July Spiritual Heroes
Spiritual Heroes for Commemoration at Communion
July 1: Anna Pauline “Pauli” Murray (1910 – 1985) – civil rights pioneer, feminist, author, attorney, and first Black woman ordained a priest in the Episcopal Church. She didn’t speak openly very often about her sexuality but there is plenty of evidence that she was lesbian and possibly identified personally beyond the traditional gender binary categories. In 2012 she was uplifted as a holy woman of God (“saint”) by the Episcopal Church.
July 5: Charles Fillmore – Founder of the Unity School of Christianity. Known for his allegorical interpretations and practical application of scripture, Charles was called an “American mystic.” After attributing a physical healing to spiritual practices, Charles (with his wife Myrtle) founded the Unity Church and movement.
July 6: Jan Hus (1372-1415)—Czech reformer and martyr. Born to a poor peasant family, Hus was ordained a priest and eventually became rector of Prague University. Long before the Protestant Reformation, Hus was an enormously popular and fiery preacher who spoke against corruption in the medieval church and translated the Bible into Czech. When he refused to stop preaching he was excommunicated, jailed, and burned at the stake. He met his death with great courage and faith, forgiving his enemies. His spiritual descendants eventually became the Moravian church.
July 9: Augustus Tolton (1854-1897)—First African-American Catholic priest. Tolton was born to Catholic slave parents who escaped during the Civil War. From an early age he felt a call to the priesthood. He studied in Illinois, and later in Rome, before being returned to the US to be ordained and work with struggling Black Catholic congregations. Though frequently marginalized by the establishment, he exposed racism in the church and worked for integration and equality.
July 21: Albert Luthuli (1898-1967)—Zulu chief, Nobel laureate. An important early leader in the struggle against apartheid, Luthuli was a Zulu chief raised in a Christian home. He became a principle leader in the African National Congress, and was frequently imprisoned for leading strikes and boycotts, and burning his passbook. In 1960 he was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The driving force in his work was his personal faith in God and belief that, despite how things looked in South Africa, justice would one day prevail.
July 22: St. Mary Magdalene—“Apostle to the Apostles.” Mary of Magdala (near Capernaum) was one of a group of women who traveled and worked with Jesus. The Gospels report Jesus healed her by casting out seven evil spirits. Her life was forever changed, and she followed him all the way to the cross, even when the men had fled in fear. She has long been the subject of sacred art and literature, and been an important model for the leadership and role of women in the church. She reminds us that there were many women leaders among Jesus’ first followers. Despite later myths, there is nothing in the bible to indicate she had been a prostitute.
July 28: Frederick J. Eikerenkoetter II “Rev. Ike” (1935 – 2009) – a prosperity preacher who taught that health, wealth, good luck, harmonious relationships, and protection from adversaries could all be achieved and experienced by those who practiced his system of metaphysics. His seminary taught the “Science of Living” and his business institute was the home of “Thinkonomics.” His church was a large, remodeled theatre in Washington Heights (NYC) and he believed that combining affirmative prayer with generous giving could result in an empowered, joyous, and even opulent life.
July 29: William Wilberforce (1759-1833)—Abolitionist. The life of Wilberforce proved that a politician can also be moral and heroic. Born to a wealthy and influential family, he experienced an evangelical conversion shortly after entering Parliament, where he worked for overseas missions and education. As a member of the House of Commons he supported political and social reforms, most especially his long and persistent fight against slavery and the slave-trade. Slavery was finally abolished in the British empire just weeks before his death. Seven hundred thousand slaves were freed. He was buried in Westminster Abbey as a national hero.
July 30: Mary, Martha, and Lazarus of Bethany—Jesus’ family of choice. The stories of this household from Bethany (a village right outside Jerusalem) are found in the gospels of Luke and John. They are portrayed as close friends and disciples of Jesus, and are remembered for their hospitality. Martha has come to symbolize the active response to faith, those who get things done, and Mary that of the contemplative. When Lazarus died, Jesus stood at his grave and openly wept. While they are described as brothers and sisters, it has been suggested that Mary and Martha may have actually been a couple who called each other ‘sisters’ in order to pass in society. They are important for modern gay and lesbian people of faith because they represent Jesus’ family of choice —two unmarried women, and an unmarried man. Like many of us today, Jesus defined his family by intentional covenant, rather than biological or legal relatedness. (Matt 12:46-50)
July 31: St. Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556)—Founder of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits). Many modern liberation theologies (in which gay and feminist theologies are rooted) have come from Latin American Jesuits.