Glenmarian Reaches Across Brokenness
By Frank Lesko, Glenmary Director
of Catholic-Evangelical Relations
(Editor's Note: Brother Curt Kedley, a Glenmary senior member ministering in Bertie County, N.C., has been a Glenmarian for 49 years—serving in six states in a range of social outreach and vocation ministries. He received a 2001 Call to Brotherhood Award from the national Religious Brothers Conference.)
That is the first word that Brother Curt Kedley uses to describe the areas in rural Georgia and eastern North Carolina where he has served.
He has seen brokenness in the festering, multigenerational poverty; in the lack of support and nourishment of human beings to help them reach their full potential; in the lack of opportunities to grow; in the significant racial divide between black and white that persists strongly to this day; and in the gulf between Catholics and Protestants.
It is daunting to stand in the face of all that brokenness and discern what one person could possibly do in response.
The answer came to Brother Curt at the Pine Tree Festival in Hancock County, Ga., in 1993. He was one of the very few white people attending this event, among thousands of African-Americans. He did not know anyone because he was just getting to know the area.
A woman approached him, and they started talking. The conversation ended with an invitation: "You have got to come to our church," she told him.
"I'll be there tomorrow!" replied Brother Curt.
He described this as a "very spiritual encounter" and said he has never looked back.
He found his direction: one significant way that he would reach out across all the brokenness he saw was through solidarity in worship.
He started visiting other churches, mostly African-American Protestant ones. The ministry quickly evolved. He would select a group of around a half-dozen churches where he would worship regularly. Since trust takes time to build, he was careful to cultivate a steady presence and eventually become part of the community. Over the years, he has phased over 50 churches in and out of his rotation.
Brother Curt knows his vocation well. He has the soul of a consecrated religious brother and feels this calling deep down in his marrow. He has never wanted to conduct a worship service; instead, he prefers to be among the people.
What he did not expect was that he would almost invariably be given a leadership role in the services. It could be reading Scripture, praying or even preaching. He would be asked to sit up front with the other worship leaders. The African-American community often recognizes ministry professionals who visit their congregations this way. "I always felt very distant from the people," he said. "It was hard to connect with them."
Since relocating to North Carolina, he has been careful to be part of the general congregation, where he feels right at home.
At first glance, the ministry appears straightforward—Brother Curt attends churches as a form of interracial and ecumenical outreach. However, that deceptive simplicity hides a profound spirituality of presence and solidarity. In order to be truly present, he has to be fully engaged and active with the people he serves-to know them, walk with them and share in their joys and sorrows.
Jesus himself modeled solidarity by sharing in the human condition through the Incarnation, including all the suffering that can accompany earthly life.
Being present is a way of saying: I want to enter your world and share in that with you. I want to be part of your lives—the good and the bad. The goal is not to fix or change things but just to be there. It is a way of acknowledging that all people are children of the same God, all Christians are followers of the same Christ, and each person is deserving of our time and attention.
This is not only an outreach ministry but a reciprocal relationship for Brother Curt. He freely admits he goes to African-American Protestant churches to be nourished, as well. "It is always an honor to be there," he said. "The black churches have an incredible sense of hospitality, and I have always felt welcome there."
He affirms that breaking down the racial barrier is foremost, but the ecumenical connection is also important. Historically, Catholics have largely kept to themselves and have not reached out to the African-American community, especially in rural areas.
Glenmary has long promoted visiting other churches in its ecumenical outreach, and Brother Curt Kedley is a shining example. He has certainly made the ministry his own.
Brother Curt's many years of regular outreach to dozens of churches may seem daunting to the average person. However, there may be some things we can glean from his story and apply to our own lives. Perhaps each of us can find a church that is different from his/her own and visit it from time to time. This can be a great way to share goodwill and show by example our oneness in Christ.This article appears in the December 2015 Boost-A-Month Club newsletter.