Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Bread upon the Waters

Magazine article First Things; A Monthly Journal of Religion and Public Life

Bread upon the Waters

Article excerpt

The death of Richard John Neuhaus shocked and saddened me. I learned of it by calling to express concern and assure him of my prayers in his fight against that cancer of unknown origin. It was too late. He had died the previous morning.

Although news of his death gave me a sinking sense of loss, I knew the loss was mine, not his, and my more enduring thoughts brought back a flood of memories that make me grateful for his life and his friendship.

We first became acquainted as students at Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, but inner-city pastoral ministries brought us together in a far more consequential way a few years later. Each of us was installed as a pastor on Good Shepherd Sunday in April 1961, he at St. John the Evangelist Lutheran Church in the Williamsburg section of Brooklyn, and I across the East River at Trinity Lutheran Church on the Lower East Side of Manhattan.

Those were heady days for inner-city ministry, and we were blessed with multiracial parishes that offered fascination and challenges that exceeded anything I could have imagined. We were only a couple of subway stops apart, so we often got together and occasionally collaborated on projects. Valparaiso University's venerable president, O.P. Kretzmann, responded positively to our proposal that the university send annually a team of students for year-long service, so each of our churches hosted young volunteers who helped us expand our work with children and their families.

As the civil-rights movement began blossoming, Richard took leadership of the New York Lutheran Human Relations Association, which got busloads of us to the 1963 March on Washington. A couple of years later, at his alerting, we found ourselves in Selma for a march across the Edmund Pettis Bridge two days after Bloody Sunday.

One of his more interesting initiatives during and following Vatican II was to invite a handful of Lutheran and Roman Catholic clergy to his parish house for periodic discussions on the prospects for unity between Rome and Wittenberg. In these Richard was clearly the leader, I the learner.

Richard was a master strategist, as he showed in the antiwar movement. So in 1972, when I was exploring with others the idea of launching a Christian-citizens lobby against hunger, we had lunch and I told him of the mixed responses I was getting, which left me uncertain. He listened, read my proposal carefully, and said, "I think you are on to something big. …

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