An early mentor to John Kerry

A few years ago I served on an advisory board for Forward Movement, an editorial arm of the Episcopal Church that actually publishes tracts (it calls them pamphlets), a daily devotional called Forward Day by Day and a number of books. I disagree with much of what Forward publishes, but I feel an enduring affection for the people behind the imprint.

Late in the summer I received a courtesy copy of John Walker: A Man for the 21st Century, which Forward planned to distribute more broadly than its usual offerings. Then I remembered a feature story by Evan Thomas in the Aug. 2 Newsweek. In the story, Thomas mentioned an angle that was mostly neglected during the campaign: Kerry’s years at St. Paul’s Episcopal School in Concord, N.H., and his admiration for a priest named John Walker:

Kerry could not complain to his parents ("I just didn’t"), but he was fortunate in finding a mentor in John Walker, the school’s first black teacher (and later the Episcopal Bishop of Washington). Walker entertained Kerry and other social unfortunates . . . with Harry Belafonte on the record player and encouraged them to read Ralph Waldo Emerson (who wrote in his landmark essay "Self Reliance," "What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think").

The book is by Robert Harrison, an Episcopal priest in the Diocese of Washington. It does not mention Walker’s friendship with Kerry, and it touches only a few times on Walker’s time at St. Paul’s:

He was always teaching, stretching, persuading, gently chiding or encouraging, calling forth the Church to do its slow but vital work of "binding up the wounded, and, without drumbeat or fanfare, offering its life for the lives of the people." He "opened privileged eyes to a world filled with inequality," according to a friend from his St. Paul’s days, but always with a "kind, gentle, loving manner." He was closer than a Father to students from that school, changing their lives in ways both "quiet and deep." He was a comforting presence, leaving anyone he met with the feeling that he liked them, as one student wrote, "no matter who I was, what color I was, or what I did."

Kerry’s failed bid for the White House deprives Forward of an extended marketing opportunity, but perhaps this noble book can still find an audience among students of the Episcopal Church in the late 20th century (Walker died in 1989.)

John Walker: A Man for the 21st Century is available from Amazon or directly from Forward Movement.

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  • Darrell Grizzle

    Just out of curiosity, Doug, what is it that Forward publishes that you disagree with?

  • Douglas LeBlanc

    Dear Darrell,

    Forward Day by Day frequently contains some misunderstanding of evangelical faith, some statement of universalism or some other manifestation of cutting-edge Episcopal faith that I find troubling. Forgive the generalization, but I’m basing this on my memory of past editions.

  • Jeff in Ohio

    Doug, you remember correctly. The Nov. 4th entry

    looked like a direct slap in the face to the outcome

    of the election on the 2nd. Since it was in the

    rack at my parish in Oct. it couldn’t have been

    written with that in mind.

  • Jill

    We quit putting Forward Day by Day in the tract rack at our church after the rector expressed his discontent with it. (The subtle hints of universalism, more liberal-leaning theology, etc.) We are now carrying the devotional called Our Daily Bread, published by RBC Ministries out of Grand Rapids, MI.

  • MarketingCoordinator@FM

    It is always interesting to hear the various perspectives and thoughts those beyond our immediate circle of interaction share regarding Forward Movement and our resources.

    Thank you Mr. LeBlanc for your thoughts on Bishop Walker’s biography/memoir, and the connection to Senator Kerry. It is noteworthy that during a speech to the National Baptist Convention earlier this year, the Senator spoke fondly of Bishop Walker.

    To the question of a response in FDxD (Nov. 4) to the election, you are correct to assume this is coincidental, as the specific month’s meditations are prepared months in advance of publication.

  • Darrell Grizzle

    Actually, I’ve been disappointed several times with the *conservative* bent of Forward Day by Day. I guess we all view things through our own filters.