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Remembering Freedom

Posted by Elwin Green on September 7, 2016 at 11:35 AM

On Friday, Sept. 9, the House of Manna Faith Community will conduct the homegoing service (aka, funeral) for their founding pastor, the Rev. Eugene “Freedom” Blackwell, who passed away on Aug. 29 at the age of 43.

The 11 a.m. service will be preceded by a "Freedom Procession," starting at 9:30 at Westinghouse High School.

I visited House of Manna Sunday for their first Sunday service without Freedom. Pastor Jonathan E. (J.E.) Gamble brought the message, based on Philippians 4:2-4, a passage in which the apostle Paul encourages his hearers to walk in humility. He related that to the church’s situation, in which people who don’t walk in humility could get caught up in jockeying for position, especially for the vaunted role of lead pastor.

After the service, I spoke with the three of the elders who now share the pastoral role: Gamble of Homewood; Juan Williams of the North Side and John Swanson of Gibsonia. I asked each for the one word that he felt best described the Rev. Blackwell.

“Freedom,” Gamble said. “I think his name fit him, both literally and figuratively.”

“He sought to see your freedom in Christ,” he added.

“Even from a non-spiritual perspective, just the freedom to be a black man in America, and the freedoms that are being attacked — these things we remember when we think about the word ‘freedom’,” he said.

“And spiritually, of course, the scriptures that go along with ‘freedom,’ and how the Lord makes you free, and and he who is in the Son is free indeed.”

“I think that God changed his name from Eugene to Freedom for a reason, because it would be hard to champion ‘Eugene,’ ” he said — not quite laughing, but coming close.

Williams played football alongside the Rev. Blackwell at the University of Pittsburgh, leading to more than 20 years of friendship. His one word for his friend was “peaceful.”

“That was pretty much his mission, to bring peace back to this community, through the love of God,” he said. “You know, basically, that’s where we stand. We have to love each other before we could ever move forward or anything. So that was his thing, reconciliation, between African-American churches, white churches, whatever. Just to bring back the peace and the love. We all are Christians and we've got to have a common place to start — that's with love, love and peace.”

Swanson's word was “love.”

“I was a very close friend of Pastor Freedom. We were spiritual brothers, as close as close can get.”

He spoke about the people-centered approach to ministry that they shared, led, as he put it, by the Holy Spirit.

“What Pastor Freedom and I really loved to do was when we would speak with people, people on the street, in church, we always spend the time with the individual, and ask that person why they're hurting. And the Holy Spirit would tell us why they're hurting.

“And to answer their questions, and it would take … sometimes an hour, sitting on a curb, sitting on a car seat, sitting here in church, it doesn't matter where it is, in a restaurant — when that person sees that you love them and you care about them and you’re listening and that God truly loves them, they open up and they tell their problems. And once they release those problems to the Lord, you see a change coming over that person. And then you see that person (later), and you always tell the person, can you please, please pass this forward.”

Freedom. Peace. Love. Would that more people would be remembered for such things when they leave.

RWG, Freedom — rest with God.


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A print version of this piece appears in the Sept. 8-14 issue of Print, Pittsburgh's East End newspaper. Pick up your copy at Baker's Dairy, 7300 Hamilton Ave., then SUBSCRIBE for more of Homewood Nation and other East End news!

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