Thursday, March 10, 2005

ROOTS 2: Lynchburg, VA

From Hartsville, SC, I drove 259 miles north to Lynchburg, VA, where I was born at the Virginia Baptist Hospital on June 13, 1945. I had no memories whatsoever of Lynchburg because, first of all, I was only born there (my parents lived out in the hicks somewhere else where Dad was pastor of a country church) and we moved from VA to MI when I was one.

I arrived late afternoon on Monday, the same sunny, warm day as in Hartsville, and had warm, fuzzy feelings about the city as I drove through. It wasn't until the next day that I actually drove to the hospital on a freezing cold, blustery, rainy day. Funny how weather can change like that. But it didn't keep me from walking the halls of the hospital and checking out Medical Records to make sure I really was born there and not at Lynchburg General Hospital. The short of it is that I won't know for sure till they call me back, but for now, I assume my memory serves me well. Don't you love that southern architecture!

Truly, I was very excited to see where I was born, don't get me wrong. But the biggest, "funest" part of my roots in Lynchburg was to finally meet Mel White and his partner of 24 years, Gary Nixon, and to spend the night with them in their fabulous home. Gay guys! When it comes to interior decorating and food, you can't beat them. And this was definitely no exception. Mel would be the first to tell you that he himself is not the cook or decorator. So we'll lavish all the praise on Gary. Oh my! It would take me pages to even get started. But the bottom line is this: Gary's soulfulness is clearly seen in and outside their home, including the incredible life-sized bronzes in their yard of 2 deer in the woods, a man reading a book on a bench, and a boy pushing a girl on a swing. (You know I have this thing for bronzes!)

Mel's soul is literally in his work, as the founder (along with Gary who keeps the books and organizes everything!) of SoulForce, a ministry of "freedom for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender people from religious and political oppression through the practice of relentless nonviolent resistance," using the principles of Ghandi and Martin Luther King, Jr. It's a ministry I have supported for several years now.

So you can imagine my delight when I received a generous invite to spend the night with them instead of at some nearby hotel. I had e-mailed them that I would be in town and wanted to meet them. Pinch me.

But I get ahead of myself. My personal "roots" with Mel go back to high school when I was in Youth for Christ. We'd have these big rallies in Lansing with kids from all over central Michigan. Big speakers, programs, Bible quizzes, roller skating, a trip to Washington, D.C.--and Mel White! Those are my memories. Mel was the producer of films (53 prize-winning motion picture and TV documentaries) about such things as the blind musician, Ken Medema (who often visited my dad's church and our home), and the Jim Jones' cult disaster in Guyana. He also knew Cam Floria, the musician who with his singing group, the Spurrlows (now The Continentals), recorded my mom's Christmas cantata, A Star Is Born, back in the 60's. Since 1972, he has also written 16 books, 9 of them best-sellers.

Years later, while Bill and I lived in Pasadena when our kids were young, we were members of Pasadena Covenant Church, next door to Fuller Seminary, where Mel White was the pastor just before we arrived. We reaped the benefits of the many innovative programs he started, including the integration of art and music in worship.

Then, horror of horrors, he came out! That story is written in Stranger At the Gate, which I had read with great interest since he and I both had been in long-term marriages with 2 kids and had been in ministry.

So, being with Mel and Gary in Lynchburg, where I was born, was very much a home-coming of sorts for me. Very much a connection to my own personal Roots! And I can tell you this, they did not leave me a stranger at their gate!


  1. I am so happy you made this trip and had the wonderful opportuntiy to meet Mel and Gary. I know this event will hold a special place in your heart and memories for ever! I am also very happy you made it back home from your journey. I too will be home in just over a week.....


  2. What an amazing culmniation after years of support of Mel White. How wonderful.