Dr. B. Sam Hart: A Tribute to my Grandfather

When I was little, I am told that on Sunday mornings after having been dressed up in my little suit and of course also wearing my clip on tie, I would find myself standing in the kitchen. There I would proudly hold my bible tight and proclaim “teachings of the gospel, teachings of the gospel”. I was imitating my grandfather, who happened to also be my pastor when I was a little guy. That story probably doesn’t surprise many who know me now, given my particular vocation and love for preaching. However, my current ministry ought not to be understood without considering my grandfather’s legacy. I stand on the shoulders of him, my great grandfather, as well as my own father as ministry is concerned.

My grandfather was born on April 8, 1931,  in New York City. He was named after B.M. Nottage and the prophet Samuel.  He attended Grace Gospel Chapel in Harlem, a church from the Plymouth Brethren movement, comprised of mostly Jamaicans and other West Indies populations who had immigrated from the islands to NYC. His own father who originally was from Jamaica, took his family back to the island to be a missionary and plant churches. My grandfather lived in Clowmill, Jamaica from 1932-1948.  His british and dignified preaching style can be rooted back to the british style schooling he received in Jamaica (Jamiaca was colonized by England).

Grace Gospel Chapel, Harlem, NY.

He returned to the U.S and to the assembly in Harlem as a teenager. In the 1950’s he attended Gordon College in Boston. My grandfather married my grandmother Joyce in June 1951. In 1953, while a junior at Gordon College, he had the idea to start the Grand Old Gospel Fellowship. His desire was to church plant strong biblically grounded black churches in urban centers. Roxbury Gospel Chapel in Boston was the first of many churches that he would plant. Upon invitation, he came to Philly to church plant. The first church was Calvary Gospel Chapel and was planted in West Philly. It continues to be pastored by Bro. Joe Ginyard who helped church plant that church alongside my grandfather. My grandfather would continue to plant several churches in the Philadelphia area and hand the leadership and oversight over to godly men. As Pastor Sam Butler (Montco Bible Fellowship) has mentioned, it was almost completely unheard of  at that time to plant churches and move on, and not have people call you bishop. The Grand Old Gospel Fellowship was officially formed in 1960 and was incorporated in 1961.

Dr. Tony Evans both responded to the call of ministry and served under my Grandfather as a young man. In many ways, much of the ministry he does now is directly an outflow of what he saw while working with the GOGF.

One of the notable accomplishments for my grandfather was that he started the first black owned radio station in Pennsylvania, WYIS 690 out of Phoenixville, and serving the black population in Philadelphia, PA.

Likewise, my grandfather was nominated to be on the Civil Rights Commission on February 9th, 1982. However, as I understand it, his views on homosexuality were too conservative, and therefore he was never actually elected onto the commission.

One of the people he partnered with in ministry and crusades was the late Tom Skinner, who also attended Grace Gospel Chapel in Harlem for a period of time. I know they had done crusades together in both Harlem and Jamaica, possibly other places as well. Skinner, is most notably known for being a black evangelical author and speaker who was outspoken on issues of race and justice as well as for being a great evangelist.

Tom Skinner (Back Center), Dr. B. Sam Hart (Back Right)

One of the ministries that were started by my grandfather was Hart’s Children’s Home in Jamaica, which cares for orphans from the island. Since then the GOGF has also started another home in India for orphans.

GOGF Ministries (current name) has a three-fold approach to ministry as an organization; Planting Churches, Preparing Leaders, and Proclaiming the gospel. There are currently 14 churches in the GOGF network. And the Grand Old Gospel Hour ministry continues to be broadcasted nationally, internationally, and online. While my grandfather has been declining in health, my dad Dr. Tony Hart has taken over the leadership of the ministry as President of GOGF ministries.

It was my grandfather’s crusades and the ministry of the Grand Old Gospel Hour radio program that put him onto the national stage. He was a long time board member of the National Religious Broadcasters and while he was still living he became a NRB Hall of Fame recipient for his national and global radio ministry. Thousands of people have been impacted by his ministry. Since his death I have had a lot of people sharing with me how my grandfather impacted their life.

While I am not as traditional as my grandfather was, I definitely stand on his shoulders. Likewise, I was reminded that my grandfather was actually not very traditional for his time, but rather was innovative in his ministry and vision. Similarly, his very calling and invitation to Philadelphia is the reason I am planted where I am. It gives me a different perspective on vocation and calling, and how I can take hold of the spiritual inheritance that has been passed on to me and make a difference in Philadelphia myself, in continuity with his original decision to move to the city, back in the 60’s.

