Here I go again, writing about a book I haven’t read. But the story of Charlie Jones (1906 – 1993) is so far under the radar that I feel obliged to write about it now. Charlie (Preacher) Jones was an early participant in the Civil Rights struggles of post-World War II America.
I don’t ever expect to read this book in its entirety, since it includes a detailed discussion of Jones’s (theological?) battle with the Presbyterian Church. But I’m interested in his life for personal reasons as well as concern over current issues of racial justice.
I sometimes describe myself as “Southern by marriage”. Raised in New England, I left home in 1967 with a snobbishly negative attitude about the American South. Eight years in Michigan, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Europe mellowed me a little, but when I first visited North Carolina, I felt cautious. Gradually, I got to feel comfortable in Chapel Hill and I learned a bit of its history, along with the history of the family I married into.
My husband and his four younger siblings attended an unaffiliated Community Church in which their father held a position of responsibility, as an “elder” or “deacon”. What does it mean for a church to be unaffiliated? Believe it or not, Wikipedia tackles this subject in a short article titled “Nondenominational Christianity”. AFFILIATION means that a church belongs to a recognized denomination, like Baptist or Episcopalian, and gets credentialed ministers from that parent organization. The Community Church had separated from Presbyterianism and “Preacher” Jones was its spiritual leader. It was a completely independent organization.
How did this happen? The long story is recounted in Faith, Grace and Heresy.
Charlie Jones was a radical social reformer inspired by Christian values, and he agitated vigorously for racial justice and women’s rights.
Both the Presbyterian Church and the US War Department considered Jones dangerous, and the Presbyterian Church decided to silence him. Unwilling to admit that Jones’ civil rights activities were the problem, they accused him of HERESY. Eventually, Jones and his congregation turned away from Presbyterianism and the independent Community Church was formed.
I’ve oversimplified this, but it will have to do for now.
Twenty plus years later, in the 1970s, I visited Chapel Hill and learned that the Community Church had a problem. After Charlie Jones retired, they had trouble maintaining membership and finding someone to replace Jones as minister. Affiliation with a recognized protestant denomination was discussed. When my father-in-law learned I had grown up in a Unitarian Universalist Church, he asked me many questions about it. Eventually, the Community Church joined the Unitarian Universalist Association, and there it remains. Memorial services for three beloved members of my family were subsequently held at the Community Church.
Faith, Grace and Heresy was written after Charlie Jones died, by his grandson Mark Pryor. I regret that I can find no further writings by Pryor, and I don’t know what path he may have followed in life.
Charlie Jones exhibited extraordinary leadership, the kind we need in our troubled times.