Ministering in the Midnights of the Human Condition

by Valerie Loner

If midnight has a minister, it may well be the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss Jr. Moss has seen his share of midnights - not the kind illuminated by the clock, but the kind defined by the human condition.

the Rev. Dr. Otis Moss Jr.
The Rev. Dr. Otis Moss Jr.

Moss, who once copastored Atlanta's famed Ebenezer Baptist Church with the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Sr., spoke to students at Emory University's Candler School of Theology on Nov. 8. The service was the school's Black Church Studies fall service. Moss has served as pastor of Olivet Institutional Baptist Church in Cleveland, OH, since 1975 and also serves on the board of the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Non-Violent Social Change. In 1994, he witnessed the signing of the peace treaty between Israel and Jordan.

Moss' abiding love of justice is what makes his message timeless and continually relevant, said Dr. Renee K. Harrison, visiting assistant professor and acting director of Candler's Black Church Studies Program.

Moss told Candler students that they must be prepared to work, not in the daylight when times are good, but at midnight, when times are darkest. Midnights, in fact, are a litmus test of ministry.

"If you cannot minister in the midnights of the human condition, your ministry is shallow, surface, peripheral and practically rootless," said Moss, who based his sermon on the story of the imprisoned Paul and Silas praying with their fellow inmates at midnight as relayed in Acts 16.

"I know you can minister in the daylight of your circumstances. Some of us were born in the daylight of God's grace," said Moss, who noted that their closets and pantries are full. But not everyone has experienced such prosperity.

"Some were born after sunset," Moss continued, his speech gaining momentum as the attendees voiced their approval of his comments. "There was no sunlight, so you learned to travel by starlight. And some were born after sunset, and the stars were out, but the clouds were low. And you could not see the stars to navigate your journey and you used candlelight. And some were born without sunlight, without starlight, without candlelight. And you walked by faith."

Moss called upon attendees to have faith even in the worst of circumstances.

"God can and does intervene in human circumstances," he said.

For Paul and Silas, this meant continuing to work for God even when times looked bleak. "If we are to minister in the midnights of the human circumstance, we need a midnight faith," Moss said.

Harrison praised Moss' ability to relate to those who hear his sermons, calling him a "storyteller" who is able to take people "from the realities of where they are to the metaphors of where they could be."