M.Div., Union, 1981

The Rev. Hoffman F. Brown, III

I am a child of the1950’s, born 95 years after the U.S. Civil War ended. Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania is where I started, but I grew up in the charming streets of Baltimore, Maryland. I never experienced a day of overt racism until I was about 11 years old, and then I took the negative words and attitude of that old White man as simply being a social aberration, rather than a genuine racial assault. I lived in a neighborhood with White and Black families. My primary education was always in racially mixed classes. I attended the racially mixed Forest Presbyterian Church until I became a member of the Concord Baptist Church, a majority Black fellowship.

As a child and as a teenager, the sports programs to which I belonged were racially mixed. I attended a majority White college, Washington and Lee University (1973-1977) and also a majority White seminary, Union Theological Seminary (now Union Presbyterian Seminary) (1977-1981). These choices did not seem to be extraordinary, nor out of place as I believed myself to be trusting the leading of the Holy Spirit. For my intern year (1979-1980) I was a student pastor in North Carolina where I served a yoke ministry: the Beulah Presbyterian Church and the Wilkesboro Presbyterian Chapel; the first a Black congregation, the second a White congregation. In both churches, there was never a moment’s problem, based upon my ethnicity or my color!

My first full time call was in Staunton, Virginia, to the Mt. Zion Baptist Church; a great people with a great vision for ministry. I moved between the Black and White communities with ease. The same of my second charge, the Main Street Baptist Church of Smithfield, Virginia. My final call was to the Wayland Baptist Church of Baltimore, Maryland; a majority Black congregation, but whose members were agreeable towards the White folks who joined (at least for a while). For over forty pastoral years, I saw my life as a textbook example of what it meant to be Black living in America and I believed that I was accepted and integrated into the American dream! NOT!

There was a shift in my environment in this last decade of living. An existential move from where I was, most of my life to where I am today! I do not know who to blame for this late and unwanted change. Should I blame the culture, should I blame the church, should I blame national and local politics, should I blame my parents, should I blame my teachers, should I blame my pastors, should I blame God, or should I blame myself!

I am no longer a pastor with romanticized notions of life; but now I am a retired, ‘woke’ resident of this time and space and I am angry at what I have discovered about the reality between Black and White America!

Retrospectively, I did not just become conscious of the harsh divisions between the races in these last 10 years. I am reminded of the lynching of Emmett Till (1955); the bombing of 16th Street Baptist Church (1963); the assassinations of civil rights leader Medgar Evers, President John F. Kennedy in 1963 and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr (1968); Hughey Newton’s Black Panther Party (1966-1982); the Tuskegee Experiment (1939-1972); the election of President Barak Obama (2008); the Republican Tea Party (2009); the death of Freddie Grey (2015); the rise of the White Evangelical conservative agenda and Donald Trump’s MAGA party (2016); the murder of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor (2020); the brutal police killing of Jayland Walker (2022).

These events/moments, and many more, have contributed to my devolving knowledge concerning the vast gulf between America’s Black and White citizens. Most specifically the universal and generous treatment of White men taken into custody after they commit a crime, juxtaposed to Black males who are shot and killed by police officers, even before they are charged.

I am different now that my country, my church and my choices have changed! The following is an edited exert from a recent sermon I penned which speaks to this major transition in my life and the place where I continue to find hope. I make this an offering and a challenge to the larger community of the Union Presbyterian Seminary of Richmond, Virginia:


In our text this morning the Prophet Isaiah composes

A fitting doxology

While the people of Israel were yet estranged

From their country, suffering and held captive in a foreign land!

Repeatedly, Israel was warned by

The prophets of God concerning their faithless idolatry!

God chose Israel as His own people

And as representative to all the world of His glory! 

But Israel refused to be obedient and chose instead to be

An arrogant and complaining people. 

God used Nebuchadnezzar and the strength of

The Babylonian Empire to punish, diminish and conquer

 His people! 

Notwithstanding the harsh circumstances of Israel,

There was yet hope for the People of God! 

The Prophet Isaiah proposes, in the text this morning,

That despite the desperate condition of the people,

The Great God of Creation would not leave Israel,

Without the hope of redemption! 

And that in their future,

God was going to turn the circumstances around

And return to them the joy of their salvation! 

Even considering the defective actions of His people

God would still achieve His ultimate design

Both in the earth realm and in the space of the divine! 

