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Podcast guest gazes up at her broad and sturdy family tree

Minister Antonia Coleman is the most recent guest on the ‘New Way’ podcast

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

LOUISVILLE — The latest installment in the “New Way” podcast of the 1001 New Worshiping Communities movement includes a conversation about the formative years experienced by Minister Antonia Coleman, who works in the PC(USA)’s Office of Innovation and its Center for the Repair of Historic Harms. Listen to Coleman’s discussion with “New Way” host the Rev. Sara Hayden here.

“We were a church that believed in hospitality. We were a church that believed in caring for people where they existed and where they lived,” Coleman told Hayden of her early church experience. “That in part is my social location, as I learned in seminary, that formed who I am today.”

Coleman named her grandmothers — Mary Alice Biship Ruth and Mary Elizabeth Landrush Palmer — with “power and great remembrance. I see them as clearly as I see you,” she told Hayden, “as they stay with me throughout this journey. In this journey of gatherings that matter, both of those women were social justice advocates.”

One grandmother believed not so much in doing justice work as in funding the work. The other, her Grandmother Palmer, “is the one who would put her body on the line.” When Coleman was 10, her grandmother, who’d suffered a broken leg, enlisted the help of her friends and her granddaughter as part of the work of the Silver Foxes Advocacy Group in Chicago. Their job was to “walk a picket line in front of an establishment that was unfair to her [grandmother] as an elder woman.”

“I didn’t understand what was going on, but my grandmother said for me to walk the block and say, ‘Fairness now! Fairness now!’ and hold a sign,” Coleman said. “That birthed in me [that] when you gather, you must gather with a purpose.”

Her grandfather, Travis Bird Palmer Sr., was “a man who took care of home, and taking care of home, I had nothing to worry about,” Coleman said. “I lost him and his earthly presence in 1985, right before my 16th birthday.” That loss taught her this lesson: “From that moment, at age 16, you don’t play with my time. That was my ‘aha’ moment, as Oprah would say, that time mattered.”

Later in life, she learned about the meaning of her first name. It’s derived from the Latin name Antonius, a Roman governor back in the Apostle Paul’s day. Coleman learned that Paul delivered a sermon on the steps of the Antonius fortress, which was considered impenetrable.

Once she learned the meaning of her name, “I started living into what my name meant,” she said.

Coleman sees “a reclamation of time” by doing the work of Matthew 25, “caring for the marginalized or speaking up [by] doing justice work, ensuring that there is an honorable way that we approach the texts that we hold sacred and respecting other folks’ sacredness,” she said.

Coleman remembered her other grandfather, Emmanuel Sylvester Ruth Sr., as a quiet man with a rich baritone speaking and singing voice. He was an entrepreneur who could rebuild appliances and was a calligrapher as well.

“The work I do, I do for them,” Coleman told Hayden.

The second installment of Hayden’s conversation with Coleman is here.

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