How does a young minister, after less than a year in his first parish, find himself the focus of Alexandria officialdom's wrath, the object of local news coverage and the recipient of telephoned threats?
For the Rev. James Hundley, pastor of St. Andrew's United Methodist Church in Alexandria, part of the answer lies in his response to the closing of a 2,100-unit apartment complex - Shirley Duke-Regina - and the tenant upheaval that followed.
The ties between Shirley Duke and St. Andrew's were cemented long before Hundley's arrival last June. The church sits on a bluff overlooking the apartments and, as Hundley puts it, "When people wanted to get married or have their babies baptized, this was a natural place for them to come . . . and they did."
So, in part, Hundley's decision to speak out in behalf of the displaced residents was a natural outgrowth of the St. Andrew's traditional role. But another part of the decision came from his own beliefs.
Hundley is a big man with an easy-going manner and a usually expressionless face, whose mod haircut is one of the few clues to his age - he is only 25. Undemonstrative in conversation, he becomes animated in the pulpit. In a recent sermon on persecution, for instance, he took his theme from a bumper sticker, asking his congregation: "If you were taken to court and indicted as a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?"
Hundley grew up in Varina, Va., a Richmond suburb, part of a closely knit family that included another son, now studying for the ministry, and two sets of grandparents living close by.
His paternal grandfather was a farmer who loved people, says Hundley, who taught his grandchildren to respect everyone, a lesson that was reinforced at home.
"In our household," he said, "we were never allowed to use the word 'nigger' of any term of disrespect, something I couldn't say was true of a lot of the families around us."
Hundley's father worked odd hours as a security guard, and the family turned to the United Methodist Church for entertainment as well as religion.
Hundley was president of a church youth group, and at age 12 based part of his decision to become a minister on the discovery "that you could be a minister and still have a lot of fun."
The small Varina High School, where he was president of the cheer-leaders and the Thespian Society and a debate team member, was another focal point of social life. Asked when he found time to study, Hundley grinned and replied, "I didn't, which is the reason I ended up with Bs and Cs. Between church and school I always had something to do."
While he was an undergraduate at Methodist College in Fayetteville, N.C., he returned home several summers to work with low-income black families in Fulton, a depressed residential section in downtown Richmond.
His reaction to the poverty there was so strong, says Hundley, that for the first week of work each summer he found it difficult to eat.
"I've always been an idealistic person," he said, "and it was hard to see people who needed so much and to whom you could give so little. It took a while to realize that if you gave all you had and that was still just a little, that was all right - you'd done the best you could."
Fulton, in the late 1960s and early 1970s when Hundley worked there, was the focus of several urban renewal projects. His work there was a mirror of what he would try to do in Shirley Duke: help displaced residents find other housing.
Hundley studied for the ministry at Wesley Seminary, part of American University, where he met his wife, Alice. After his graduation, he worked for a year with the Montgomery County Counseling Service before being named pastor at St. Andrew's - an appointment. Hundley believes he received partly because of his work in Fulton.
At St. Andrew's, Hundley found a congregation of 238 people, of whom he estimates 10 percet St. Andrew's, Hundley found a congregation of 238 percent were Shirley Duke residents.
"One of the first things I did when I arrived at St. Andrew's was to take a walking tour through the complex, stopping to talk to people where I found them," says Hudley.
Last fall, after it was announced that the complex would be closed, there were a handful of evictions, but none during the cold winter months.
"Management kept saying they would not have any massive evictions, that it would be emptied out by attrition," Hundley said. "Then the first warm breezes of March came and people started being put out on the street."
St. Andrew's until then, had dealt with tenants' requests for help on an individual basis - storing one woman's furniture in the church basement, helping two families find apartments and using the pastor's discretionary fund to help tenants pay utlity bills. By the end of March, Hundley said, an atmosphere of crisis had developed, prompting him to call a meeting at the church of the staff at West End Center, a city-run office for public and private social services, and the 20-odd tenants he could persuade to attend.
"At that time, fear in the community was such that people were afraid to leave their houses; afraid that when they got back their stuff would be out on the street," he said.
Since them, there have been a series of meetings, which have included private agencies and civic leaders, to coordinate efforts to help the tenants.
About a week after Hundley began organizing the meetings, he received the first of several threatening telephone calls from the same male voice he says always calls in the afternoon. Hundley said the message has gradually grown more profane but generally comes back to the same theme that it's nigger-lovers and bleeding hearts like me that are causing the downfall of the country, and that if I don't watch out I'll end up in little pieces."
Two days later, someone broke into the church and ransacked Hundley's office. The intruder left a piece of paper with Hudley's initials on it and a headless toy doll in the hall outside Hundley's office. Police are investigating the incidents.
On May 8, a fire in the kitchen of Hundley's house in Alexandria caused $35,000 damage. Hundley and his wife were not at home when the fire began. Chief Kirby of the Alexandria Fire Prevention Bureau said defective wiring in the stove had been the cause.
Hundley's reaction to the threats is to stand firm. "I don't like the feeling of being paranoid, and I don't like the feeling that someone thinks they can intimidate me enough to stop me from doing what I am doing . . . and the fact is, they can't."
Nor have the threats changed Hundley's thinking about the role of a minister.
"He should be the moral voice of the community," Hundley said, "the person to hold people accountable for what they do to other people. He has more freedom to say what he believes than just about anyone else in the community. It's a responsibility he can't shirk."
But Hundley's actions in the Shirley Duke controversy have angered city officials. The anger escalated after a press conference held last month by the Shirley Duke-Regina Relief Committee, a task force on long-range housing problems that is an outgrowth of the meetings held at St. Andrew's.
At the press conference, Hundley, a member of the task force, questioned the tactics used by the Shirley Duke management in speeding up the [WORD ILLEGIBLE] of the complex and accused the city of failing to property monitor the closing. Hundley also announced that he had written to Secretary Patricia Roberts Harris of the Department of Housing and Urban Development, urging HUD to invesigate possible city misuse of Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) funds in the Shirley Duke closing. Shirley Duke is a Community Development target area.
Later, City Manager Douglas Harman met with Hundley. Harman, after the meeting, commented on Hundley's charges in the letter to HUD. "I truly believe they are irresponsible," Harman said. "When I asked him please to document the accusations, he just sat there silently. I think he has an obligation as a resident of this city and a minister here to provide us with facts to back up his allegations. He has jeopardized the entire CDBG program in this city by inviting the federal government to cut off its funding."
Judith Feaver, chairman of the CDBG Advisory Board, called Hundley's charges "a cheap shot." He said he talked to city employes before making the charges, but he didn't talk to the block grant staff, its advisory board or to the city manager. I'm not concerned that HUD will find he has a case; legally we on solid ground.
It has been the city position, said Jerry Johnson, a member of Harman's ordinating city relief efforts at Shirley Duke, that the city has done all it can to help residents. The sale of the apartments, Johnson says, was a private transaction voer which the city had no control. "The city never maintained that it had the responsibility to relocate every family from Shirley Duke," he said.
One morning recently, as Hundley was reflecting on the hornets' nest he found himself in, he leaned back in his chair, chewed on the bubble gum that goes everywhere with him and talked about his reaction to being at the center of this controversy.
"It has caused me to be more aware of what I say and how I operate . . . it has been a very interesting experience to find out who to talk to when you want to get things done. I'm afraid some people think I'm out to get them, but that's not my motivation at all."
Asked what he would enjoy doing most now that things are quieter, he smiled ruefully and said, "It would be fun to take the phone off the hook and just climb in bed and watch television."