On Thursday July 13th, I had the pleasure of meeting Reverend V.W. Chambers at his home on the north side. He and his brother were sitting out on the front lawn, talking, enjoying the day and each other’s company. As we pulled up, the two of them sitting side by side in their lawn chairs on a sunny afternoon conveyed an image of tranquility, of the peace that comes with warm weather and warm company.
Mr. Chambers grew up in the south, Mississippi to be exact, and came up to Milwaukee in 1956, when he was seventeen. He was looking for answers, he tells us, looking to find out why people were the way they were, in hopes of alleviating himself from some of the prejudice that was so heavy in Mississippi. He refers to himself as a ‘‘wild boy’’ back at that time, helping himself, or at least doing what he thought would help himself. He tells us that young people are curious, and alludes to the fact that he was no different. As he recalls his younger self, he looks upward and smiles, as if in that gesture, he can look back at himself, or into himself. He doesn’t care to elaborate, but his eyes say a lot for him.
Looking at him now, with silver hairs that fill his long beard, it’s fun to try to picture him being wild and moving fast though Milwaukee’s streets with full cheeks and brighter eyes. He has a soft but firm voice, and we have to lean in to hear him, really try to give our full attention. I wonder if he purposefully keeps his voice quiet just for that reason. He also pauses frequently, letting us hang on his words while we wait for him to complete his sentence. Phrases like ‘mmhmm’’ are peppered throughout his lexicon, and through this he retains his southern charm even after decades of cold Milwaukee winters.
At the Men’s Breakfast on North Avenue, they call him The Godfather. He jokes about it in a humble way. He explains it’s because he thinks differently, and he tries to pass his way of thinking to younger members of the community, to teach and protect. His message is of knowledge and understanding, and that knowledge should be shared, passed to others to help them improve their lives rather than guarded for exclusive use. He talks about love: love has no color; knowledge has no color. He goes on in his deep voice in a dreamlike string of analogy about how we’re all parts of the same tree, how we’re all the same, and we all want goodness. Words in his voice are longer, and the way he lets them linger in the air somehow gives them more weight.
Mr. Chambers has been a pastor at for about 25 years; now his main congregation, located on 14th and Juneau, near King Park, is called Straight Narrow Way. ‘‘Minds sharpen minds,’’ he tells us, and that’s why he goes to other churches, to listen to others and preach to others. "Dealing with all types of thoughts and minds by the grace of God,’’ he says, to ‘‘(bring) people together to share the knowledge of Jesus Christ.’’
Another thing about Mr. Chambers is that even though he’s the preacher, he’s also always listening. He says things to make you second guess your words, and the intentions of your words. When I see him again on Tuesday morning, I tell him that, ‘‘it was a good breakfast’’ and he says playfully, ‘‘It’s always better to be seen than evaluated, maybe that’s just me,’’ making me rethink the conventional way of showing gratitude, and reminding me to be more original.