Israel would soon recognize that the transient and

Often irrelevant issues of her people would not hinder God

From showing compassion, favor and love!

Good people of God

It should be noted and believed by 21st Century America,

That this generation has been arrogant and ignorant

Like Ancient Israel

And the Lord has allowed this country to

Have a Babylonian experience! 

That the 246-year history of this democratic experiment

Called the United States of America

Began with and continues with the inhumane

Treatment of her many citizens of color! 

The disingenuous actions of her racist leadership

Stands clearly in the image of the ancient King Nebuchadnezzar!

With a history of violence and maltreatment

Of her poor, melanized and desperate people!

God who is gracious and just

Will not allow this travesty to continue but for a season!

When the United States of America,

The Oldest and most successful experiment of democracy

In world history

Was violently attacked January 6 of 2021

By insurrectionists posing as patriots

We saw a backlash against the good and the gains

Of this country for the past 7 decades! 

White America has been in her past

And is still today, violently angry that non-whites desire

To share in the promise of America,

Of being a land of prosperity and possibilities! 

What was once done on back roads

With Klansmen in white robes

Is now done in courtrooms with black robes! 

January 6 was not the only infraction against America’s

Black & Brown citizens but: 

Every racial slur,

Every confederate flag,

Every red-lined neighborhood,

Every police drawn revolver, 

Every illegal stop and search, 

Every fixed polling place,

Every bombed home and church,

Every lynched leader, 

Every dashed hope

Every dream deferred,

Every closed voting center, 

Every jaundiced banking institution,

Every food desert, 






Where guns, gangs and rogue police officers

Have ‘unlived’ hundreds, thousands, and dare I say

Millions of Black lives without cause! 

God knows all these issues

And God cares about each person, family and community

Which suffers because of political and personal selfishness,

Giving rise to a practice of ‘ethnic cleansing’

Known clearly to Hitler’s Germany. 

There is nothing which escapes God’s attention! 

But we who are the ‘called of God’

Who are committed to His sovereignty and to His power,

Even with the dimness of this day and hour

When it appears that evil has triumphed, 

We need to listen to the prophet Isaiah when

He declares the protective love of God

Are set in our praises:

Isaiah 61: 10, 11

I will greatly rejoice in the Lord,

My soul shall be joyful in my God;

For He has clothed me with the garments of salvation,

He has covered me with the robe of righteousness,

As a bridegroom decks himself with ornaments,

And as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.


For as the earth brings forth its bud,

As the garden causes the things that are sown in it to spring forth,

So, the Lord God will cause righteousness and praise to spring forth before all the nations. 

Not without challenge or heartache

Our Sovereign God has promised by His word

To meet every need of His people 

And because of God’s promise




My soul rejoices because I am on the battlefield for my Lord! 

My soul rejoices because trouble won’t last always 

My soul rejoices because I’ve been washed in the blood of the lamb 

My soul rejoices because there shall be peace in the valley Someday 

My soul rejoices because God cares for me and you

And He is invested in our todays and our tomorrows!  

JJ Hairston & Youthful Praise say

It best in song when they sing: 

 There will be glory after this.

 There will be victory after this.

 God will turn it around,

 He will bring you out.

 There will be glory after this. 

 There will be glory after this.

 There will be victory after this.

 God will move for you,

 Give Him the praise He’s due.

 There will be glory after this. 

  My trust is, now that I have learned America’s true history,

 Which is also my history,

I will be strong enough to stand against the ravages of racism

And the outrageous outcomes of

Injustice such that I will not and successive generations will not

 Be engaged to repeat this extended sad saga.

Don’t Be Deterred! – A Sermon

Union-PSCE, M.Div, MACE 2010

The Reverend Audrey Todd

Though our world is full of brokenness and uncertainty, we embrace this season – a season of celebration and newness – with weddings, new jobs and graduations! Many are celebrating both an ending and a beginning! An ending because one phase of their lives has concluded, a beginning because many are starting new chapters. Embarking upon a new beginning, can have an enduring effect. Some will question your choices as they did with Jesus.

If you are embarking upon a new chapter, know this: Unfortunately, while you are committed to making a difference, your critics will be watching to discourage you, to discount you and even to deter you. Just as they did with Jesus.

