Inspired by Saints – Larry Wilson Honors Fallen FBI Agents

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Larry Wilson, 2016

Church member Larry Wilson worked in the Los Angeles Field Office of the FBI for 15 of his 25 years as an FBI Agent. Needless to say, he and his colleagues have had some interesting experiences and seen some things, many of which he isn’t at liberty to share.

Back in 1986, as a result of his position as a Supervisory Special Agent, he recognized that there was a morale problem with the employees of the Los Angeles Field Office. Something had to be done, but what? After some thought, he realized that no one had ever formally recognized the fallen agents, their dear friends, who were killed in the line of duty.

During this time, Larry had been a regular visitor at First UMC Santa Monica for about 4 years. He would pray for his fallen colleagues and, in 1986, prayed for an inspiration on how to honor them. His prayers were answered while attending the All Saints service held in November each year.

All Saints is a very special service when thanks is given for members of the church who have died during the past year. Larry was especially moved by the bell ringing after each name was read out loud, echoing through the sanctuary. It was then he decided a similar memorial for the fallen agents was what was needed.

He contacted FBI Headquarters, in Washington, D.C., to identify any organizational policies regarding such an event and whether there was already a program he could follow to create the Los Angeles Field Office Memorial Service. He was advised that such events were left up to the discretion of each Field Office, that they could use their own initiative to create their own program. That is just what he and the employees of the Los Angeles Field Office did.

He began an inquiry with his entire staff, encouraging ideas and input from support personnel and Special Agents, to create a memorial for the Los Angeles Office. He took their suggestions, and, building on his own knowledge of ceremonies from his time in the Marines, the planning for the inaugural FBI Memorial Service began. This was achieved without FBI Headquarters involvement, so, Larry and his office persisted and organized and sponsored the ceremony on their own. It has been held every year since then and has even been recognized by FBI Headquarters as the standard for all other Field Offices. Three different FBI Directors have participated as the keynote speakers for the event.

Many of the First UMC congregation and clergy have attended. The Rev. Patricia Farris has given the Invocation and Benediction. Church members Mary Crawford and Robert Hedges have repeatedly volunteered as the bell ringers. Thirty-two years later, Larry continues to spearhead the event, continuously performing the duties of the “Master of Ceremonies” even though he retired from the Bureau in 1995. His mission to honor fallen FBI agents and to give glory to God for their lives continues.

All are welcome to attend the 32nd Annual FBI Memorial Service. This year’s keynote speaker is actor Joe Mantegna.

32nd Annual FBI Memorial Service Tuesday, May 8, 11 a.m. Westwood Federal Building, Los Angeles, 90024

This article first appeared in the May 2018 Sentinel

 

African American Spirituals by Jack Fry

Jack and Marj Fry

Did you know that there are 27 African-American spirituals in The United Methodist Hymnal, and that there are 13 in The Faith We Sing? Many African-American spirituals are familiar to us, as we have sung them in school, church and Sunday school and have listened as they were sung by famous musicians. Sometimes one inexplicably keeps repeating itself over and over in our minds as we go about our daily routines. They are melodic, rhythmic and each one tells a story, a story that we once heard in Sunday school or one that came to us from the Bible, or, in some cases, one with hidden meaning.

These spirituals go back to a rather dark time in American history, a time during which several hundred thousand human beings were captured in their native Africa, separated from their family members, crammed into the bowels of sailing ships and forced to suffer long sea voyages terminating in the United States where they were sold as slaves. They were forced to live under poor conditions, work long hours, receive no wages and were subjected to cruel treatment if they failed to please their owners or attempted to escape.

Forbidden to pursue their own religious beliefs, they were exposed to Christianity in the hopes of their owners that by following the teachings of the Bible, they would be less likely to attempt escape. Many of the slaves accepted these Christian teachings and expressed them in styles and rhythms that were familiar to them from their African heritage. Often the spirituals followed a format that reflected an African tradition of responses to a leader’s sung phrases, e.g. (TFWS: Rise Up Shepherd and Follow #2096; Over My Head #2148; Oh Freedom #2194; and several others as well as Swing Low, Sweet Chariot – UMH #703).

