My first mentor in ministry was Ron Rice, missions pastor at First Baptist Church Winston-Salem, North Carolina. I was an eager college student helping out with an inner-city ministry. It was the sixties and I was full of ideas and ideals. Ron was a seasoned veteran of life in the tension between the needs of the poor and the self-understanding of affluent Christians. His kindly response to my radical schemes was to listen carefully and then pronounce in his slow drawl, “Well . . .now . . .Sharyn . . .that’s interesting.”
In the spring of 1968 the anger over Dr. King’s murder spilled out into the streets of East Winston. The kids in the neighborhood came running to tell Ron and me to go home. We left, but the next day Ron was out planting flowers in the yard of the building where the ministry was centered. When I caught up with him and asked him what he thought he was doing, he said, “Jeremiah bought a piece of land during the siege of Jerusalem. I’m planting flowers. We’ll be here.”
The most important ministry skill that I learned from Ron Rice was what he called “porch sittin’ for Jesus.” He taught me that programming for people was less important than building relationships. In the late sixties/early seventies, some white churches were beginning to try to help the mostly black urban families in Winston-Salem, but “porch sittin’” was not about helping. It was about friendships. So I learned to spend time on people’s porches and at their kitchen tables.
There was one family in particular with whom I spent a lot of time—the Smiths. Once when I was driving a van full of kids somewhere, a boy in the back kept trying to open the back door of the van while it was moving. When I told him to stop, he shouted, “Shut up, honkie!” The oldest Smith girl, sitting in the passenger seat, turned to me with a shocked expression and asked, “Sharyn, are you WHITE?”
I have often wished that I had managed something more profound than “Uh-huh,” but it was all I could think of at the time. No sermon or lecture or book since then has resulted in praise that I have cherished more.