“An Appreciation of Fred Taylor” by Dave Lloyd

photo of Fred TaylorFebruary 1, 2020

Dave Lloyd, one of the original members of Seekers Church, was asked to speak at a Church of the Saviour gathering in memory of Fred Taylor, who founded Seekers along with Sonya Dyer in 1976.

I knew Fred for more than 40 years, from the early 1970s before the New Lands process that led to the creation of Seekers Church. When Sharon and I switched from attending the Church of the Saviour’s second service to the earlier one we got to know Fred and his family, and also Sonya Dyer and her family, Muriel Lipp and her family, and others who became the founding members of Seekers Church. Many of these were involved in For Love of Children (FLOC). I had always been interested in helping children, at first through tutoring a boy while in college and then teaching in the Peace Corps. In the early 1970s I was attending Georgetown University Law Center, and, in the spring of 1974, I took the juvenile justice class, learning about the legal rights of abused, neglected, and delinquent children. FLOC’s name came up as one of the best programs for foster care, child advocacy, and learning center programs in the area. I began to seek Fred out for mentoring, especially in 1975-76, when I was a supervised law student representing abused children in D.C. Superior Court.

During the New Lands process, Fred and Sonya represented FLOC, but they and others, such as Muriel Lipp, began to conceive of a congregation that could include a call to one’s job as not only a vocation, a Latin word for one’s calling, but also as a mission within the meaning of the Church of the Saviour that could include a call to parenthood. Fred began to see the possibility of creating something like a traditional neighborhood church that incorporated Church of the Saviour principles. In 1976 the planning group adopted the name “Seekers Church,” using the theme of an essay by Robert Greenleaf in which he stated that seekers evoke prophets. It took several tries for Seekers to get the Church of the Saviour Council to approve the call of Seekers Church because we envisioned numerous missions for members of the congregation rather than a single corporate mission. Fred strove with Council members to get them to understand the validity of the Seekers call, until Seekers officially was recognized in late 1976.

By the late 1970’s I was a lawyer, concentrating on representing abused and neglected children, but struggling in my practice. I frequently had lunch with Fred, who encouraged me to join one of the groups that became a forerunner of the Hope and a Home mission group. For one summer I served as the acting director of the FLOC Child Advocacy Center and Fred met with me regularly, sharing his vision for children and the role that the DC government could and should play in making that vision a reality. Seekers had numerous families with young children and so we were inspired and challenged by the writings of theologian John Westerhoff, who saw a healthy church as intergenerational, with children and youth being as valued as the generation of working adults and the generation of those who had retired. (What a concept! Children and youth as valued equally as adults!) I drove Fred and Sonya down to Duke University to meet with Professor Westerhoff. He was interested in our situation but had no immediate solutions for us. The long drive back was made bearable by the lively conversation of how we might go about making our Seekers children and youth valued. For years Seekers had as many children and youth in our Sunday School as we had adults in worship and we were known in the Church of the Saviour community as “the congregation that welcomes children,” which seems to me in hindsight more as a comment about our sister congregations.

Seekers has always had a commitment to shared leadership and Fred was an exemplar of this, especially in opening up space for women’s leadership, which was a radical step for the early 1980’s. Fred and Sonya convened a group to help plan themes, prayers, and other aspects of worship, and as part of that group I got to experience the richness of his practical theology more deeply. At first Fred did all the preaching, but the liturgist was always a woman, usually Sonya. Over time Fred’s preaching reduced to twice a month and frequently it was a woman who preached. It wasn’t easy for Fred to share preaching and pastoral responsibilities traditionally reserved for a seminary trained pastor with a lay person, but he did. As the women’s rights movement gained traction in Seekers, he helped us navigate new roles and language and hymns that affirmed women and those with other than heterosexual orientations. All the while he continued his passion for affirming full legal rights and social status for African Americans.

During the late 1970s and into the mid-1980s Seekers had a clown ministry troupe. Fred took the class to become a clown but he soon saw that it wasn’t right for him. He encouraged us as we experimented with interpreting the scriptures to supplement or replace the sermon with a clown skit, looking for the deeper theology in it. I remember when we did a series of Advent skits during the prelude time. In one of them we anticipated the formal arrival of the messiah, complete with a welcoming homily from Fred entitled “The History of the Prophetic Tradition of the Coming of the Messiah,” which seemed similar to titles of Fred’s sermons back then. We added, “The Feminist Response,” which was an issue in Seekers then. The other memory that comes is on a Palm Sunday, just before the closing hymn, six or seven of us dressed in black and/or gray and wearing mime face makeup burst into the sanctuary and dragged Fred and Sony out, leaving the congregation leaderless and unsure of what would happen next. Eventually they sang the hymn and someone spoke the benediction, ending the service. Fred appreciated the metaphor to the confusion and dismay of the leaderless disciples after Jesus’ arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane, but he asked us never to do a clown piece in the service again without letting him know in advance!

As my career in the field of child abuse continued to deepen Fred continued to mentor me with his visions of how we could help families before their parenting had problems as well as how we could best intervene afterwards. The conversation always mixed discussion of career and the practical application of scripture and theology, as Fred could do so well. I looked forward to our lunches because I always came away inspired in both my career and my role in Seekers. Even though he resigned from Seekers leadership and eventually left us for the Eighth Day community, Fred maintained a lively interest in Seekers’ welfare.

When I last saw Fred at a FLOC fundraising breakfast, he knew that I had retired and was a now on the servant leadership team at Seekers. I am also a licensed D.C. tour guide and he took pleasure in the fact that because most of my tours are with students in the fifth, eighth, or eleventh grades I am back to teaching. When I told him that I stress the role of African Americans in the founding and growth of our city and our nation he was pleased and urged me to continue.

I know that Fred’s deep faith and his practice of it changed my life, but I suspect he did that in more ways than I know. I can say the same for Seekers Church and I suspect that many of you can say the same – his deep faith and his practice of it changed us for the better.


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