Calvary Troublemakers: Laura Hughes

These past weeks as we’ve heard the words of the ancient prophets of Israel, true troublemakers of their time, we have also peered into the lives of some of this congregation’s own troublemakers: people who believed their faith to be life and world-changing; people who embraced the rich potential of this faith community; people who pushed this church to think and act outside the box to reflect the radical nature of the Gospel we preach. 

You might think that bring a Calvary trouble maker is a thing of the past, as those we’ve met until now lived and worshiped here long before we ever did.  But today we meet an unlikely troublemaker who walked among us in this place, who touched many of our lives personally.  How many of you knew Laura Hughes?

Laura died November 8, 2007; she was 94 years old.  If you met her, you’d never guess how feisty, tough, opinionated, and wise she was . . . her cover was a sweet little old lady with a self deprecating air.  Your mistake if you ever believed THAT. 

Born in 1913 in Minnesota, Laura pretty much broke every stereotype of female accomplishment with her life.  After graduating from college she set off to change the world by launching a life-long career as a statistical analyst but her strong drive, ability, and leadership skills launched her remarkable career through a series of agencies that were reorganized and ultimately became United States Agency for International Development (USAID) where she was the Director of the Office of China Affairs and Southwest Pacific Affairs. 

Her work required travel to Southeast Asia including, Hong Kong, mainland China, and multiple trips to Taiwan.  She had strong language skills in French, German, and Spanish, and didn’t give a thought to hopping on a plane to embrace the world.

On her 24th birthday, right after moving to Washington, Laura joined Calvary Baptist Church and dedicated the incredible drive, ability, and leadership skills which made her so successful in her career to the church.  To list her contributions to the life of this church would take us well past lunchtime today, but suffice it to say Laura, sweet little Laura, was much, much more including a mover and shaker, environmentalist, friend, helper, unofficial church visitor, confidant, aunt, encourager, financial analyst, musician, genealogist, political activist, niece, sports fan, daughter, pacifist, roommate, world traveler, sister, advisor, writer, collector, historian, dog lover.  She did not, however, cook.

When I came to be pastor of Calvary in 2003, Laura lived at Thomas House, right down the street.  She was a mover and shaker over there, too, a leader in the weekly Calvary Bible Study held there.  Most of all, though, I knew Laura as a well of wisdom, one who has observed this world and this life and could always provide astute, honest advice, even if it was something you didn’t want to hear.

When Calvary calls a new pastor, usually the candidate comes to preach then leaves while the church debates their calling and votes.  People told me that the meeting included some heated discussion . . . I wasn’t the most expected choice for this church that had been so prominent in American Baptist life and history.  Some people questioned the wisdom of calling a thirty-two year old, inexperienced woman to be pastor.  Apparently it was Laura who stood up and said she could remember the church business meeting that took place in this very sanctuary in 1942, when the Calvary congregation had the audacity to call a young, untested thirty-two year old minister, Clarence Cranford, to be pastor.  Cranny served as Calvary’s pastor for 31 years, through some of the most vital times in the life of this congregation.  I can just picture Laura saying she thought that the church might want to remember that before they voted not to give this young pastor a chance.

Speaking truth to power, especially when you’re a tiny, unobtrusive single woman in the years Laura lived, takes courage, conviction, and purpose.  Laura had all of those qualities, and because of that, her legacy as a Calvary troublemaker lives on among us today.  If Laura were here, she’d be sitting in the front pew, shaking her head, dismissing her substantial legacy of conviction and life . . . but after the service, she’d be sure to tell me exactly what she thought I missed!

Many of you didn’t know Laura, but she’s still here in spirit, in the lives of all of us who did.  Who knows what troublemakers, like Laura, walk among us even now?

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About Amy

Senior Pastor, The Riverside Church, New York
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