May 14, 2017
Hello everyone. My name is Adam Whitfield, and I am graduating from Little Rock Central High School in less than two short weeks. As my high school career comes to a close and I start preparing to go off to college, I have been thinking about how I got where I am today. In my short 18 years a lot of things have changed, but one thing that’s been a constant in my life is Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. As everything around me is changing so fast it is important to realize that there’s one true place that I can find peace and happiness. As many of you can tell, my family is very involved in the church. My brother and I are both acolytes, my father and I are both bell ringers, everyone except me is a lay reader, my mom is a children’s Sunday school teacher and a member of the needlepoint guild and those are all the things we are CURRENTLY in. I’ve been coming to Trinity since birth. I was baptized right back over there. Almost every baptism we witness now my dad has to tap me on the shoulder saying something like, “been there before.”
I always found the church to be a place of adventure. When I was a little kid, I would stare at the big kids in awe as they went down the aisle carrying the crosses and banners. I really wanted to be one of them. Come to find out they won’t just let any 7-year-old walk down the aisle carrying a flaming torch. So I would literally practice in the backyard with a rake until it came my time. I found out that you have to be at least in the 6th grade to join the acolytes and I could not wait. I still remember every time I got to “upgrade” to a new position. I don’t know if anyone’s noticed but if you look at the acolytes go by its very serious. We take pride in looking as serious as possible and to just look all around professional. I fell in love with acolyting and no one could stop me. I took great pride in the first time I got to carry the first cross. It makes you feel as though you’re a leader, calling everyone’s attention to the true reason we’re here and that’s to worship God. We owe our skills to John Stanley and all the other adults that help the new and incoming acolytes. I would like to personally thank you for everything you do. It is something that we will all remember for the rest of our lives, and I am going to miss it.
Another great program that I have fallen in love with here is the great group of people back in the bell tower. The musical man my father is, he became very interested in the bells and got in contact with Porter Brownlee asking about how he could get into ringing the bells. They graciously accepted him in and taught him the ropes. As I was just entering into middle school as this was going on, I was very interested in where my dad would go every Wednesday night and early Sunday mornings. My dad decided it would be suitable for me to give it a try when I was a little bit bigger. So when I was about thirteen he brought me along for a practice and I was truly amazed by the bells. It’s one thing to hear them on a Sunday and watch people ring them, but it’s a totally new experience to actually get a pull at the rope. The great thing about the tower though is not just the bells, but the people who ring them. I have truly come to love every single person that’s helped me and taught me through the years that I have been ringing now. There’s nothing I think I could ever do to repay you all for all the great memories and experiences you all have given me.
All of these people in my life have shaped who I am today and I know I am not the only one that’s grown up with great role models in their lives. Every single person in here I guarantee can think back on those people who were always there for them or were always there to give guidance. It’s human nature and it’s truly a blessing to have a mentor. I know this is true because today in the gospel John is talking about how Phillip is not satisfied with just following Jesus that he needs to see God to truly believe. Jesus, in turn, explains that the father is in him and if he will just follow Jesus that if you know him you will also know his father. God is showing himself through Jesus and if Phillip will just follow Jesus he will truly see the blessings of God in him.
Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” In this Jesus is saying that we all need to follow him to get to God himself. Just as Jesus was put in place to show the way to God, so are our mentors in life. God has put them in place to show us the way. I know deep down that if I follow those that have gone before me, I will see the light of God. All of you adults sitting here today have gone through so many life experiences including happy times, sad times, struggles and big wins. You are sitting in a position that you can take someone under your wing and guide them through life so that they might not go through the same struggles you have. God has put you in a position to make the future even brighter. There are always going to be people that look up to you. The best thing you can do is acknowledge this and teach them what you know so society can continue to evolve. I believe it to be God’s plan that put you all into place to help teach the youth just like God sent Jesus to us to show us the way.
