Rev. Lowery was my pastor from 1986 to 1992 at Cascade United Methodist Church. I was in college then grad school, but still active in the church and played keyboards/piano for the New Advent Choir. That might not seem controversial but for some it was.
My dad was pastor of Cascade from 1974–1986, and he was moved to Ben Hill United Methodist Church that summer. Usually, the family moves. But I had “my” church and figured I could hear a sermon from him anytime, so I kept my membership.
The core of Methodism is the itinerant ministry, where congregations get the benefit of the different gifts from different pastors over time. I can say the time Lowery was my pastor I became much more interested in politics and Civil Rights. It is hard not to when you hear sermons that provide a spiritual context while he narrated the history of the movement, while explaining the civil rights issues of the day. He always had a good message about Reagan during those years, and he was ALWAYS hilarious. I would often tell my mom what he said that Sunday.
When I was given the task of planning the centennial lectures at Albany State in 2003, Dr. Lowery was one of the people I asked to come speak. He did. In 2007 when we were launching our new “Think Justice” mission at Philander Smith College, I asked him to speak for that too. He did. I remember going to lunch with him and the late Bishop Felton May where Rev. Lowery told him that Atlanta needed me to come back. Bishop May wasn’t having it! But I was honored that he felt I belonged back home and he wanted to plant that seed.
He was always willing to support me, something that was an honor when you realize he was a giant in the Civil Rights movement. Watching him at the inauguration of President Barack Obama, or giving Bush the business at Rosa Parks’ funeral, I would always take pride that I knew him, and he knew me.
We were last together in June of 2017 at the funeral of Samuel DuBois Cook, past president of Dillard. Even in his mid nineties, he still greeted me as “Walter Mark,” a phrase used by folks who know me and my dad well. We were 2 of the 17 speakers that day, and of course, he had pointed words with humor, never afraid to even make fun of himself.
But his legacy was something serious, and I am thankful to have gotten to know him. His signature filler, “Hello?” reminded us that he just made a significant point and to ensure that we were listening.
Rev. Lowery, I was listening. Thank you.