Today I post the second of five parts of my Acceptance Speech after being given the 2014 Luminosa Award for Unity on June 22.
The plaque I was given reads as follows:
The 2014 Luminosa Award for Unity
Presented to Reverend Dr. John H. Armstrong,
Founder and President of ACT3 Network
The Focolare Movement North America
For his tireless work in Ecumenical dialogue, helping Christians from different denominations work toward unity.
Mariapolis Luminosa, Hyde Park, NY
June 22, 2014
During these recent months I have tried to gain a sense of the history and development of the Focolare Movement. This reading has made me profoundly aware of the significance of this honor. This is why I stand before you with a deep desire to honor Christ by advancing his kingdom of love in all that I say and do. This is true not only today but will be, God helping me, in the days that lie ahead. I ask for your prayer that he will lead me into deeper love and unity in the days ahead.
So from the depths of my soul: “Thank you.” You can never know just how much this award, and all that comes with it this weekend, truly means to me. In my very first Bible my late mother wrote: “For My Little Pilgrim.” I am now a sixty-five year old pilgrim who has been on a journey toward Christian unity. This honor is therefore something of the Holy Spirit’s way of saying, “Keep doing the pilgrim work that I gave to you decades ago. Be my true servant. Continue to live out your own John 17:21 charism with love and grace. Feed my sheep. And love the brothers and sisters in this great koinonia of divine love.”
When I was first asked to consider receiving this award I confess that I was stunned beyond words. If you know me, or if you have an opportunity to get to know me, you will soon discover how rare such an occasion is. Words have always come easily for me. There are times when I long to become a man of few words but I fear I cannot live long enough to see that happen, except in moments when the Spirit profoundly works on my naturally gregarious and hyper-active mind. Such was the moment in a hotel in Seattle, Washington, when I opened an email last October which asked me to receive this award. I read that letter several times to be sure it was rightly addressed to me. Honestly, I was sure it had to be mistakenly intended for someone else. Let me explain, without being too wordy.
I was reared in a deeply Southern Baptist culture in a small town of seven thousand people in what is now a bygone era in culture and religion. This was, of course, a pre-civil rights community that reflected the values of the early post-World War II era. The church life that I experienced was profoundly sectarian and very denominationally defined. The idea of unity was never discussed. I believed, whether it was intended or not, that we were the best expression of the true church anyone could ever discover. Before I was twelve the civil rights movement had begun in earnest. Little Rock had experienced the federally supported integration of its main high school. I watched on a small television in the mid-1950s as these events unfolded. I sensed that some things around me were not right. My life would eventually be touched deeply by these movements for justice and equality. The greatest influence, however, came in my own home. My parents, Dr. Thomas and Marie Armstrong, humbly lived out the love of Christ in public and private. They loved one another, their two sons, and their neighbors. They loved people of color and openly demonstrated it.
After six years at an all-male military prep-school I entered the University of Alabama just months after Governor Wallace stood in the door attempting to block the entrance of the first two African-American students. It was there that I began to search the Bible and pray with Christians from many backgrounds. It was also there that I stood against racism openly and experienced the power of a rising movement for human dignity, justice and equality. And it was there that I also sensed that God was calling me to prepare for ministry and ordination. I would transfer to Wheaton College in Illinois to better prepare my mind and soul for this calling.
The entire speech is 53-minutes long and can be seen in the video link below.