When You Wish Upon a Star …

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I know. My photo is not  a great picture of the chapel, dedicated to the memory of our 60 parishioners who died with AIDS and to those who loved and cared for them. Our prayers and response to the AIDS crisis tested and deepened our faith community  and formed me as a priest.  At the top of the chapel window is a little star named Philip. And this is the star’s story told mainly by his sister Ann and a little bit by me.

This is my last Around this Block post and it is about a far-flung All Saints’ family.  As a matter of fact, one brother lives on as a star!  The sibling closest at hand is All Saints’ Connie Curry, a longtime civil rights activist, lawyer, writer and great public servant for the city of Atlanta.

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Connie with Mississippi’s Winson Hudson, the “grandmother of the Mississippi movement.”  Connie has given voice to so many civil rights heroines. Her books focused on the  previously ignored stories of the  women.

Here is an article that gives you a sense of Connie’s journey.  We have quite a legacy, dear Saints, in the Civil Rights Movement.   Connie can’t get to church much but she lives in midtown and loves to hear from her friends.

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Silver Rights was Connie’s  breakout book.

When you are lucky, one relationship leads you into a new world, and getting to know Connie led me to her brother Philip and a family that loved him strong and well.  Here is Sister Ann’s memory of that time.

When I traveled from my home in Savannah to Atlanta earlier this summer, I wasn’t thinking of All Saints Church or my brother Philip Holloway, who had been a member there. My mind was on my sister Connie Curry, who had recently been in and out of the hospital multiple times. Though she is as headstrong, funny and irreverent as ever, Connie needed help .

Then I learned that Martha Sterne is the church’s interim rector. Martha had come to see Connie at Emory Hospital and had a chance to see our sons, Walker and Coran. I hadn’t seen Martha in years and years.

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Ann Curry and I just hit if off during Philip’s illness so many years ago. One of the great joys of this year is reconnecting with people with whom I had shared the deepest human experiences—baptisms, renewals of vows after you’ve lived into them a while,  terrifying illnesses and operations, wondrous healings and yes, heartbreaking but also healing funerals.

Ann again:  After such a warm reunion with Martha, I attended early church, listened to her homily, took communion, and studied the tiny star in the chapel window our family had dedicated in memory of Philip.

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Here is Philip’s star, top of window closest to the chapel altar on the cemetery side.  God bless Lisa Bell-Davis who climbed way way up on a ladder to get this pic. Hello Philip! I think his sisters and his mother got NASA or somebody to really name a star after him!

Philip’s darling sister Ann, again:  In July 1995, Philip was living and dying at Haven House, a hospice house for people with HIV/AIDS. No one thought he would make it to the Fourth of July, so I came to Atlanta from Tennessee to join our mom Isabel, who had been staying in Midtown for several weeks, and Connie, who lived there. I remember walking with Connie to Haven House, through Piedmont Park to 14th Street, expecting to see a hearse. Instead we were greeted by hundreds of runners pouring into the park as the Peachtree Road Race ended. As we stood there, unable to cross the street, I looked and on the front porch of Haven House, sitting in a high back wheelchair sat Philip, waving like the Queen of England. He lived another 15 days.

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This Halloween photo with his sister Ann is the closest I could come to Philip waving like the Queen of England.  OMG, he was adorable.

Haven House was an amazing place. The nurses worked so hard caring for patients. I remember Isabel, sitting on the porch with a nurse named Walter as he smoked a cigarette. “Walter,” she said, “you need a vacation!” (I bet my mother told him to stop smoking too!) Walter, who had the largest, gentlest hands, was never too tired to rub Philip’s feet since neuropathy had set in. Philip loved that.

On one early morning visit, I asked Philip if he needed anything. Without batting an eye, he replied, “YES, I want some cheese and crackers and some very fine champagne.”

(Martha here:  my memory of that time is stopping by occasionally to Haven House which I believe was yellow, to see Philip and that the day he died, the Spirit had nudged me over there. Philip loved  Robert Shaw’s  Rachmaninoff’s Vespers and I remember the Nunc Dimittis filling the room with this gorgeous good news:

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

I believe that revelation happened in and through Philip at that very moment and into eternity.

