THE BLOG
02/02/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

Bill Stringfellow, Will Campbell, Don Benedict

And there are many other names. When I noticed at Faith and Theology an apparent "discovery" of Bill Stringfellow, I left the following comment, to which I have now added links, to facilitate some remembrance of a few in an entire generation of leaders whose influence on the churches was unfortunately more minimal than one might have wished, in retrospect. Colleagues, mentors and friends.

If you like Bill Stringfellow you might also like Will Campbell and others who were around for the Conference on Religion and Race in the early 60s in Chicago. Stringfellow and Campbell raised difficult and confrontational issues and were skewered by the established church folk. Campbell lost his job in the NCC. It was an interesting time. I stayed with WS and his companion Anthony Towne on Block Island in the 70s for a while, enough to appreciate both his extreme frailty at the time and his penchant for circuses. The two men had recently played host to a fugitive Daniel Berrigan. Among those who were instrumental in developing the East Harlem Protestant Parish, Don Benedict died last summer in Vermont and Bill Webber now lives in New Jersey and George Todd is still active in New York. Among the inspirational figures of that era, one who is largely lost to us online is Jim Robinson who was the pastor of the Church of the Master in Harlem and who later founded Crossroads Africa. The demise of Christianity and Crisis magazine, also thriving during this era is a tangible indication of how seriously the input of Stringfellow and others was taken by the mainlime churches.

In preparing this I found the following file that suggests that Jim Robinson was hardly immune to the anti-Communist fervor of the time. SOURCE

FRIDAY UPDATE: I talked to Will Campbell yesterday after posting this. He recently received an award at Yale Divinity School where he went, as a poor Southern boy many years ago.

Will became a civil rights point person in the South, much sought out by sympathetic Northerners as a bridge to the reality of things during the late 1050s and early 1960s.

I first met Will in 1961 as part of the Student Interracial Ministry. He was based in Nashville and I was working as the assistant pastor at the church of the Rev. Kelly Miller Smith who was also head of the Nashville Christian Leadership Conference.

During the 1960s I maintained close contact with Will and at one point visited several Southern seminaries at his urging to tell of the Student Interracial Ministry.

Later, we worked together on Jonathan's Wake, an effort to raise the consciousness of the major white denominations on race and reparations. During the early 1980s I worked with WIll to gain support for his Committee of Southern Churchmen.

We shared an interest in country music and Will had many friends including Waylon Jennings and Tom T. Hall. At one point we joined Waylon and Jessie Coulter, his wife, on a tour through Tennesee and Mississippi. At another, we went with Tom T. Hall to bless some animals.

I look back at this time and the term networking comes to mind. All the people named in this post were networkers. Some like Jim Robinson to the point of being the inspiration for the Peace Corps. Others like Kelly Miller Smith being the unsung equivalent of Martin Luther King, Jr., in Nashville, the community acknowledged to have been the epicenter of civil rights activisim in 1960 and 1961.

Will at 84 is still carrying on his own form of ministry, still writing books and still making establishment folk uncomfortable. That is a reasonable indication of what all of these folks did or still do, along with an army of others in that largely forgotten, networking generation, doing with phones and little magazines like Katallagete, Christianity and Crisis and Renewal and celebratory events what we now seek to do with sites and blogs, etc.

I should add that some of the links here are new, meaning that the Web is catching up with history over time. Hopefully the resources for understanding each of the people named will increase over time.

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