As I drove down Evans Street toward town headed to the Florence City Center the other day, I came to the Federal Building and was stopped. A blue mini van was stalled in the road.
A Black woman and man were trying to get the van out of the road so traffic could pass. When I came up the two of them were pushing the van backward toward me so that they could maneuver the car into the parking lot next to Evans Street. You know, two people trying to push a vehicle will not be able to get the car to go up a driveway entry, even though it is a flat area. So even though they tried, they got stuck and traffic still could not pass.
But something happened next that warmed my heart.
I drove into the parking lot and jumped out prepared to help push. Then even before I got to the van, three other men appeared. All four of us took our positions on the back end of the van without a word.
It was an amazing array of manhood. I was wearing khakis and a button down. Another bearded man was in a hoody and looked to be headed to the beach. A construction worker was still wearing his orange and yellow vest and hard hat. And another was in a T-shirt and jeans.
Now there were six people pushing the van. We made quick work of the stalled van and pushed it up into the parking lot without a problem. The woman at that point said something like, “Florence is a special place. Thank you so much for your help.”
I agree; it is a special place. That is because it has some special people who create the culture we live in together. And we come from all kinds of different places and backgrounds. Part of making a community great involves appreciating one another and working together.
I was blessed last weekend to attend the dedication ceremony where center court at the Dr. Eddie Floyd Florence Tennis Center was named after beloved Wilson tennis team and Floyd Tennis Center coach Ron James. I wish I had known Ron James! His life affected so many people.
But I have been blessed to meet his wife, Janet. She and I met as we learn together how to build a stronger community through a course called Race, Class and the Kingdom of God. As we take this course, we are deliberately trying to connect and get to know people that are different from us.
The course highlights that God made people different/diverse, which means we like different things, and we think different thoughts. But that is what makes a community beautiful. Diversity adds spice!
As we learn to appreciate that about our community, our ability to care about one another increases.
As I pushed the van with the three other men, who look different and think different than I do, I felt like we were learning something together. If we work together, just like the woman said, we can make this place special.
I was inspired by Ron James and how his life challenged and encouraged all kinds of people, young and old, Black and white, through sport.
I pray for us to bring the Kingdom of God to bear on our broken world to the degree that love and mercy are what people think of as they think of Florence.
The Rev. Chris Handley is the team leader of Helping Florence Flourish and associate pastor at First Presbyterian Church. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.