Feb 14, 2018 | By: Sharyn Peavey and Sheryl Peavey
The Many Hats of Reverend Lewis
I woke up today and that gives me hope. It means I have another chance to make a difference or to make a change.
~ Rev. Kenneth Lewis, Green Memorial AME Zion Church, Portland Maine
Reverend Lewis smiles as he says that he is beholden to no one but he is beholden to his call, which is his commitment to God. His life as a pastor demonstrates his commitment to help others hear the words of God by listening, modeling, and encouraging. That same mindfulness is reflected in his commitment to his public health work leading the Center for Tobacco Independence. He admits that it can be awkward sometimes to be called Reverend at work, because he is not acting in that capacity there. He wears a lot of hats, he notes, but only has one head. Whether wearing the hat of father, husband, shepherd, manager, neighbor, truth-speaker, or advocate, he makes the effort to be sure he is consistently “me, with my ethics intact.”
That integrity is one reason we chose to spotlight Reverend Lewis in our February issue of Picture This! Each of us knew him, unbeknownst to the other, and each of us found ourselves comforted and inspired by him--but with his different hats! For Sharyn, Reverend Lewis, or Rev, as he is affectionately known by his congregation, offered an open door that welcomed and celebrated her atypical family. For Sheryl, Ken Lewis was a steady voice for the consistently vulnerable public health and tobacco cessation and prevention programs, a key area of focus in her work at DHHS. Sure, maybe Maine isn't that big of a state for each of us to have encountered him separately, but we think it has more to do with his personality and his principles.
Reverend Lewis has been pastor of the Green Memorial AME Zion Church for 15 years or so. His pastoral work has always been in integrated places, including Cambridge, Amherst, and Portland. He points out that church is all about love and truth and attention, and pastoring is really just shepherding diverse sheep.
But truth and integration were not the hallmarks of his childhood in Boston.
As a child, Rev watched as his siblings were bussed all over the city to comply with the forced diversity of desegregation policies. And while he was lucky enough to be schooled in his own community, it wasn't until seventh grade that he remembers actually sitting next to a white kid. Back then, observation of black history was relegated to one week out of the year. That probably had something to do with people thinking that plopping kids in unwelcoming and unfamiliar neighborhoods was a good idea, rather than just distributing the educational resources a little differently. Those turbulent times left an impression, and created in him an awareness of the constant, chronic fight for inclusion of truth in history. The vast majority of black history would be considered “bad” as it relates to the conscience and values of America, and yet there's little talk about those Boston days now.
"Take the word IGNORANCE," he says. "In it is IGNORE. We ignore the absence of the stories and instead act as if there is no story to tell, because they have been hidden."
His work as a pastor gives him the opportunity to hear those stories and also to share those stories. His congregation demonstrates how recognition of the past can help us reaffirm the contributions, the resiliency, and the status for African-Americans. This acknowledgement, attention, respect, and love are what he hopes to represent on behalf of his church, even when he is not wearing his Pastor Hat.
Take a moment now to picture Ken Lewis donning his Executive Director hat of the MaineHealth Center for Tobacco Independence (CTI). It is a heavy hat, weighted by the knowledge that already he has lived a longer life than both his mother and his father. He does remember when his mother quit smoking--she was pregnant with his sister. But years of smoking were ultimately the cause of the cancer deaths of his parents as well as his grandmother. One day, the call to shepherd a group of people to hear and live the word of God became the same call to lead people to live longer, healthier, tobacco-free lives.
While being a pastor is spiritually rewarding, it alone didn't sustain his life fiscally. Ken worked for years applying his business talents in health insurance, most recently as director of a large call center in western Massachusetts where he was a pastor. The job for the Maine Tobacco HelpLine was posted right around the time that he was being relocated to minister in Portland at Green Memorial. Figuring the non-profit hospital would benefit from his for-profit expertise, he applied and went through an overly rigorous round of four or five interviews. But that job was meant for him to take and be connected to his pastoral life. Smoking cessation and tobacco prevention have become adjunct to his ministry. Maine is small and his work here is impactful. Ken knows that thousands of Maine residents have had the benefit of services he’s led and managed and that brings spiritual satisfaction too.
Frankly, its pretty awesome that he can infuse his ethical standards in all of the work he gets to do, with all of the hats he wears! Rev would say he doesn't do it alone, "But God!"
Active on several boards and groups in the Portland area, Reverend Lewis acknowledges how all of these roles have helped him to be a better pastor. More often than not, he is the only black person in the room. And his personality is such that he’ll represent. "I am not afraid to say what (truth) needs to be said to the people who make the decisions."
However, he knows that speaking up and being a voice for truth isn't easy for everyone, but there is an opportunity every day to make change. Start with the people you're comfortable around in your everyday life, he encourages, and call out those people to join you in your stance. "You can be in the backdrop. We’re all stronger together and sometimes your PRESENCE is the voice."
A new generation is hearing his call to action. There are emerging people, like his daughters, the church choir, and the youth Theater Ensemble. These 20 and 30-somethings who are bold and competent and courageous bring him hope. Still, he believes it is important for any current social justice movement to respect what has happened in the past and connect with the seasoned sages who can help link them to that history.
It's a picture from history that reminds him that he is doing the right thing and that he's in the right place. Faith leaders from Portland on the steps of Portland City Hall speaking out for civil rights. He carries this image to remind him that our work is not done and we stand on the shoulders of those who came before us.
Stop by Green Memorial if you're in the neighborhood or listen live on Facebook. You can choose to be a voice or a presence. Like the voice of Ken Lewis resonates with each of us Peavey sisters, the voice of his church still echoes in Portland's history.