For several days I have been remembering. There was a season when I was emerging from an incredibly difficult time in my life. I had resolved that I would never be able to reconcile the conflicts I had with the faith community that raised me. I just did not fit…as a woman preacher, as a community activist and as a Same Gender Loving woman. I had planned to go far away.
I received an invitation to come and preach at Love Center Church in Oakland, and very reluctantly I went. I had not preached in years. I had planned never to preach again, but that day God transformed my life. I joined that Sunday and the Sunday after I met the leader of my new church family. We called him Pastor Walt. I understood why I was led there when I heard him preach. He spoke with passion, clarity and conviction about the extravagant Grace of God that is greater than all of our shame and guilt. He introduced me to the doctrine of Eternal Security that made me understand that my salvation was not fragile, and that God was not punitive and vindictive. I realized that I was indeed justified by faith and that I had peace with God. What a glorious revelation!
I recall him saying over and over, ”What shall we say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?” I became progressively freer every time I heard him. I learned to both love and affirm myself. Pastor Walt became my friend and Brother. We talked regularly, shared vision, traveled the world and designed ministry. He was my Biker Buddy and we spent many hours riding through the hills of Northern California. I remember late night conversations that turned into after church fried chicken, sweet potato pies, (he made them from scratch), and Walt practicing his budding hair styling skills on me. I have fond memories of sitting with him on his piano stool, watching him create brand new music under the influence of the Holy Ghost.
I was blessed to know him and he was the same when we were at the ice cream parlor and when we were at the Stellar Awards. For 10 years I served beside him as his Assistant Pastor and as a member of The Hawkins Family. My love for the transforming power of Gospel music grew under his direction. My call to the Ministry of Radical Inclusivity grew out of his influence.
Bishop Hawkins took the courage to step into uncharted waters and to preach a liberating Gospel that was like fresh cool water on my battered spirit. Everyone who has ever been blessed by my ministry in any way…every church, every class, and every organization must pay tribute to the life and ministry of this great man. His mark is on you.
Bishop Walter Lee Hawkins, Walt…you were and are a giant of a man. You are home now with the Jesus you loved and served with your whole life. May your legacy have an even greater impact on the world than you could have imagined in this life.
Bishop Yvette Flunder