We are all gathered here today for youth Sunday. We are here to honor the youth in our congregation. Every generation looks to its youth to make a better future. Without guidance from many people here in the Cathedral, I would not be the person I am today. There’s one person that’s not with us today in person, but here with us in spirit. I know he would be proud of the person I have become, and that’s my grandfather Floyd Thomas. By the time I knew my grandfather I thought of him as a sweet old man but I’m told in his heyday, not that many people would have described him as sweet. At his funeral, he was described as the man even Chuck Norris wouldn’t mess with. To give you some back story, in my mind, Floyd Thomas is the prime example of an American hero. As a member of the ROTC program at the University of Arkansas, in 1943 he was sent to Europe to fight in the world war as an infantry soldier. There are a few things we still have that were his from that time, his dog tags, a few pictures and most important was the pocket Bible he carried with him throughout the whole war. I believe this to be one of the most prized possessions because it shows what type of man you can become with the help of faith. He returned home to use the G.I. bill and finish his education. After graduation, he taught for a few years but when he was approached by the FBI he started a new career. My grandfather was a great investigator but believed his best work was done when his gun was locked up in the truck of his car; he had witnessed enough evil himself that he did not want to continue it. Probably his proudest professional achievement was his part in the investigation of the 3 missing civil rights workers in Mississippi, during the summer of 1964. If you remember that time in our history, or if you’ve seen the movie, Mississippi Burning, you know that three civil rights workers were murdered and buried in an earthen dam. They were in Mississippi to help black people register to vote. My grandfather was there when they found their burned out car and later when the three bodies were found. He continued to work on civil rights cases for the rest of his career.
It is very scary for me to think that the sweet old man that I saw as my grandfather saw so much death and destruction during the years before I knew him. His work in civil rights was guided by his belief that every human being deserves respect. He sacrificed so much to help others. This continued all the way to the end of his life. The fifteen years I had with him were filled with peace and happiness. The man I came to know and love took great enjoyment in being with his family and spending time in the outdoors. As a young kid I remember riding with him in his truck out to the family deer camp in Mount Holly, Arkansas. That property I think is what brought him true happiness. It wasn’t the importance of the hunt or how much stuff he had it was all about the time he got to spend with family and friends. It was a place of happiness that he could share with others. Being a kid I always wanted to go with my grandfather and do the things he enjoyed. So we spent a lot of time in Mount Holly. He’s the man that taught me how to hunt, how to fish and many other things I hold very near to my heart. My dad explained it best one time by saying, “the legacy that Papa left in you was the love of the outdoors.” And over the years I have found this fact to be more and more true. Every big decision I make I do to make him proud and to continue his legacy.
I would much rather be outdoors and uncomfortable than inside sitting comfy in the A/C. I feel confined when I’m inside and I always look for the next opportunity to get outside. Truly the first time I came to realize my passion for the outdoors was on a Boy Scouting trip to Cimarron, New Mexico, to backpack for 10 days. We were each given a pocket size Bible that I keep in the top drawer of my dresser today. The trip was filled with ups and downs, but I specifically remember one day we stopped for lunch on top of a hill and we could see land for miles all around us. We had a quick little prayer but in the middle of that prayer I took a look around us, a deep breath and thought to myself, “This is God’s country.” The great outdoors is a true blessing to us and in that moment I’ve never felt closer to God. Since that moment on I’ve become more faithful but not always in the traditional setting. I love this Cathedral, but there’s nothing like the feelings of worship and awe that I experience in nature. I truly feel closest to God when I am in the outdoors and this blessing is thanks to my grandfather. I truly believe that.
Someone else who also has been a mentor in my life but has also paved the road ahead for my future is Otis Howe. Otis you mean more to me than I know how to express. Otis took me on my first duck hunt many years ago and now it has become a passion of my own. He saw my love for the outdoors and my potential and he showed me to the world of agriculture. For the longest time I had not a clue in the world of what I wanted to do for a career and when we were riding back to town from a duck hunt he told me about what he does as a job. How he gets to travel the state working side by side with farmers. This piqued my interest and a little over a year ago he introduced me to one of his hunting buddies who actually offered me a job to work for him over the summer at the U of A cooperative extension office in Lonoke doing entomology research. I have no prior agricultural experience and without Otis I would not have the life goal I have today. This past summer was so successful in Lonoke that I start again on June 1st and cannot wait to get back into the fields of Arkansas. And my major will be crop and environmental sciences when I go to Fayetteville this fall.
So in closing, I would like everyone to take some time out of their day to think about what they could do for the future generation. It doesn’t have to be anything major or mind blowing but something as simple as volunteering a little of your time with someone young could possibly impact that person’s life for the better. As a representative of the youth community within our church, I thank you all.