Volume 34, No. 12
A Vigil for Justice
For many decades, the late Louis Austin and his wife, Katye, were “pillars of the church” at Royal Lane Baptist Church. Louis was president of Brown and Root, the corporation famous for major construction projects for the U.S. military around the world. He was a staunch, and active, Republican and was very politically conservative. But he was fair, principled and a Christian.
In the early 1980’s, a gay couple began visiting the worship services at Royal Lane. Soon, there was a “stir” throughout the church about the issue of gays “in our church.” As the discussion intensified, groups began to form and the members of the groups became more openly identified.
One Sunday morning, with the gay couple in attendance, Louis Austin sought them out after the service. With Katye at his side, Louis extended his hand, and said, “My name is Louis Austin. This is my wife, Katye. Welcome to Royal Lane. We want you to know that you are welcome here anytime.” There was no longer an issue.
Later in the 1980’s, while I was serving as Chair of the Long Range Planning Committee. Pastor Ray Vickrey met with us to discuss, “What kind of church Royal Lane wants to be.” (If memory serves me correctly, Paulette Harrison was on the committee and was present at that meeting.)
Ray led the discussion on the history of Royal Lane which was characterized by openness, inclusion and acceptance of anyone and everyone seeking a spiritual home or solace. Several times in the discussion, it was noted that, at Royal Lane, “we are diverse people.” Then Ray said, “Diverse people united in Christ.” He looked at us and said, “I like that! Diverse people united in Christ. I think I’ll use it.”
Ray then began including it in the bulletin for the Sunday Morning worship services and, from that time to this day, this phrase has been used to identify and describe Royal Lane Baptist Church.
In the almost forty years that I have been a member of Royal Lane, we have not only lived up to that description, we have expanded its meaning. Now, under the leadership of Mike Gregg, we have a Social Justice Team with a mandate from the church to work toward meaningful and significant change in the areas of racial justice, immigration reform, and healthcare access.
On Friday evening, June 12, the Social Justice Committee welcomed approximately thirty – forty church-members and guests for a vigil in support of Black Lives Matter. Our purpose was to stand in solidarity with those seeking equal justice and fairness by the judicial system and law-enforcement – those for whom such treatment has been long denied. This prayer vigil was a significant opportunity to experience, and participate in, a poignant manifestation of what Royal Lane is all about.
The vigil began with Harry Wooten’s telling of the history of the theme-song of the civil rights movement, “We Shall Overcome,” followed by a stirring presentation of this song by David Weigle, Diana Zavala and Jordan Stubblefield. Following prayer and textual readings by Austen Maddox & Susie Leinneweber, Jennifer Maddox led in a time of remembrance called, “Say Their Names”, as we heard and repeated the names of many of those who have been killed in recent years, including the name of George Floyd.
Joey and Rosa Belgard presented an originally-crafted liturgy and led the group in the lighting of candles followed by the singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing”. The vigil concluded with a silent walk around the perimeter of the Royal Lane campus, and a benediction by our pastor, Mike Gregg.
As we observe the overwhelming response and reaction by massive numbers of people across the nation in the wake of the death of George Floyd, we have a unique opportunity to make significant strides toward the goals being pursued by the Social Justice Committee and by Royal Lane Baptist Church as a whole.
True to our history and the nature of our character as a church body, we invite and urge you to be an aggressive and tireless participant in our efforts for justice and equality for all.