Priest says, ‘Being family is what Christianity is all about’

COLUMBIA — When the Office of Ethnic Ministries invited Father George Franklin to put on a workshop for black parishes, they thought they were getting a witty, audacious presenter who is unafraid of straight talk. And that’s exactly what they did get.

As he spoke at St. Martin de Porres School on Jan. 25, Father Franklin entertained as he taught. Sometimes it was one-liners; other times he broke into song as he lectured. He had people serving each other; he quoted Scripture.

Through it all, however, the Virgin Islander imparted the lessons of his theme: “A cold cup of water.”

“Being family is what Christianity is all about,” Father Franklin said. “We learn by experience, so we can only do that in practical ways, by exercises and service. We’re dealing with reality here.”

So Father Paul Williams, vicar for African-American Catholics, cruised the room with a tray of juice drinks, and deacons served lunch to teen-agers. Everyone in the crowd was assigned a shadow to care for.

“It was interesting. I liked the idea that no one should be a stranger in your church,” said Brother David Boone of the Oratory.

The concept of asking everyone his or her name before Mass was one of the tamer ideas emanating from the frantic mind of Father Franklin. Here are some others:

“In our church, there are too many judges and not enough doctors and nurses.”

“Mercy without justice is not justice. It’s license.”

“Christianity is not about doing; it’s about being.”

“That’s the way God loves, unconditionally. Nothing you can do can stop God from loving you, and you don’t have to do anything to get God’s love.”

“I never heard such nonsense in my life, Catholics divorcing. There is no divorce in the Catholic Church.”

“If you’re looking for the perfect man, I’m sorry. I’m a priest.”

The crowd was a mixture of older ministers and parishioners of predominantly black parishes, youth and youth leaders. The presenter followed a scripted format, enlivened by his bon mots. The recipe worked.

“There’s a lot of comedy, but it’s a very interesting presentation,” said Jamar Anderson, 17. “You definitely can’t fall asleep with him.”

Kishinda House, youth leader at St. Martin, appreciated what the diocese was attempting by sponsoring the workshop: “The idea is to bring members of black Catholic parishes in the Diocese of Charleston together, to learn to be leaders. You can take what you get here back to your church, your job or whatever group you’re involved with.”

Father George A. Franklin is a diocesan priest and director of evangelization in the Diocese of St. Thomas, Virgin Islands.