A concise debut memoir of a Protestant pastor in the 1960s and ’70s.
Newell was born into relative affluence in Detroit, 1927. His father worked hard as a businessman, but after his mother became ill (possibly bipolar disorder), Newell’s father grew increasingly absent both physically and spiritually. Young Newell was most influenced by his paternal grandfather, a theologian and teacher, and by the turtles in Gull Lake that inspired his search for “a world that could make sense.” Newell’s move to a working-class area and, later, his time in the Merchant Marine further instilled a curiosity and sense of social justice. He enrolled in Harvard Divinity School, taking time off to study with George MacLeod at the Iona community in Scotland. Newell was impressed by MacLeod’s ideas—that “a church not deeply engaged in ministering to those in need…is a moribund church.” He endeavored to bring this concept home and eventually became a pastor at New York Avenue Presbyterian in Washington, where he worked “to understand the nature of the social ills we witnessed.” He writes of his work with Martin Luther King Jr. to organize the 1963 March on Washington and Stokely Carmichael on voter registration in the South. Newell offers insightful, firsthand accounts of the 1968 riots and King’s assassination and its aftermath. In the 1980s, he lived in New York and tackled community and labor issues. Newell’s voice is clear and engaging throughout his memoir. He provides a wealth of factual details and illustrates these with vivid personal anecdotes. He also demonstrates—in his book and life—the potential of ministry to serve and empower all. Perhaps lacking is sufficient counterbalance to Newell’s conviction and success, although he briefly mentions familial struggles.
Worthwhile insight on the role of the church in social justice movements.