The Courier News from Blytheville, Arkansas on June 23, 1966 · Page 7
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The Courier News from Blytheville, Arkansas · Page 7

Blytheville, Arkansas
Issue Date:
Thursday, June 23, 1966
Page 7
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B!yth«vtl!« (Ark.) Courier News - Thursdiy, June J3, 19M- tut 8cm After the Raid, Church Was Out (Editor's Note: This Is the second in s series of stories on Blythtvilte ministers by Courier News Editor Harry A. Haincs.) Rev. John R. Symonds of St. Stephen's Episcopal Church comes on as strong >nd authoritative and resonant as Walter Cronkite, though not so bland, thank you. A husky man, whose florid face contrasts effectively with neat, mildly curly grey hair, Symonds made the decision is serve the church as his life's work one day when his eyes fell upon these lines from a children's hymn: "For the saints of God are just folk like me and I mean to be one, too." That was only the moment of truth for him; the decision had been in the making for some time. "Anyone who has had any experience with tht Holy Spirit knows It doesn't come out of the blue and strike you down. It seeks quietly. It questions you. Well, you see, I simply ran out of excuses when my eyes fell across those lines in a hymnal. I made the decision then. * * * Symonds views his life objectively. He led a normal happy boyhood about three-quarters of a mile from the eily limits of Wilmington, Del. His father, • native of England, came to this country around the turn cf the century after the San Francisco earthquake found the United States extremely short of masons and builders. "Dad came over and helped rebuild San Francisco. He was a stone mason and a good one. We were comfortable during the depression. Our home was built In 1600. It was an old farm place. The underground railroad of the 19th century operated out of the Lattimer place which vas right next door to us. "I laid my first brick at the age of four. 1 still have my brick mason's tools. Sure, I guess I could make about twice the money as a brick mason as I'm making as a priest. "My childhood was good. I have three brothers and four sisters, ill living and in good health. "My strong attachment f o r the church and its ministry began early in childhood. My parents were religious people, but with so many children around they could not always go to church ... it wasn't possible. Churches didn't have nurseries then, you know. "I'd walk about a half mile — maybe not that far — and catch 8 streetcar and ride to o u r church." * t * When he was 15, Symonds 'they look en the preacher as a pro 'tht pressure! are ungodly' was struck by rheumatic. fever and that, at the time, was a genuine tragedy for an active teenager. Symonds relates it with his flawless diction: "We hadn't the drugs then. Bed rest was the thing. I was in bed three months. During that time, people from the church made long trips just to visit me — a sick boy." This show of Christian concern did not fail to touch him. * * * An event in his life was the day, when he was 18, the Navy accepted him for duty in World War II. "I had been restricted an to pass myself off as a martyr.)this Is what it would take for It's a Christian's duty and privilege to go to church. That's one of the things we pledge ourselves to do. If you're going to be a Christian, you're going to go to church." He has other thoughts on church attendance, more about which later. * * + Symonds returned to his Wilmington home at the end of the war, entered the University of Delaware where he took a premedical course, a major in biology, .with minors in English, history and chemistry. He graduated early in 1951 confined (due to the bout with | and guess what? The United rheumatic fever) for so long States had a small war going in Korea and he was recalled to active duty (as a petty officer first class) in the Navy. He formally received his degree while on a weekend pass. In 1952, he that I had learned to live with rejection and disappointment. I had to cross the ball field on my way to the grocery store ... and I couldn't play. "So when the Navy said they wanted me, it was the biggeest day in my life." At the time, he hoped to. become a physician one day and therefore was doubly delighted when he was assigned to a medical unit. This. assignment eventually led him to the Second Marine Division in the Pacific. He recalls nothing happening to him during the war which headed him toward the pulpit. However, he took with him his 1 earlier dedication to the church. "I remember once we were having services on Saipan when we had a bombing raid. We all took cover, but the thing that distressed me was that they didn't resume the services after the raid was over and we crawled out of the holes. "I guess I walked six miles one day to attend church ser- i vices. Now look here," and here his dark eyes take on a new OPEN 24 HOURS Jumbo Hamburger and French Fries Special M&R BRACKIN CAFE 3RD & RAILROAD AIR CONDITIONED PO 3-9929 Building Former!? Occupied by Bonne cleaners NEW SHIPMENT FOAM SALE 53"x72" $4 00 1" Thick Ea. *t 45"x72" SO 50 1" Thick Ea. V 36"x72" $0 00 1" Thick Ea. V Shredded Foam Baft Odd C1 Sizes ¥• &UP GILBERTS 600 E. Main PO 3-6742 me to be happy, I was to do it.' When one of his brothers asked him where he was going, however, Symonds admits that he tossed off some pretty cryptic replies. "He thought I was taking another construction job. He said, 'Is this outfit you're joining an old outfit or one of the new ones?" I told him it was one of the oldest, best established outfits in the world. service, th« Bay Scout* »nd the Dataware Youth Services Commission. In Harrington this summer they'll dedicate a window in the church for him. * * During his years in Blytheville he has arrived »t some conclusions on the town and its churches and h«' is not shy about propounding them: find out th« names of classmates. They're grouping up, but why not, isn't that what their parents are doing'. 