I often refer on this blog to certain clergy as mentors, and today I was thinking of a mentor whom I knew only fleetingly but who made a tremendous impression on me in my Virginia days and I think of him from time to time. I knew him as Pastor Johnson, a preacher who had been a client of the law firm I worked at for many years before my seminary days. Pastor Johnson (who has been deceased now for some years) was a client of the firm back in the day when blacks and whites lived separately in Charlottesville, and few attorneys would represent blacks. I remember meeting him and he asked me my interests. I mentioned theology and said something about how it was not a real science or something like that; he responded “it is the _only _ exact science.” He was diminutive in stature but everything he said was a supreme profundity – I remember another great quote – “I study hermeneutics, the study of that which is not there”, as he put it – a very intriguing definition!
When I told him I was Greek Orthodox, Pastor Johnson told me a fascinating story. Back in the day a black couple (parishioners of Pastor J.) had gone to a Greek-owned restaurant for a meal. The proprietor told them that he was sorry but he couldn’t serve them because he would get in trouble with the law. As the pastor told it, he emphasized that the restauranteur was nice and apologetic – he was not some demented racist – he just didn’t want to get in trouble. Pastor Johnson went to visit the Greek priest and told him what had happened. The priest at the time – I think this was the early to mid sixties – told him to tell the couple to return to the restaurant tomorrow at the same time. They did, and received service with a smile. And so integration in Charlottesville, it seems, got its start with a heart-to-heart between two good Christian men, Pastor Johnson and his colleague at the Greek church.
There is a bit more to the history here. While blacks were discriminated against by whites in Charlottesville back in the day, so were Greeks. Greeks were not allowed to own property and had other limits put on them – perhaps this commonality also played a part in this drama. God bless the memory of Pastor Johnson.