On July 11 I got a text message from the Hillary Clinton campaign. Did I want to enter a contest to by Hillary Clinton’s special guest at the upcoming Democratic National Convention?
I got busy and never entered. But my friend Rich Jones, who is a Presbyterian pastor here in Cincinnati, did.
And out of 230,000 entries, he won.
Last week, Rich and his wife Debbie got flown to Philadelphia for the convention and a memorable meet-and-greet with Hillary Clinton and her new v-p pick, Tim Kaine.
“They are really warm and personable,” Rich told me on Saturday after returning home. “I talked to Tim Kaine for a moment [on Friday] and I told him that if we had more time, I would love to hear about his Honduras Mission experience. And then they were asking what Debbie and I did. When I said I was a Presbyterian pastor, Hillary asked us to pray for a friend of hers, who is a South Sudanese Presbyterian pastor.”
The friend in question is Elias Taban, a child-soldier-turned-pastor who has taken a stand for freedom in South Sudan and been in prison. (See here for a conversation between Clinton and Taban about his work for clean water and peace in Africa.)
Rich says that Hillary jumped in with the Presbyterian pastor story after he and Debbie mentioned they were praying for her and for her work. “I really appreciate the prayers,” she told them. “And we do experience that sense of people praying for us. But let me tell you a story of someone that needs our prayers as well.”
She was also, Rich says, very conscious about having limited time—not her limited time, but theirs! “The folks around us were moving people in and out, and Hillary was like, ‘Do you guys have time? I don’t want to take up too much of your time.’ She was warm, personable, and down to earth.”
Rich says that Hillary Clinton was “really, really present. Which is a gift. She was in the moment, not thinking through to the next thing. I know she had been up late the night before and then backstage and being there with so many people, but she was very much with us.”
Rich’s friend Tim Soerens sent along a book for him to give to the Democratic presidential nominee: Søren Kierkegaard’s Works of Love. “Apparently there’s some connection with her family, where she likes the writings of Kierkegaard,” Rich explains. “We thought it would be a nice gift to give her.”
Why that book of Kierkegaard’s in particular? “I think that’s his personal summation of his trajectory of God’s work around us, in us, through us, filling every nook and cranny.”
Rich says that’s an important message right now, in this high-stakes election. “You want to love and respect all folks. As a pastor, I try not to get into too many discussions and dialogues about politics, but you also have to figure out how to move the needle forward and not backwards.”
While he didn’t get to give the book to Clinton directly—you can’t be holding anything in your hands when approaching a presidential candidate—her assistant told him it was a terrific gift and that Clinton would receive it.
The week before the Democratic convention, Rich watched the GOP convention on television, and was struck by the onslaught of negativity he saw there. Trump’s divisiveness gives him serious pause (“he’s not the guy I want to be leading the free world,” Rich says).
So yes, he’ll be voting for Hillary Clinton. “Her faith really propels her to do these things. There is that sense of faith that propels you toward issues around social justice. All of us need dialogue. That’s not saying she’s perfect, but she is a person that just keeps on and keeps on and doesn’t give up. That comes out in her faith.”