My grandmother lived in a tiny town in Iowa settled by German Catholics. Seven hundred people in the middle of farm country.
Everyone was white.
I loved my grandmother, but she was a product of her times. I don't think I've ever eaten a Brazil nut, but I know about them because Grandma called them "nigger's toes." I have some vague memory of her using the term "darkie," but really, I'm not sure who she would have been talking about since there were no blacks in her life.
So, you can imagine the buzz a few years back when the church imposed its regular rotation of priests, and the newcomer to town turned out to be from Kinshasa, Congo.
We heard about that right away in grandma's weekly phone call. Sure enough, a number of folks decided they'd drive half an hour to the next town rather than listen to a black man — from Africa, to boot — preach in the pulpit. Honestly, I think my grandma was on the fence. But she knew I'd spent a lot of time in Kinshasa when I was posted to West Africa for NPR, so she asked me about the place. (Of course, the new priest had been trained in London, but never mind.) With a little encouragement, she invited Father Apo to dinner, and even served him her famous homemade pie.
It turns out Father Apo was a pretty savvy man who knew exactly what he was getting into, and managed to win over most people. That was cemented at the church's annual fall auction. Father Apo offered a home-cooked African dinner, at which he promised to wear the traditional African robe, a boubou. Darn if people didn't run that bid up so high that he was persuaded to put on TWO dinners.
I thought about all this as we were prepping for a fascinating interview for Friday's show. Two Southern Baptist congregations in Louisville, Kentucky — one white, the other black — have just merged. The co-pastors tell us how it came about, and how the newly integrated congregation is reacting. Yes, some people decided to leave. But these men of faith are upbeat about their experiment, and it's a lovely conversation I hope you'll tune in for.