But African-American spirituals express more than Christian messages. Some, such as Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen (UMH #520) tell of the misery of lives torn from native homes only to be spent in slavery. Others, e.g. My Lord What a Mornin’ (UMH #719) and I’m Gonna Sing When the Spirit Says Sing (UMH #333) express joy and hope for a better life, and All Of God’s Chillun Got Shoes tells of the hope that shoes, which in many cases slaves didn’t have, would be available in Heaven (or freedom) as well as robes and harps.

In lamenting that the people of Israel were rejecting the word of God, the prophet Jeremiah referred to a resinous substance found in Gilead that was rubbed into wounds to promote healing and asked, “is there no balm in Gilead?” As the African slaves were exposed to and began to accept the teachings of Christianity, they saw Jesus as the answer to Jeremiah’s question, and they sang, There Is a Balm in Gilead.

In addition to Christian lessons, some of these songs are believed to have hidden messages. The words of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot (UMH #703) are believed to refer to escape to freedom, or if not escape, freedom from the miseries of slavery through death and Heaven. “A band of angels comin’ after me, comin’ for to carry me home” in which the word home may refer to freedom or Heaven; “If you get there before I do … tell all my friends I’m comin’ too.” Other songs that are believed to have encouraged escape attempts are Go Down Moses (UMH #448) and Steal Away to Jesus (UMH #704). Wade in the Water (TFWS #2107) was sung as a reminder that when attempting an escape, one should walk in water so that the dogs that were used to track fleeing slaves would not be able to follow the scent of the escapees.

Today as we listen to these songs or, better yet as we sing them ourselves, we can learn from the stories they tell, we can enjoy their rich melodies and rhythms, we can be thankful for the progress and understanding that has evolved, and we can anticipate enlightenment yet to come as we celebrate the music and culture of African-American History.

Jack and Marj Fry are First UMC Church members. This article first appeared in the February 2018 Sentinel. 

 

Story of a Blood Donor by Dorothy Williams

When I was 14, my sister, just a year older than I, underwent open heart surgery – her second heart surgery. I knew that she had used blood and there was a big “debt” to be paid in replacing it. While she was in the hospital, my brother had a fluke bicycle accident and was hospitalized 20 miles across town. It was an intense time, and all I could do was try to keep the home fires burning, supervise my 7-year-oldbrother, and try to manage a few things in the house while my parents were at work or at the hospitals . . . but I wanted to do something more meaningful. As soon as I was old enough, I started donating blood to the local blood bank to replace some of the units my sister had used, grateful that she was well and aware that my brother was fortunate not to have needed blood, too.

Over the years, relatives needed surgeries, friends had accidents, illnesses, and surgeries, and then I gave birth to very premature twins. All of these could have…and many did…required blood transfusions.

If your life has not included this much first-hand exposure to blood as a medical need, you may indeed see yourself as blessed or lucky.

But I, too, see myself as blessed or lucky – certainly not because of the illness, birth defects, prematurity, or other situations that made my life so full of this awareness – but because I had something I could share. I had an opportunity to DO SOMETHING MEANINGFUL in response to these needs. I had blood in abundance, and with less than an hour of my time and the willingness to roll up my sleeve and endure the pinch of a needle being placed in my arm, I could actually make a huge difference in someone’s life – I might even save it!

Now, mind you, I don’t like needles any better than the next person, but if I ever got cold feet about donating, I could always remind myself that the recipient of that blood had a whole lot more needles and pain than those few seconds when I would experience anything unpleasant. It made me feel good to know that I could do something “important” for someone else who might be in the same position as my teenage sister or my 2-pound babies who received blood as an almost-daily treatment.

Donating has become a habit. In Luke 3:11, John taught that “He who has two coats, let him share with him who has none; and he who has food, let him do likewise.” I think the same can be applied to blood!

Dorothy Williams is a long-time First UMC member and has been one of the main coordinators of the Blood Drive for several years.

This article first appeared in the April 2016 Sentinel.
Learn more about the Health Ministry of First UMC.