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the ministry of presence

06/07/2023 07:23:28 PM

Jun7

Rabbi Jeffrey Myers

What is a friend? The more I thought about it the more challenging I found to be precise, but I will try. To me a friend is someone that you want in your life and that person desires the same. Now for the dictionary. The first definition is: a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard. That seems to be a rather good definition. Why do I raise it? Because a friend came to me at my time of need, and I am grateful, but first some background. This might be repetitive to those who already know the story, and I apologize for the repetition.

I believe it was the Tuesday evening after 10.27, and I was sitting on the sofa mindlessly scrolling through the thousands of emails. Yes, thousands. I so was overwhelmed by the volume that I wondered if I would ever be able to read all of them. As I read one, three more appeared, so I was just scrolling. It was like the old-fashioned one-arm bandit in the casino. After one particular scroll, the email stopped on an unfamiliar name. Little did I recognize at the time that the scrolling stopping at this email must have been the finger of God. Truth be told there were many emails from unfamiliar sources, but my curiosity and memory took over. “I know this place, but I cannot recall how” I thought to myself. Through luck I remembered how and opened the email. It was from someone I had never met; from a town I had perhaps driven through as a child. He wanted to come to town to offer support. “There are so many people already who have come and are coming to Pittsburgh” I muttered under my breath. “I cannot give attention to another”. But he insisted, and would arrive Thursday evening. Something inside told me that I must go meet this man, which I did that Friday morning. Thus began my friendship with Pastor Eric Manning of Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, where on June 17, 2005, a lone gunman massacred nine African Americans, including their pastor, while they studied Bible together.

Pastor Manning and I sat and spoke over coffee for two hours, and during that time I was taught the most powerful phrase that I regularly refer to: the ministry of presence. He came to Pittsburgh because he understood what I was going through and just offered his presence. Pastor Manning asked me if he could attend the funeral of Rose Mallinger that afternoon. I responded with “Not only are you welcome to attend, but I insist that you read Psalm 23 and share some words with the mourners”. Imagine the looks on peoples’ faces when I walked out to begin the service with a black minister. I began with this: I believe in angels. Some of you may now think, ‘This poor man. Can someone help him?’, but I believe that God sends angels in our time of need, and God sent me one. His name is Pastor Eric Manning. I continued with the remainder of the introduction, and our friendship has just grown in intensity over these past 4 ½ years.

He asked me when I was going to testify, insisting that he would come to town to support me. He did, and sat with my wife in the gallery while I offered three hours of testimony. I’m glad that he sat with her, and I’m grateful that he offered his ministry of presence. That’s what a friend does.

Thu, May 30 2024 22 Iyyar 5784