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Today in the Mission Yearbook

New York Avenue Presbyterian Church hears from one of the nation’s great preachers


The Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. appears as a McClendon Scholar

February 27, 2024

The Rev. Dr. James A, Forbes, Jr.

Last September, just about the time of his 88th birthday, the Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes Jr. had a transformative experience. It was so life-changing that he wasn’t sure the people present at New York Avenue Presbyterian Church in Washington, D.C. as well as many more online would want him to deliver his planned talk, “How Can We Heal Our Nation?” as part of the McClendon Scholar Program.

“I am not the same Jim Forbes you thought you were inviting,” said the senior minister emeritus of The Riverside Church in the City of New York. “I’ve had a real transformation of consciousness.”

On about Sept. 6, “something happened to me, and I’ve never been the same,” said Forbes. Here’s what Forbes heard from the Almighty during the encounter: “From now on, you must fully dedicate yourself to being a spokesperson of my intentions for the Earth. You must give up trying to please, seek to discern my will — and then live it out and speak it forth as frequently as you can.”

“I’m not here to give you a good Jim Ford stem-winding speech,” Forbes said. “I’m here to be a spokesman for God on how we can heal the nation.”

Forbes then read the first of what would be several poems he’s written to help explain his transformation. This one said in part: “When the world became so violent and filled with hate,

You revealed inside of me a defective character trait

That would hamper my service to you in these awful times of strife

I had developed a personality of niceness sustained throughout my life.

You reminded me that you preferred unadulterated profanity

Rather than niceness that covered up rage on the verge of insanity.”

The Rev. Joe Daniels

“The new me is steadily learning to live free. This Jim Forbes may fuss, cuss and discuss vehemently,” he said. “Still want me?” Those in attendance said they did.

Paired in conversation with the Rev. Joe Daniels, pastor of Emory United Methodist Church in Washington, D.C., Forbes said he’s been hearing from God that we can’t heal the nation on our own. “Human beings are so much of the endemic problem,” he said, turning in his Bible to 2 Chronicles 7:14 to read these words: “If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, pray, seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”

Daniels wondered: Where does that humility start?

Again, Forbes turned to his poetry:

“When God is acknowledged as God again, we can confess our original sin

When truth and justice recover their place, the nation can face the issues of race …

God will inspire beloved community, making more complete our humanity

Healing infirmities we’ve known from birth, bringing the joy from heaven to Earth.”

In addition to humility, we’re also called in the biblical text to seek God’s face. “Ever since my change, I think of myself no longer as an independent,” Forbes said. “I am me, we and thee.”

“I believe in God’s love, God created of God’s own self a miniature deity, and that God is shacking up inside of every fiber of little old me,” Forbes said. “Can I say it again? The Creator of the universe, the sovereign ruler who brought existence into being and sustains everything, has inserted that self into every fiber of my being. … There’s a God in there, and that God is tethered to the sovereign ruler of the universe.”

“Doesn’t that make me something?” he said, strutting and grinning.

“I believe the same God in me is in you. Every fiber of your being bears the presence of the creative power of the universe. You’re some powerful dude,” he told Daniels.

Then Forbes turned to the audience. “If I mess with you, I’m messing with God. That’s why I won’t mistreat you. I don’t have the courage to mess with the God in you.”

Listen to Forbes’ 90-minute conversation with Daniels here.

Mike Ferguson, Editor, Presbyterian News Service

Today’s Focus: Rev. Dr. James A. Forbes, Jr. delivers talk, “How Can We Heal Our Nation?” as part of the McClendon Scholar Program

Let us join in prayer for:

PC(USA) Agencies’ Staff
Olanda Carr, Senior Ministry Relations Officer, Presbyterian Foundation 
Darla Carter, Mission Communications Strategist, Communications Ministry, Presbyterian Mission Agency

Let us pray

Gracious God, we give thanks for the teachers who taught us and for the students in our midst and those who teach them. In Jesus’ name. Amen.