Ahhhhh, the challenges and joys of following a dearly beloved pastor . . . even three pastorates later. One joy, I’ve found, is telling the stories again, stories that have become almost legendary in our community. Yesterday, on a Sunday when we were giving thanks together for the legacy of visionary leaders, I had the opportunity to tell again a story from Calvary’s history.
Clarence Cranford shepherded the Calvary congregation through the rocky years of World War 2 and then through the challenges of Civil Rights in this country. His job was not an easy one and, despite what you might hear in the halls (every single Sunday) he was not universally loved and cherished by all every single moment of his pastorate.
His widow Dorothy told me the first time I met her: “Now don’t you believe everything you hear about Cranny being so perfect and wonderful. That church gave him all sorts of trouble!”
Today as we remember the work of visionary leader Martin Luther King, Jr., who dared to dream about what could be and sacrificed so much to make those dreams reality, I thought it appropriate to note the legacy Cranny left at Calvary: a legacy of inclusion and radical faith during a time when issues of race were dividing our country.
In 1955 Calvary faced the controversial institutional question of whether or not to admit a young black woman into membership. To do so would have been a radical departure from convention and would have made Calvary the first historically white church in Washington, D.C. to officially integrate.
Cranny was heavily burdened by the controversy in the congregation. His son Dick told me Cranny had his resignation letter ready to present to the congregation if they made the decision to exclude this young woman from membership.
Calvary’s history, At Calvary, by Carl and Olive Tiller, records the events:
“When, in 1955, a young black woman applied for church membership, a serious controversy arose. Florence Davis was from Liberia, the product of an American mission school, but there was strong opposition to receiving her into Calvary’s fellowship. Dr. Cranford, even while trying to maintain harmony, came down squarely in favor of accepting her. In the end, she was admitted to membership on a split vote.” (p. 45-46)
Cranny paid a heavy price for his position. Though he is remembered now as a visionary, prophetic and loving pastor, the opposition of the congregation to his positions on issues such as race became, as At Calvary records, “increasingly an unspoken burden for Cranny” (p. 46).
On this day that we remember the legacy of dreamers like Martin Luther King, Jr. . . and even Clarence Cranford . . . may even you and I have the courage to dream about what can become reality in and among us all.