Give Light – Editor, Pastor, Diversity

By Frances Stebbins

 

This is a memory from the six decades the author has spent writing about faith communities in daily, weekly, and monthly news publications covering the western third of Virginia.

When I read that a former newspaper colleague, George A. Kegley, is retiring at 92 from editing his denominational state publication “The Virginia Lutheran,” I couldn’t help but recall the name I had secretly given him, “The Energizer Bunny.”

Like this columnist, Kegley and I have been at our honored profession a long, long time. He predates me by not many years, for old news folk never retire. They just write Memoirs as I do. Perhaps George will take that up too at his historic home on the eastern side of the valley where he is now a widower.

A graduate of Roanoke College, Kegley was already working at “The Roanoke Times” in the third-floor newsroom when late husband Charlie and I arrived in 1953 to join the reporting staff of the evening paper, “The Roanoke World-News.” In those days, most local subscribers took it while the ones like my Tazewell relatives subscribed to the morning paper on which George was a reporter.

Television was just entering living rooms; it would eventually doom evening papers, but that’s another story. Like most on the news staff, George was from “Timesland” and knew our mountain-valley territory.

Being on different staffs, Charlie and I didn’t really know him nearly 70 years ago, but he eventually became the specialist in business reporting.

Like us, Kegley was retired long ago from the daily newspaper staff; his recent retirement after 60 years as church paper editor reveals his deep roots in the Lutheran church; he says in his farewell announcement as editor of the Synod publication that he’s the grandson of a rural pastor in Wythe County. As retirement-age writers, he and I have often met in the summer Power in the Spirit conference held at the college.

He married into the Fishburn family which had founded the daily newspaper in the city’s earliest days; he and Louise became parents of several children. Over the past decades, George and other lay leaders of the church became highly knowledgeable on local denominational history.

***

Speaking of Lutherans, many were shocked on June 4 to learn of the death of the Rev. Dwayne J. Westermann, who died at 73 from complications of surgery.

A graduate of Virginia Tech and of the Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary, Westermann was ordained in 1974 and joined the staff of Christ Lutheran Church of Roanoke as an assistant to the Rev. M.L. Minnick Jr., who now lives in retirement in Minneapolis, Minn. On Minnick’s departure for a job on the national church staff in 1976, Westermann moved up to the pastorate of the Southwest Roanoke parish.

Later, Westermann joined the staff of the Virginia Synod administrative body based in Salem where he developed a youth leadership program still widely used as the denomination has expanded into Eastern and Northern Virginia.

He became pastor of College Lutheran Church in Salem in1987 and remained until 2006 when he retired in order to devote his full time to a mission program in the African nation of Tanzania that helps young people further their education. Some from the Salem parish accompanied him there in recent years.

I knew the pastor from the time he arrived in the valley and always appreciated his cooperation in working with me as a religion writer for both the daily and the weekly newspapers. His wife Kay and three adult daughters survive him.

***

For my Sunday online worship, I picked up a sermon by Lutheran Presiding Bishop Elizabeth Eaton of Chicago who, like countless other persons around the globe, felt called to discuss the need for racial reconciliation.

The day is known as Trinity Sunday in denominations where a “liturgical year” is followed and is always a week after the Day of Pentecost you read of on June 4. It is meant to call attention to the early Christian church doctrine which affirms that the Jesus written of in the New Testament is the Son of God whose teachings continue through the power of the Holy Spirit. Creeds define this belief.

The administrative head of the major branch of Lutheranism found in our area asserted that “God is relationship” and is present wherever those persons created are found. Metaphorically, Eaton likened the breath taken away from the tortured black man George Floyd to the breath of the Holy Spirit associated with the Creator. She asserted that in the unprecedented outpouring of outrage against police cruelty to some persons of color, whites are at least beginning to “feel the pain” of injustice.

I, a white woman reared in a segregated society, now am for the first time experiencing friendship with a black man the age of my granddaughter as we share a mutual liking for news writing. I also value my Southern heritage and wish statues that honor that heritage might not be seen as ugly symbols.

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