Reflections: Pentecost Presbytery

by | Mar 2, 2020

Truly I tell you, wherever the good news is proclaimed in the whole world, what she has done will be told in remembrance of her.

Mark 14:9

Last week I asked that you mark your calendars for July 21st, when we will spend the evening in conversation and service with our younger generation.  As much as we church types talk about the importance of youth, it’s always ironic to me how little time we spend actually talking with, and listening to, the youth around us.  So this will be a great opportunity to learn and connect.

Today I ask that you mark your calendars again.  Not only do we have a Presbytery meeting coming up on March 28, but we will have a special Pentecost Presbytery meeting on May 30.  General Assembly Co-Moderator Rev. Cindy Kohlmann will be in Southern California that week, and she will be with us for that meeting.  The Presbytery meeting will be at Iglesia de la Comunidad in Highland Park, and the Presbytery planning team just talked about some fun ways to celebrate Pentecost together in worship and fellowship.  Two ways have to do with food, so of course I’m excited!

For that day’s communion service, we are hoping to put together a holy feast reflecting the cultures of our presbytery, so at some point I will be asking folks to suggest various “breads” from your cultural tradition.  We have done this before, but I need your help to make sure I’m being more inclusive—for instance, the last time I wanted to include puto, but the Filipino market I went to didn’t have it!

And we are talking about having a grand potluck, and to make it even a little more special, there might be a little competition involved.  We are hoping to have a gathering of everyone in San Gabriel Presbytery, not just the commissioners to the meeting.  So think about some great food you can bring, and we’ll share details later. 

Now when you read Mark 14:9 above, what did you think of?  Though I mention Rev. Kohlmann, and she is certainly memorable, I wasn’t remembering her.  Of course it’s important to remember, especially during this season of Lent, the woman who came and showed love for Jesus as he was looking ahead to the cross.  But the woman who inspired me to remember this text was named Hazel Scott.

Who is Hazel Scott?

The name does not get mentioned much.  The only time her name has been uttered in public in my memory was by Alicia Keys at the 2019 Grammys—and in that celebration of all things music, by the music industry itself, no one clapped in recognition.  It’s only due to the magic of the Internet that I happened upon an article on this person, and found an incredible video of Ms. Scott at two pianos.  Sadly, she is NOT remembered widely.

Born in Trinidad in 1920 but raised in New York City, Scott was a child prodigy in piano, and was trained at the Juilliard School from age 8.  She began performing in her teens and was known for classical expertise, but also doing jazz improvizations of the classics.  She also sang and did some acting, and she was the first person of African descent to have their own television show in America, “The Hazel Scott Show,” which debuted on July 3, 1950.

In the 1940s she appeared in several movies, some patriotic.  Throughout her life she stood up for civil rights.  She refused to perform for segregated audiences.  She wrote into her film contracts control of her image, and went on strike when a film was about to dress the black woman extras along negative stereotyped lines.  She sued a restaurant in Pasco, Washington, for refusing to serve her due to her race. 

In 1950, a pamphlet was published that listed Hazel Scott, along with 150 other artists and performers such as Orson Welles, Lillian Hellman, and Leonard Bernstein, as involved in pro-Communist causes.  These individuals were denied employment and many were called to testify before Congress during the anti-Soviet scare of the McCarthy era.  “The Hazel Scott Show” was cancelled.  And when she was called to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee, she spoke eloquently that “the entertainment profession has done its part for America, in war and peace, and it must not be dragged through the mud of hysterical name-calling at a moment when we need to enrich and project the American way of life to the world. There is no better, more effective, more easily understood medium for telling and selling the American way of life than our entertainers, creative artists, and performers, for they are the real voice of America.”  Soon after this, Hazel Scott relocated to Paris, and then returned to New York in 1967, but never regained her fame and died in 1981.

I believe that the season of Lent is a time to reflect on our state as humans, mortal and imperfect yet loved so much that Jesus would come to be one of us, and to die for our sake.  As we give thanks for Jesus and for our many gifts, may we also confess to the brokenness that leads us to discount the gifts of others.  Just as the people of Jerusalem failed to see Jesus for his divinity, we fail to see Jesus in each other, and in the stranger, especially those the world would count as “the least.”  When we give thanks that Jesus died for us, let us remember that Jesus died for ALL of us, all whom Jesus loved.