I will miss my grandfather, but I will always remember my time with him.  I still smile when I remember seeing him eat pizza with a knife and fork, my grandparents taking my siblings and some cousins to The Ground Round to eat, and just spending time with him. He loved his Grand kids very much. We love you Grand Dad and we know that you are finally at rest in the Lord!

Picture with my grandparents with most (not all) of their grandkids and great grandkids

 

Funeral Arrangements:

The homegoing service will be held Friday, January 27, 2012, 11:00 am at New
Covenant Church of Philadelphia, 7500 Germantown Ave, Philadelphia, PA
19119. An opportunity to view will precede the service from 9-11am. In lieu of
flowers, donations can be made to GOGF Ministries, the ministry to which he
dedicated his life.
If you need additional information, please contact the GOGF Ministries
office at 215-361-8111 or admin@gogf.org.  www.gogf.org

 

 

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Dr. Jeremiah Wright

Dr. Jeremiah Wright and Drew Hart

So Jeremiah Wright was in Philly, on my block. He spoke on the 14th and the 15th at the traditional baptist church on the corner.  Unfortunately, I was sick and was only able to make it out on the 15th. He looked at how Paul and Silas were treated, along with how they responded to that treatment, and its final outcome. He compared their being put “in an awkward predicament” having done nothing wrong, and having been lied on, with the African American experience of slavery, suffering, and stereotypes (my alliteration, not his).

He called on folks to respond with prayer, realizing that our prayers are being heard by God in ways we cannot fathom. He also called on us to praise, in which he particularly highlighted the need to pass on the negro spirituals and old songs that have sustained our community for generations.

He also reminded us that God likes to work in the midnight hour, over and over again, he shows up in the midnight hour, turning the situation around. He said much more, unfortunately I didn’t take notes, and so this is the core of what I remember of the top of my head, two days later.

Jeremiah Wright in the Pulpit

Finally, I just want to state that Jeremiah Wright is a lyricist. Yes, he is a wordsmith, who carefully crafts and delivers words with power, courage, creativity, and prophetic imagination. I thoroughly enjoyed just hearing him speak, nonetheless actually receiving the content packaged in his brilliance.

I know that Jeremiah Wright is a controversial figure to many in our country, but I urge you to move past the sound bites, and you will see that he is nothing more than a continuation of the black prophetic tradition that we see in the likes of Sojourner Truth, Frederick Douglas, Ida B. Wells, Fred Shuttlesworth, Martin Luther King, Jr., and other courageous black christian leaders who spoke truth to power, whether or not it was convenient or popular. In the case of speaking against racism on a systemic level in America, it has never been popular with the dominant culture.

Wright Around The Way!

Jeremiah Wright speaking at the church across the street.

Looking forward to Jeremiah Wright coming to my block next week, when he will be speaking at the Baptist church on my block on Monday and Tuesday. I have really appreciated his perspective. I honestly was not very familiar with him before President Obama and him split ways. From that point forward, specifically after hearing his response, I decisively was on #TeamWright. I am not an Obama hater, however, I did and continue to support the prophetic voice over and above a political positioning. President Obama at the end of the day is a politician, a politician for an empire. At the same point, Wright speaks out of conviction from subversive sub-dominant society, and more importantly on behalf of the Kingdom of God. We should never confuse politics from the center with prophetic subversion from the margins.

I’ll let you know how it goes. Likewise it gives me an excuse to hang out with my baptist brothers and sisters, it’s been so long 😉

Kenya: Who Am I?

In America black people constantly wrestle with racial identity. As a young black man I have to consciously resist the stereotypes of dominant society, as they attempt to define who I am. Likewise I have to resist dominant society’s portrayals of who they think I ought to be. While that is easily communicated on paper, actually walking the tight rope of identity is difficult. One of the most fundamental questions asked by all of humanity is “Who am I?”  As Christians we go a step further wanting to know who we are in Christ, and how do we reflect the unique aspect of the Imago Dei that has been imprinted upon us.

