants a chance to build organizing skills, deepen understanding of policy concerns, discover programs and strategies to try back home, and share perspectives on justice, community, children, and the work to which we are called. As CDF says: “Movement building is hard work. We can’t do it alone. One generation alone can’t get it done. We need each other, and we need deep spiritual sustenance to keep going and create the just world our children deserve. CDF’s Proctor Institute is where we can sing and pray, strategize and struggle, organize and advocate. It’s where we can share our stories—our hurts and hopes, pain and passion for justice—in Beloved Community. The Proctor Institute refreshes and renews us so we can continue the hard, hopeful, sacred work of pursuing justice for children and ending child poverty.”
Those able to gather in person again will be at CDF’s Alex Haley Farm in Clinton, Tennessee, the spiritual home of the children’s movement. Scholar and theologian Rev. James H. Evans, Jr. composed this grace for the 1999 dedication of Haley Farm’s Langston Hughes Library:
And Jesus said, “Suffer the little ones to come to me”
Let them be included
Let them be visible
They are “the least of these”
Let them come,
These lost lambs
Leave no child behind.
Deep in their eyes is the Kingdom of God
Let them come.
If they come dragging their tender wings
Through the fire and the mire
Let us dry and clean their wings
In the sunshine of our trying
Let them soar with full bellies
Bellies full of pasta, collard greens
Arroz con pollo and sweet tea.
Let them soar with minds bursting with impatient ideas.
Ideas of cold fusion and hot jazz
New medicine, new law and new life.
Let them soar with hearts overflowing with sweet hope
Hope in and beyond city streets
Rural roads and suburban cul-de-sacs.
Hope in worlds not yet known
As we eat of this bounty
Let them into our hearts, our lives.
Put them on our laps and
Let them eat from our plates
As you welcome us to your banquet feast
Bless this repast to our use
And us to thy service.
At a moment when we and our children desperately need sustenance and hope, let this continue to be our prayer.