Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Dr. John D. Mangram: 1924-2014

There are some people who come into your life and make indelible marks on it. They are people live with, or go to church with you , or go to school with you...or teach you. Such a man was Dr. John D. Mangram. Dr. Mangram was the Dean of Religion at Bishop College when I was a student there. He died this past Sunday morning at the age of 90.


Dr. John D. Mangram

I only took one class from Dr. Mangram, but he was a mentor of mine. And during the time I was at Bishop he helped me to understand the ministry and how to take it with all of the seriousness it deserved.

Dr. Mangram was a scholar, with earned degrees from Jarvis Christian College, Howard University in Washington D.C., Yale Divinity School and Pacific School of Religion in Berkley, California. Mangram was the first true theologian I'd ever met and at the age of 18 and a freshman in college I was thoroughly and completely intimidated by him. If you have ever seen 'Professor Kingsfield' in the movie "The Paper Chase' Mangram was to those of us studying religion what Kingsfield was to law students. He was even intimidated by the way he referenced us. He never called us by the 'exalted' title 'Reverend', as we had already grown used to in church. He called us 'Mister'. When he referred to us in such a matter it was his way of letting us know we hadn't made it yet.

Nearly every student he had over the 50 years of his training preachers grew to love him. He treated men and women alike with the same coarse, gruff affection, teaching us all to have a high regard for the preached Word and the institution of the church.

At the same time as scholar he wanted to impart to us all his respect for the church and its traditional role in the life and history of the black church with a delicate and respectful balance. When he would heard any of us trying to force our modern 'book learning' on congregations with histories and heritages two, three times our age he would remind us that these churches were started by men and women who didn't have the knowledge we acquired. He would tell us that these brothers and sisters nickles and dimes built the churches that we were trying to 'reform' and that we should tread lightly in trying to 'make change'.

And the same time he could be gloriously irreverent about the church. He spoke of the churches 'CONventions' and 'ASSociations', and rail against the excesses of preachers and pastors. I remember there was a group of us young preachers who would occasional skip class to hear Dr. Mangram lecture at the Baptist Ministers Union. I remember him telling those pastors that God's intention was for us to become 'Jesus Christ, Jr.' and the gasp that went through that congregation of preachers.

 One of the highest compliments ever paid to me as a preacher was to have heard him say, 'That's Bishop preaching'.  But he did so because for him, it was evidence he had changed another generation of men and women who had become preachers, pastors and politicians to serve their generations with integrity and a sense of duty to God. At one point, all four Presidents of the black churches conventions were headed by Bishop College preachers and Dr. Mangram was an adviser to one and had taught the other three.

Dr. Mangram served in many capacities as a professor, assistant professor including pastor of First Congregational Church of Meridian, Mississippi and was a successor to Howard Thurman at the Church for the Fellowship of All People in San Francisco, California. From 1967-1988 Dr. Mangram served as Dean of the Chapel/Chairman of the Division of Religion and Philosophy and Professor of Religion at Bishop College. After Bishop closed Dr. Mangram went back to his alma mater, Jarvis Christian College where he not only taught but was honored to have the John D. Mangram Ministers Conference established in his honor.

He was quite a man.

It was a great honor to have entertained him in my home when two Bishop Alumni Willie J. Smith and David Boyle preached in one of the largest Revivals sponsored by our churches in this city. He told my wife last year that he never has forgotten the lunch and the time he spent with his 'boys'.

I greatly admired John Mangram. He was a great preacher. He was a marvelous teacher. He was a wonderful man. I'm of the opinion that if those of us who sat at his feet were to become half the preacher and man he was, this world will be a much better place in which to live.

"Sleep on dear brother; and may flights of angels attend thee to thy final rest."

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