How Taking the Chicago Plunge in 1969 Changed a Seminarian

Delta Bohemian David A. Elliott III relaxing on a beach. This is David's Profile Pic on Facebook. Way cool, David.

Delta Bohemian David A. Elliott III relaxing on a beach. This is David’s Profile Pic on Facebook. Way cool, David.

By Guest Bohemian Rev. David A. Elliott III

with Publishers Footnote by Magical Madge

I have been asked by Magical Madge to be a “Guest Bohemian”–an honor which I cherish very much. I taught Madge at All Saints’ Episcopal School in Vicksburg, Missisippi and just recently met the rest of her family–Corinne and Poor William. I commented on The Delta Bohemian website on Corinne’s article “Treat Your Neighbor as Yourself, or Treat Your White Neighbor as Yourself”—an honest and forthright offering. Madge then asked if I would add something to my comment concerning a time I spent on the streets of Chicago–so here goes.

Todd Snider has a song entitled “Conservative Christian Right Wing Republican Straight White American Male.” This is almost who I was when I went to seminary in 1966–maybe more “moderate” than “right wing”–but seminary changed me. One of the most enlightening of my experiences during these years was the time I spent on the streets of Chicago as part of my seminary training.

Being white and middle to upper-middle class, some of us took what was called the “plunge”–to spend three days and three nights on the streets of Chicago with only a $1.50 a day in our pockets and our social security card so we could be identified if anything happened to us. We were to learn as best we could what it was like to be poor and rejected.

To get ready for this, I grew about a two-week beard and got a dirty hat and coat out of a garbage can when we hit the streets–I not only looked bad, I also smelled bad. Finding a place to rest and sleep was a challenge. I was run out of different places–a woman in the train station looked at me and pulled her child away as if I were going to harm her. I walked into Marshall Fields and no one would wait on me. No one would speak to me on the street–they would turn their eyes the other way—all of which I have done to others and honestly still do (though I try not to because I know how it makes others feel).

I did find one thing on the streets those three days–a community of people who care for each other. The people who were there were kind to me, even offering me meal tickets so I could eat. I could not accept any of that since I knew I would be out in “three days” and they were there for life (a Good Friday/ Easter sermon there).

In addition to carrying my money and my social security card, I also carried my American Express card (never leave home without it). I wanted to see if I could use it, dressed and looking as I did. About 2:00 in the morning, three of us met at the Chicago bus station and I said, “Let’s order hamburgers, fries and beer.”

I went to the counter to pay with my card and was questioned and put down. The manager finally came and asked me to write my name on a piece of paper to verify my signature. To make a long story short, they finally took the card. When we got off the streets, I shaved, bathed and cashed a check at the American Express office with no questions asked.

When we all got back to where we were staying, we celebrated the Eucharist with a black priest as celebrant. I shared my story with all of those gathered and said I felt second class, put down and degraded just because of the way I looked. The priest turned and said to me words I have never forgotten–“Now you know just a little of what it is to be black.”

Two quotes to end with…Willie Dixon–“You can’t judge a book by looking at the cover.”

Will Campbell came to speak to us in seminary and when he finished I went to talk with him. I said, “Will, when I get out of here, I want to go where “the action is.” I want to work in the ghetto–in the black community and really make a difference.” Will said: “David don’t do that. Change the white church. Until that changes, nothing will change”.

WE HIGHLY ENCOURAGE COMMENTS!!

Publisher’s Footnote:

Father Elliott was on staff at All Saints’ Episcopal School during my junior year of high school (1974-1975). I remember thinking he was not only a beautiful looking man but his personality and demeanor was very loving and accepting. He liked to prop his feet up on his desk and usually had a pipe in his mouth. He was openly affectionate toward his wife, Gay, and I liked that. A schoolmate recently reminded me of a sign he kept on his desk. It read: READ THE BIBLE. IT WILL SCARE THE HELL OUT OF YOU.

I hadn’t seen Father Elliott, David, in many years. We became friends on Facebook a while back. He Subscribed  🙂 to The Delta Bohemian shortly thereafter and has become a faithful Delta Bohemian supporter and reader. 

A couple of Sundays ago, Poor William, Corinne and I attended a church service at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Oxford, Mississippi. Lo and behold, who was the guest Celebrant but none other than Father Elliott. You can imagine how excited I was. I had to quell my giddiness and my desire to go run hug his neck as he processed into the church because my daughter was by my side; she doesn’t especially like when I bring attention to myself, especially in church!

We were sitting near the back of the church and I was unsure if he would even see or recognize me. During The Peace, a time in the service when we informally take a break and greet one another to pass God’s peace, Father Elliott walked all the way down the aisle and greeted us with a smile, an open hand and hug, and proudly said, “It’s The Delta Bohemians! Poor William and Magical Madge! I love The Delta Bohemian!” What a blessing of God’s peace he gave us. All three of us.

David met my daughter, Corinne, after the service. I mentioned to him that she is the writer of the YOUNG & FREE column on The Delta Bohemian. The following Wednesday David wrote a revealing comment on Corinne’s article “Treat Your Neighbor As Yourself, Or Treat Your White Neighbor As Yourself.” Billy and I were very moved by his words. Soon I started some back and forth emailing and Facebook discussion with Father Elliott;  I felt moved to ask David to tell more about his story and let us share it on The DB. Thankfully, he did just that.

Billy and I try to keep The Delta Bohemian fresh and we like staying open to where we are led to take it. We want to be a positive influence in this world. We pray that what we say and do will make a difference. Having Rev. David Elliott, a man whom I respect and love and admire, affirm us and our beloved Delta Bohemian, is like manna from heaven. I’m so grateful I asked him to contribute.

-Magical Madge

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Comments

  1. David Elliott "Padre" says:

    Enjoyed writing this and thanks for the kind words Magical Madge…

  2. Steve Pittman says:

    Thanks for sharing, David! Keep on pushing toward that goal! It working whether you believe if or not!

  3. Well done, my friend! David, you have been an inspiration to so many, and certainly make a difference by passing on what you learned on the streets of Chicago. I too believe we can make a difference by looking all people in the eye, as it goes to the soul. I call that my Walmart challenge. Walk through and speak or smile and look in the eyes of those who don’t look like you. Don’t be afraid! You will experience all types of reactions, but you may warm the heart of one person, most importantly your own. Loving and living in the Delta!

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