Here’s Ann again:

Weeks later, before his memorial service at All Saints, another brother, Ian, and I went to Patterson Funeral home to pick up Philip’s ashes. We stopped by Ansley Mall liquor store and, appropriately, bought a case of champagne. As we drove back to Philip’s apartment, Ian said, “Do you have the ashes?” I said, “No, you’ve got the ashes!” … neither of us had the ashes. Upon returning to the liquor store, the nice woman behind the counter asked why we were back. “Aw, honey,” she said, after I told her. “I lost someone recently. I can help you find him.” I still think that would make a great country music song title, “I left my brother’s ashes in the liquor store.”

After the service (officiated those 22 years ago by Martha), Harry Pritchett buried most of Philip’s ashes in the church’s Memorial Garden. The remaining ashes were sent to be spread at the Valley of Elke in Northern Chile, a place Philip loved. Then, we celebrated his life with some cheese and crackers and some very fine champagne.

I learned a lot through Philip’s illness and death. I learned how incredibly loving and accepting my family was… How my mom took charge and cared for her son.. How patient my husband Enoch was, while I traveled back and forth to Atlanta… How doctors and nurses kindly helped AIDS patients die with dignity. On numerous trips, my brothers came from Florida and New Jersey to help care for Philip. Connie and the neighbors in Midtown rallied even as they had already witnessed the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS.

I’ll never forget what a great community All Saints Episcopal Church was during that time.  Philip died surrounded by love and song and blessing. To this day, he remains one of my favorite people and I miss him still.

Fast forward twenty years to June 26, 2015, I also couldn’t help but think of Philip and his partner of ten years, Bob as my husband and I gathered with hundreds of others in Johnson Square in downtown Savannah cheering and celebrating the passage of the marriage equality act. Earlier that morning my son Philip Walker, named for his uncle, sent me a text that read, “Mom all f%$@ing 50 states!” I took a moment to let that sink in.

I am grateful for circles and reconnections and grace and a tiny star in All Saint’s Chapel.

Ann Curry

(Martha again) And beloved Saints, I am grateful as well.  For all the love we share and for how God passes that love on and on and on even to the furthest star.  I’ll be taking a big pause from All Saints’ but God willing I’ll see you again.  God bless you and when you look up at that little star way way high in the chapel, remember all the days the saints have been through and thank God for the power and the glory and the love and the hope for tomorrow for all God’s children.  And remember, When you wish upon a star, your wish just may come true!  My prayers sure have spending this year with you.

Martha +

Star squared up

 

How did Ray get to be Ray? (Hint: Happy Fathers Day!)

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It’s no secret. Ray and Beth have been among my dearest All Saints friends for going on thirty years. I know, THAT’S CRAZY! Because the Chenaults are only fourteen years old!

I am always curious about how people get formed.  We don’t just come out of nowhere like Venus rising from the sea!

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Botticelli’s painting tells us something huge about the miracle of beauty coming out of nowhere. But look at those around Venus. Some folks had to be there for her.

I am especially curious about artists.  How do they find their way?  For instance, how does a little kid from Fredericksburg, Virginia, become one of the most best organist-choirmasters in the world?  I asked Ray Chenault the other day what his growing up was like.  And he told me about his childhood world.

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Baby Ray

 

We talked especially about two men who formed him both as a person and as a musician.  We all have Fathers in God and so here’s Ray thanking the Good Lord for his.

My dad was the number one tenor around Fredericksburg, Virginia, so he would often sing at weddings and funerals.  He also would take me around to lots of revivals, bringing me along to play the piano. And he was the choir director at our church.

 

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Ray grew up at Salem Baptist Church where his dad was choir director. Now his sister is the organist!  Look at their website.  Cool!!

 

And every day my father delivered milk – we’d be getting around  the route – and he would stop and talk with an old couple for an hour – I would want to be going home to play but my father would spend as much time as it took.  He was greatly beloved.  And he taught me that you learn a lot from people

On Sunday mornings, in order for him to be at church and direct the choir,  he would have to get up at 2:30 in the morning to do the milk route. Then he would come back and pick me up to play the piano and we would go sing with some nursing home people.  He did that nursing home stop every Sunday morning – about 8 am – we would run a bunch of hymns. It was an old retirement home and it wasn’t really kept too clean.  My dad knew the power of music!

