Thirty-two years ago, a Lutheran pastor in a suburban New Jersey town opened his church to a meeting for nearly 200 of his neighbors, people of all different faiths and backgrounds. Led by Karen Olson, they were united in their desire to address a new and troubling development: families becoming homeless.
They did not know it, but that minister, Murdoch “Mac” MacPherson, had showed them exactly what to do. In the face of the unknown, in the face of the seemingly impossible, he responded with simple hospitality.
It was at that meeting, at Faith Lutheran Church in New Providence, where Family Promise began. Faith was the first congregation to agree to host and more than 6,000 have followed. This act of generosity and courage was a marker to Karen that the community could—and would—rise to the challenge.
We learned yesterday that Mac passed away unexpectedly this past Sunday. In the decades since that meeting, Mac was a charismatic, encouraging, forceful presence. He was a lion of faith and a lion of justice. He and his church were steadfast hosts and when the program in Union County reset, after a brief period of closure, it was Mac and Faith Lutheran who led the charge to share hospitality once again.
It was at those efforts to restart the program, in 2011 that I got to know Mac. His compassion, his joyful spirituality, and his determination were always on display. His ability to inspire others was as well.
There are many stories one could tell to show that, but one incident typifies it. Shortly after we started rebuilding the network, I had committed to speak at a Sunday service in late October. That Saturday night, we had a freak ice storm. Power was out throughout the state and most roads were impassable. I ventured out to the service fully expecting that Faith, like every other house of worship in the area, would be closed. (I figured, I’ll see what the storm did and get brownie points for showing up.) Instead, I arrived to several dozen parishioners in a dark, cold church, celebrating mass. It was a lovely, if chilly service, and everyone stayed to talk about Family Promise. There was never any doubt that God’s house was for all God’s children.
Everyone was drawn to Mac. Whether spending time with him at a meeting, at a benefit concert, at a service, while Faith was hosting, or just to seek his guidance, I always left feeling wiser. And reaffirmed.
The people at Faith Lutheran are people I call friends because they share Mac’s commitment to hospitality. His wife Carol, his co-pastor Jane McCready, and the church’s coordinator, Kim Delatour, all share the same spirit as Mac. I grieve for them as I do for the entire church, for the community, and for all of us at Family Promise for what we have lost.
I don’t know how many people have come through Faith Lutheran since the first hosting started in 1986. It must be thousands. But if Mac hadn’t hosted Karen and those compassionate, questing people, if he hadn’t shown them hospitality, I don’t know that Family Promise could have changed the lives of any of them, or of the 750,000 people that have been served since.
I know that my life was changed because of Mac. He will be missed so tremendously.