One glaring omission in my coverage (and that of others) of the Jan. 1 inauguration of Frank Scott as Little Rock mayor was the stirring “New Year’s blessing” Preston Clegg, senior pastor of Second Baptist Church in downtown Little Rock, delivered to close the ceremony. Much of the inaugural ceremony evoked the black church. Scott himself is a preacher and he often sounds like one in political speeches (he closed his inaugural remarks with a story about Esther from the Bible). Folks in the audience clapped and said “yes!” and “
It was a superlative sermon of sorts that lays bare Little Rock’s critical failings in the course of calling for a better tomorrow. I’m including it in full, courtesy of Clegg, below. Let me know if anyone has video. Clegg’s pastorly delivery definitely added an element.
We give you thanks and praise, O God, as we stand on the precipice of history in our city today. We thank you, because we know that you are the God of history and in history. You have seen the glories of our city and the sins of it.
You’ve seen all the joy and laughter and good work within this city over the decades. And you saw it when strange fruit hung from southern trees, even here. You saw it when 9 young people at Little Rock Central held up a mirror to our faces and a window into your own heart. You saw it when all the grandmas cried tears of joy when their babies walked across the stage at graduations and you saw it when all the grandmas cried tears of anguish because of violence in their streets. You saw it all because you are the God of history and the God in history.
But you’re not just the God of the past behind us but also the future before us. We are here, all of us, because we dream of a city where the common good is a little more common and a little more good. We long for a city in which those who live south on Geyer Springs Road and north on Kavanaugh recognize that their destinies are intertwined together. We long for a city in which the folks who live in Pleasant Valley and the folks who frequent Jericho Way know each other’s names. We long for a city in which our prisons are empty and our universities are full. We yearn for a city in which those of many faiths who name you by many names and those of no faith at all, recognize that ALL of us are smarter than ANY of us and ALL of us are stronger than ANY of us, and ALL of us are better than ANY of us.
And today- these memories that stretch back into our past and these dreams that stretch forward into our future, collapse into this present moment, this eternal now- and it’s why we dance in your presence and recognize this sacred moment in this new year.
We pause today, to give thanks for our brother, our friend, and your servant Frank Scott, Jr. We give you thanks for all the people who have shaped him over the course of his life: his family, teachers, ministers, friends, mentors, and co-workers. We thank you for those who ran against him for this very office, and we give thanks that they brought out the best of Frank as he brought out the best of them, displaying a politics worthy of our humanity. We thank you that, in his campaign, he appealed to our better angels, in a day when so many politicians appeal to our lowest demons because their vote counts just the same. We thank you for Frank’s sharp mind, big heart, and listening spirit. Today, we pause to thank you for Frank Scott and for the high and holy ground on which he stands.
We pray today, O Lord, that his campaign of integrity would give birth to an administration of faithfulness. Surround him with good counsel, that seeks the good of ALL in this city and not the narrow agendas of SOME. Embolden him for the weary days ahead, and grant him the strength of your joy for the hard days. Give him discernment to know your voice amidst all the voices. Give him eyes that will always see the least of these and ears to hear the cries of pain in this city. Give him vision that will lead us all closer to your beloved community. When he is in the right, build him up and give him fortitude and resolve. Where he is in the wrong, as we all are from time to time, correct him and make him right. And keep him humble enough to recognize the difference. Grant him a wisdom from on high that cannot be achieved, only received. In short, empower him to be precisely who the people of this city elected him to be, which is Frank Scott Jr.
And far be it from us, O Lord, to place such a weight as this upon his shoulders and pat him on the back and say, “Do well.” No way. We all stand around him today. We stand beside him today. We stand behind him today and altogether, in one voice say, “It’s time.” It’s time. And not just time for him, it’s time for all of us. It’s time for every child in every school in this city to know that we see them and we love them, and we are striving for them to receive the education they deserve. It’s time for those saints who teach them to know of our support and solidarity. It’s time for our churches and synagogues and mosques to leave the building and be the good news we pronounce within. It’s time for those who protect and serve to do just that. It’s time for the homeless to find, not just shelters, but homes. It’s time for our leaders to lead with integrity and character. It’s time, for walls to give way to bridges and old wounds to find their proper healing. It’s time for us ALL to claim our complicity in our problems and our responsibility in the solutions. It is time!
Frank..ly…it’s time. And in this way, O Lord, we don’t just feel as though we’re standing on the precipice of history, but on the precipice of eternity…so bless us in this holy moment, in which your eternity is kissing our time.
Bless this man, whose personal story carries in it the unity we desire for our whole city. Bless this man whose vision captured this city and became our vision. And bless this city so that it can bless all who call it home.
And all those who stand with Frank said, AMEN.
And all those who will seek the good of this city said, AMEN.
And all those who believe it’s time said, AMEN.