The scripture says, “Upon entering the synagogue, Jesus noticed a man with a deformed hand.” As Jesus was about to heal the man’s hand, His critics watched to see if he was going to heal the man on the Sabbath.

Here Jesus demonstrates four ways to silence your critics:

First, notice needs. Many times, the needs around us become normalized and become easily overlooked. We must intentionally see the needs around us.

Second, not only did Jesus see the need, He encouraged others to see the need. He called the man forward to stand before the gathered group and said, “Stand here where we can see you.” Everyone saw the need, but only Jesus met the need. We must get to the place regularly where faithful action is taken in order to see the manifested power of God in operation. As Jesus says elsewhere, as followers we will be able to do the same works he has done and even greater works.

Third, Jesus neutralized the naysayers’ position by asking revelatory questions. Naysayers believe that the good we do should be confined to a special time or certain days or done in special ways. We see in the text that Jesus neutralized their position when he turned to them and asked “What kind of action suits the Sabbath best? Doing good or evil? Helping people or leaving them helpless?”

In chapter 2, Jesus had already taught on the subject of the Sabbath after the Pharisees asked him why his disciples were breaking the law by harvesting grain on the Sabbath. To the Pharisees’ question Jesus replied, “The Sabbath was made to serve us; we weren’t made to serve the Sabbath. The Son of Man is Lord, even over the Sabbath!”

Notice the order, Jesus taught and then he demonstrated the principle. In other words, the man with the deformed hand served as an ocular demonstration of what Jesus had already taught. What impact would the church have on the earth if it submitted itself to teaching with the aim to do what it had just been taught?

To all who are embarking upon new chapters, think it not strange that when you try to do good as servants of the Most-High God that you will face opposition. Expect critics! You will meet detractors in some of the most surprising places – in your home, on your new job and even in the church!

Lastly, you must navigate to meet the identified needs. Recently, there has been an unhoused woman who sits near the church or lays on the sidewalk. My heart breaks for her whenever I see her. Several have attempted to meet her need, however, she limits how much help she will receive which is her right. Whether people receive the help that we offer or not, we must attempt to meet the needs that we see around us.

Don’t be deterred!

Have you ever had a need – A need to be noticed? Have you fallen on hard times? Have you needed emotional support? I needed to be noticed a time or two in my life. No my hand wasn’t deformed, but my heart and my soul were. I was deformed by my own thoughts of low self-esteem. My soul was tormented with fear. I thank God that He noticed me. Perhaps you too have something that’s deformed in your life. I needed someone courageous enough to go against the laws and practices of the day.

Throughout the Gospel of Mark, we see that Jesus was a man of action. Grieved by those he met in the synagogue that day, in verse 5 we find these words, “He (Jesus) looked around at them angrily and was deeply saddened by their hardened hearts.” As servants of God, we must be ready to encounter what grieves the heart of God. We must anticipate times when we are angry and saddened by messiness, by jealousy, by foolishness, by subtle attempts to sabotage, by hardness of heart. Despite the opposition, Jesus didn’t wait for the Pharisees to answer his question. Jesus healed anyway! He said to the man, ‘Hold out your hand.’ So the man held out his hand and it was restored.”

On your journey, you may encounter those with Pharisaic-thinking who seem determined to undermine and destroy the good you are trying to do. Don’t be deterred, do good. There may be some in your lives who will try to kill you, not through physical death, but they desire to kill your ideas, your reputation, your actions and your impact. They will go so far as to collaborate with their own enemies to kill what God wants to do through you.

Don’t you be deterred!

People were astonished at his doctrine and the authority with which he taught. He quieted demons; he cleansed lepers; and he healed the sick! People tried to limit his work! They tried to box him in to the rules, traditions and immature thinking of the day!

Despite the opposition, Jesus continued the work; many followed him. He sent his followers out to preach, giving them authority to cast out demons.

As His followers, don’t be deterred.

Go forth noticing needs, neutralizing the position of naysayers and navigating to meet needs. Don’t be deterred from doing good in creative ways. Don’t shrink back, trusting in the power of the Holy Spirit to help you. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God planned for us long ago. Any day is a good day to do good!

Don’t be deterred!

Amen and Amen!

