As we prepare to celebrate the Ninth Annual Say Something Nice Sunday on June 1, it is a great opportunity to reflect on our progress.
Carol, my wife, was teaching in an inner-city middle school in 2005 and I volunteered to help some of the students with their creative writing skills. I was overwhelmed by the pervasive nature of negativity both from the students and faculty. Someone had to do something. One day the principal told the students, "If you want to do well this year, just be nice." An idea struck me. I wrote a little booklet, Say Something Nice; Be a Lifter. My goal was to get the booklet used in both public and private schools, but that didn't happen. The City of North Charleston was interested. The city bought copies for all of its employees. The city of Charleston bought copies for all of its neighborhood presidents. Mayor Keith Summey of North Charleston declared the first Say Something Nice Day on June 01, 2006. It is now listed in the Chase Calendar of Events.
In the meantime the rhetoric in the Christian community was going from bad to worse. All the major denominations were on the brink of splintering. Some groups have taken out full page newspaper ads denouncing each other. Dr. Frank Page was elected president of the Southern Baptist Convention over the opposition of the established leadership. He promised to be more conciliatory to differing viewpoints, but no less conservative in his theology. The congregation of First Baptist Charleston wanted to help calm the atmosphere because the dialogue was hindering the mission of all Christians.
I talked to our pastor, the Rev. Marshall Blalock, about the idea of having a Say Something Nice Sunday for churches. He became an enthusiastic supporter. The congregation passed a resolution calling for the first Sunday in June of each year to be observed as Say Something Nice Sunday. The Rev. Edgar Boles, Executive Director of the Charleston Baptist Association became a supporter as did Dr. Carlyle Driggers, retiring Executive Director-Treasurer of the South Carolina Baptist Convention. Donna Lea Fanning, FBC's messenger, presented the idea to the Association and it was unanimously adopted with enthusiasm. Rev. Boles submitted the resolution to the South Carolina Baptist Convention and it was adopted in 2007 in a resolution titled, "Unity in the Body." Our plan was to make this an international movement. The first Sunday in June was chosen because June is already Better Communication Month. We formed an ecumenical steering committee.
The Charleston Atlantic Presbytery joined us for the first Say Something Nice Sunday as did the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship of South Carolina and several other churches across the state. Lori Lethco, assistant to the pastor at First Baptist, used her amazing computer skills to add supporting materials to the First Baptist Church web site. Myra Whittemore secured a great deal of publicity. I gave several radio interviews and one on SCETV. The first Say Something Nice Sunday was a great success.
As we prepare for the Ninth Annual Say Something Nice Sunday, we are encouraged by the response. Bishop Guglielmone of the Catholic Diocese of Charleston endorsed our movement and then we secured the support of Cardinal Dolan of New York.
In 2009 I edited and contributed to a group of essays by leaders from various denominations, Christian Civility in an Uncivil World was published by Smyth&Helwys Publishers. At the invitation of Ernest and Pat Brown directors of The Baptist House at the Chautauqua Institution in Western New York State, I have conducted a series of Brown Bag Lunches on Christian civility. In 2012 we received support in the United Kingdom. In 2014 the Baptist World Alliance agreed to help promote the event and Chaplain Norris Burke wrote one of his syndicated columns on the movement. Already in 2015 there has been a terrific post on the Day 1 web site, the voice of mainline protestant churches. The Christian Meetings Association and the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation are adding the date to their web calendars. Through the years excellent sermons on the topic have been preached across the denominational spectrum and can be found on the internet. Rev. Andrew Shull, First Baptist Church of Woodruff, SC, dedicated an entire week to the topic.
The following appears in the Covenant of First Baptist Church of Charleston adopted by the congregation on August 21, 1791. "We will be careful to conduct ourselves with uprightness and integrity, and in a peaceful and friendly manner, toward mankind in general, and toward Christians of all descriptions, in particular." That is a remarkable statement. If Christians in 1791 recognized the necessity of a God-like attitude toward all Christians can we do any less today?
Please join in. If we can honor God with our speech on one day, perhaps we can do it for two, three, or even more. There is nothing to buy. The materials can be found at www.fbcharleston.org. Click on Messages/Resources at the top of the page. Scroll down on the right to Say Something Nice Sunday. You will find art work, bulletin inserts and Scripture passages and devotionals. Churches and/or individuals are encouraged to submit additional materials.
Mitch Carnell is the founder of Say Something Nice Sunday. His latest book, Our Father: Discovering Family, will be published later this year by Wipf and Stock.