1 " * * * Symonds gets excited when h* talks on these subjects and he offers no apology for his fervor. He feels the church should be an exciting place and at times an 'uncomfortable place. He. loves Pressures? Th* congrega-1 debating religion ... especially tional pressures we're putting on our preachers art ungodly. "But he said, 'What about Many ».good_pre«ch«r has bit- your boss? What kind of a boss will you have?' "And I told him I'd have the best Boss any man ever had." And thus began a three-year period in Virginia Theological Seminary at Alexandria, Va. * * * Perhaps every young seminary graduate charges out the gates on" graduation day ready was out and began working on to set afire the world with the being accepted at Johns Hopkins. It was a challenge ... getting accepted. "I worked hard on it. The dean of the school I wanted to enter was off in Europe. I had to get his permission to enter graduate school. A lot of people helped along the way and I finally got it." And when he did, the full weight of the nagging call of "the Holy Spirit" fell on him. "I realized, once I was accepted to Johns Hopkins t h ? t this wasn't what I wanted to do at all. I had to go back to those people who helped me and try to explain." He spent a year — profitably - "letting this thing jell." Dur- power he's found in three years of contemplation of the holy Word. The tasks they get often cool their ardor and test their devotion. Symonds' assignment in Harrington, Del., was one of these. However, it failed to quench his thirst for the job at hand. St. Stephen's Church in Harrington had 19 communicants when he stepped into the. tiny sanctuary. When, in 1962, he came to St. Stephen's here, the Harrington church had hundreds of members and a new sanctuary and educational building which sprawled over a city block. While he built the church during his six years in Harrington ing the jelling period, he super-(he also found time to serve ' ~~~' ' ....•„, vised a construction project, and quite a project. "We built 150 new houses." It was during this time that he realized "I had run out of excuses. I told my parents. They intensity, "I'm not saying that I were wonderful. They said if such capacities as commissioner for the Delaware Commission on Children and Youth and a member of the Harrington VoV unteer Fire Department. H i s restless energy led him into Red Cross work, American Legion ten the dust in Blytheville. with young people. "I sat up one night until Lord knows when, talking with some boys. They were offering them- Why do you think you never selves as .atheists. - or very darned seldom, if weren't fooling me. They weie preacher visiting searching. Th 1S has been the " _. . _ .P _-i_ -f .l..J,»*.. /At. />anfiirl«e ever — see a IB a slum in Blytheville? Well, what good would it do? If he went down thert and brought someone into th* church, do you think the congregation would accept them ... I mean really take them in Christian love? Oh, sure, tht preacher would be there, but they look on him as a pro. They think we need that name on the church rolls or that dime in the colection plate. "Preachers are called on to serve all of God's people, but we're walled off from some of God's people. We have segregation by races, but we also see this have and have-not segre- role of students for centuries. There's no need to get exercised about these modern idio- Symonds was 'happy to take up the challenge. When it ended he told them, "Regardless of what you're saying now, you'll be back ... all of you." They were. * * * If children are going to be Christians, they must attend church, Symonds believes. "Some say they aren't going to force their children to go to church. Well, they force them to take a bath, to study, to eat at meal time. Now, if you're You'll find ne finer anywhere. "And 1 detect this all ever Arkansas. This state used to'be tht ct 'i m p i t j grounds (or preachers. You usually got only those who had a problem - the bottle, maybe, or something else - er who were on the way down. This is not true any more and it's high time the people changed their views of these men." * * * Aside from church - related- matters Symonds feels the primary problem here is one ef shedding the old image of Arkansas and taking on e new! one. "But we're going about this- in some sick ways. For example, we see a college educating as something you should have «f«> thinr But ^^rtSKSZ ££ «es a time when «e must ference wherfi ^ ge( j( or hflw well you do while getting it: "We think a fine, air-condi-; • . „,,. „, u i „ i, ,„» tioned house can wipe eut the! sirs: a-J-yis ra-jf^vs- *•£££! ?£%. i. *-i;r *" M M * "•'* lieves, with good pastors. j "This isn't the way to build, "1 sit in those Ministerial Al- a better life. There are other' liance meetings and just marvel far more worthwhile value* at the quality of men 1 find which our people need to 4i«v there. These are good m«n.|cover." 'walled off from some of God's people' (Courier Ke»i Miot«>) . a comes judge what's right and what's wrong and he willing to stand up for that we think is right gation. If you've got it (money) going to be » Christian, you're you're in. If you don't have it, you're out. We're trying to reach some new plateaus, but we're going about it in some rather sick ways. ' "You can find some bum, let going to commit yourself to worship, to give, to pray for your church and to work for your church. That's just part of kie deal. You must put your mind to the task of understand- him make a mint of money, ing Him. There's nothing op- learn when not to say 'damn 1 1 tional about'it and those par- and 'ain't 1 and he'll be ac- ents who teach their children cepled ... if he's got enough money. So what if he's been married six times? So what if maybe he murdered all six- wives? "Even the kids are cliquish. I'm amazed that some of them have not taken the trouble to that church attendance is optional either are making an honest mistake or else' are not Christians." Symonds believes he detects t certain softness in Blytheville regarding wrong - doing. "I believe in forgiveness. It's END FEAR of doetor uu) boipttal Mils. Mutual of Omaha hospital, surgical mtdlcal exponM and Incoipe pro- action plan pay Ml »•»«'.'» fait and th« cost u low. Ol» ,our»lf and family Wr protection. new peict of mind Call 01 wtlte — Frank King, Agent P.O. BOX 866 - Bljfhevilto Phone PO I-*M» Representing Mutual of Omaha MUTUAL Of OMAHA INMJRANCE COSWMTT Lire INHimANCE: UNI«D OF OMAHA font Oin») omaha, Mobiasta Grmfort Stat the ultimate in automatic afr conditioning NEW! EXCLUSIVE! ADMIRAL ComArt-8tvt Not merely i tti. Tfte control you nt In «prH mi foillt until October. 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