I do not want to sound cheesy, but being in Africa, spending time alongside my African brothers and sisters was a spiritual, psychological encounter that gave me an even deeper glimpse into myself. It wasn’t merely being in a context where blacks are the majority of the population, because I already have that in the neighborhood where I live (Philly). However, I think it was the knowledge of the fact that I didn’t have to worry about stereotypes or archetypes from white or black folk, but could comfortably be me without judgement. The racial climate doesn’t easily allow for  much of that in America. We must intentionally seek it out, even when it seems subversive to some who think we ought to all assimilate into one bland and uniformed cultural expression, disregarding the diversity created by God.  I believe that the better we truly know ourselves and who we are, the more capable we will be in ministering to others. Kenya was a timely gift.

Funny Chic-Fil-A Video

Just got a new Chic-Fil-A restaurant in our neighborhood (really on the edge of the city, but momma always said beggars can’t be choosers!).  Stopped in for lunch, and it was banging as always.  Here is a funny chic-fil-a video a friend sent me in honor of  our new fast food joint!

Theological Mut

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I am a theological mut. My theology, ideology, and convictions are shaped by a plethora of christian streams and traditions. This usually leaves me finding myself associating with diverse theological communities, yet hardly ever feeling at home anywhere I go.

I meet monthly with some local Philly leaders, pastors, and proffessors. Many of them surprisingly have some odd theological combinations themselves. It’s nice to have a place of familiarity and comfort… even if only for 2 hours a month.

Urban Retreat Center…

Why is it that when we go on retreats it is always to rural areas? We always go out into the country to meet and hear from God, but why don’t we ever retreat in urban contexts? Can’t we also take time to intentionally dwell in the city to hear God? Does God only speak to us when we go to less populated and less developed spaces? Or is it just a Christian bias that we all have bought into…

Maybe instead of retreating from the city we could actually retreat to the city. There might actually be some advantages to retreating in the urban context! What can God teach us in the midst of all the hustle and bustle of life? How might we see Jesus anew surrounded by poor and systemically oppressed people? How might God shape and transform His people in the urban setting? What could an individual or communities time look like as they seek God submerged in the hood? I would love to hear your thoughts and perspectives on this. Freestyle with me…

Unleashed…

Most churches seem to have their members on a short leash. Think about it, while most churches “teach” that the members need to go out and witness to others, they have everyone shackled and busy inside the church.  Who are considered the most faithful people in the church? Usually they are the ones who commit the most time serving and ministering inside the church.  Shoot, there is Sunday service, and of course if you are good you also attend communion and Sunday School. Most churches have a wednesday night bible study at their church.  Of course, if you are really serious you will give up your time and serve on some committee, comission, church board, or meeting once a week.  Don’t forget rehearsal for the choir, worship teams, band, drama, etc. Then we got our fellowships for the men, for the women, for the young adults, for the youth.  We also got singles stuff and stuff for married folks too.  If you are a “faithful” church member, then you are lucky to have even a few evenings home with the family.   At the end of each week, surprisingly we find no time to reach, serve, and love neighbors and strangers in our community. (I don’t blame the members, I blame us leaders for this problem).

This doesn’t seem to be what is going on in the New Testament.  And please, don’t get me wrong I am not saying that all those things are inherently wrong. However, I believe the primary role of the church is to equip and unleash the Church for mission locally, regionally, and globally. And when I say that I am not thinking primarily of evangelism events and missions programs. What I mean is that the Church ought to be released to go out and interact and engage the community naturally as God’s people.  Whether individually or collectively we are to be the voice, hands, and feet of Jesus in our community.

For the neighborhood I live in I imagine people spending time with neigbors on the block or on the corner.  I imagine Christians out at the basketball courts hanging out, or choppin it up about current events in the barbershop.  I see christians having their favorite local bar where everyone knows their name and where they are building relationships with people that most church members would never encounter regularly.  This can never happen if we are on a tight leash spending most of our time keeping church programs afloat.  More than ever I think it is time for the church to disciple and equip its people in sacrificially minded community (opposed to consumer minded communities) so that it may be unleashed to bear witness to Christ to a world that needs it.

Nas – I Can

It’s time for us to invest in our young people! Too many young folk dropping out of school, too many young folk that don’t believe in their own gifts and talents, too many young folk with demoralized and beat down psyches. While I think we must continue to address the wealth disparities that exist, we need to do much work in the psychological and spiritual realm.

How do we begin to restore what was stripped from the black community in America through 400 years of inhumane slavery, jim crow laws, lynching, segregation, brutality, stereotypes, and hatred?