Routine History:  Part I

MSW Virginia Commonwealth University; MDiv ‘07

Matthew 24: selected verses 3, 6-7,10-22, 24, 34, 36, 42 ,44

 42Therefore, stay awake, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 

44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

Rev. Veronica Thomas

Scholars vigorously debate how the prophecies of Chapter 24 are to be interpreted. Certain things, however, seem clear. Jesus will come at history’s end. Until Jesus returns, we can expect to experience the consequences of sin in society (wars). It is easy to think of major wars as indicative of the fact that we are at the end of the age. They are not! There have been many wars in the past few thousand years and only about two hundred years of peace. World War I and II, Vietnam War, Persian Gulf War, Iran-Iraq War. All are still in place, with no indications that we are at the end of the age.

Until Jesus returns, we can expect to experience in nature such events as earthquakes and famines. During this month of July alone, we have experienced a record number of earthquakes ranging from various magnitudes. In Afghanistan more than 1,000 people were killed after an earthquake magnitude of 5.9, causing throes of hunger and economic crises.

We hear the continued voices of organizations requesting help to feed hungry children and their families and we continue to do so. We have come a long way from World War II and the end of the age still has not come. We should listen to the Lord and stop listening to false teachers, We will hear about wars and rumors of wars, but we should not be troubled because all these things must come to pass, and still it will not be the end of the age.  There will be no peace until The Prince of Peace comes.

While we wait, we are to concentrate on carrying out our absent Lord’s instructions. Whatever is our understanding of this complex and difficult passage, it is faithfulness that will count.

The Word says these things will take place.  They are Routine History.  Some people will be led astray by what they see.  Do not be  alarmed; for this must take place. These are characteristics of the entire age and are therefore not signs of the end of the age, but the end has not come yet!

False Christs, rumors of wars, famines, pestilences, and earthquakes characterize the entire church age, but they will apparently be intensified as we draw near to the end of the age. We cannot fast or pray these characteristics away. Right now, the population explosion, not just in China and India, has the world frightened, and rightly so. People are starting to die by the thousands and the millions. And this situation is going to increase. The old black horse of famine (Rev. 6:5-6) hasn’t appeared yet, but at the end of the age, not this end time, the black horse and its rider will come forth. What we see today is just the beginning of sorrow.

Jesus’s word of advice to the disciples and is: “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (Matt. 24:42). Our challenge is not to solve the mysteries of prophecy but to be faithful in our service to our Lord. Until he comes, concentrate on the “now”. Serving Jesus now is more important than debating the shape of the future that Matt. 24 describes. It’s God’s plan, it is just Routine History until He comes!

(To be continued) And the people of God said Amen.  So be it!

A Wellspring for God’s Offspring

M.Ed., Temple University ’65; M.Div., Union-PSCE ’07; Ph.D., UConn ’72

Rev. Dr. Helen Bessent Byrd

When I was a small child, my father took my brother and me to see a spring from which came fresh, clear, cold water.  It poured over white sand and small rocks.  A beautiful small stream ran down, over red earth, then green grass and ran to a creek too deep for is to walk across.  Assuring us that the water was clean, pure, and safe to drink as it sprang from the earth, my dad showed us how to scoop the water in our hands and drink it.  Some years later, he led us to that same spring where we saw water continuing to bubble up and flow down to the creek.

This was a “spring of water whose waters never fail,” as is mentioned in Isaiah 58:11.  The prophet Isaiah tells God’s description of the deeds of righteousness that are preferred over evil, justice over injustice towards others, which would lead to salvation.  The Israelites’ blessings would be ever-flowing like the spring that I saw as a child and young adult, which never fails.  Just as the spring that Ezekiel mentions, the one we saw was like life from God – gentle, safe, expanding and deepening.

This spring of water initiates from a fountain that renders an unending supply of water.  So it is with the blessings of the triune God.  When we, the children of God, are obedient to the teaching of his son, Jesus Christ, our joy is in the wellspring of provisions that God makes for his offspring.  God meets us at the point of our need with an abundance of blessings.

Obedience taught by Jesus includes generous giving to others so that they too may be met at the point of their need.  Kindly remember to join the BAA in giving to UPSem so that you will help students to be strengthened and prepared for the transformative experiences they will provide for others who seek to attain the mind of Christ.  Go to the Seminary’s website and give from your wellspring of blessings!  Ashee!  Amen.

This article is an adaptation of one that was published in Devotions for 2015 Synod of the Mid Atlantic Summer Gathering of Presbyterian Women, Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)