Then we would go to the radio station and he would be the vocal soloist on the radio station.  He sang things like “How Great Thou Art” and “His Eye is on the Sparrow”.

Then we would come back to Salem Baptist Church where he was the choir director. He was not much trained in music.  He’d say to me hit “Rock of Ages” or something,  and then all of a sudden people would start singing.  My dad totally lived the importance of music and connecting with people.  He was my hero.

My mother was very organized. She made us march to a strong tune. She had my father marching, too!

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God bless Mr. and Mrs. Chenault!

 

At a family celebration, somebody asked my father what would he do differently in life. And he started crying and said “I’d like to be like my son. I’d like to have the opportunities and success my son has had in music.”

(A thought from Martha:  I think we sometimes live out the un-lived dreams of our parents.  I really do. I believe I lived into the Episcopal Church as my father would have loved to.  I think I lived a life working outside the home in ways that were not open in my mother’s time and place.  It’s all good.)

Here’s Ray again.  My first organ teacher was Harold Abmyer, Mr. A.  Mr. A had judged me in a competition, so he knew I played the piano, and he and my parents were friends.   My mother would invite him to dinner occasionally. She was a great cook – roast beef and mashed potatoes and blackberry cobbler!

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Blackberry season is NOW!!  Celebrate  Ray’s mom with a great blackberry cobbler! Easy to make with good store-bought pie crust, blackberries and a little butter and sugar. Go for it!  (I bet Mrs. C. made her own crust, but we gotta start somewhere.)

Mr. A.  came to the house one Friday night and ate dinner and he usually played after dinner, but that night he asked me to play.  And he said tomorrow morning I am coming to pick you up for your first organ lesson and you’re not going to say no. So I went and had my first organ lesson.

And I don’t know what it was but I knew that I had found my profession. Then I started practicing and took to the organ like a duck to water and progressed quickly and studied with him for three years.

My little sister, who is a fine musician, wanted to study organ with Mr. A. so my father asked Mr. A to take her on.  Mr. A. told our dad, “I don’t teach young kids.”  And my father said, ” You are making a mistake. This is your legacy.”   So my sister studied with him, and he eventually taught little nursery kids all the way up to grown ups with great success and joy.  

Mr. A. was the organist at a big church, Fredericksburg United Methodist, and he had me helping him with their choral music.  On a Palm Sunday the first hymn I ever played on the organ for a church program wasAll Glory Laud and Honor.”    Mr. A. sat right on the bench beside me with his hand on my back giving me courage.

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Ray and Mr. A. You can sense the deep love and respect.

 

As I mentioned, Mr. A. had lots of young students after my sister and me. And he helped many find careers. He listened to my father – that was his legacy.  I always made sure he knew how important he was in our lives. I went back and played his funeral.

I’ve gone back to all my teachers and let them know how important they are to me. Having been a teacher at Lovett, I know what that means. I remember Beth had a kid who misbehaved. Years later, the kid wrote the headmaster and said Mrs. Chenault was the one who kept me in school. What that kid treasured most – that mentorship.

Beth and I met in college. I saw Beth first day in music class. And that was that.

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I love this picture SO much.  You can see the years  ahead.

I think we Saints may forget that “Mr. and Mrs. Chenault” taught high school and middle school  for over thirty years and led the Fine Arts Department at Lovett.

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I wish this Lovett chorus practice photo was better.  But just stop and think about what it means to call young people to excellence day after day. And remember, Ray got this from his dad and Mr. A.  God bless those who teach and inspire others to teach.

Surely the loving family feel and lush all-in-it-together sound of our parish choir come from the Chenaults  having learned everything there is to know about the formation of young people all those years. My daughter teaches at Lovett and she tells me the Chenaults are still iconic role models there to this day, years after they left.

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Some Valentine’s Day at Lovett.  Who knows when? The Chenaults never change.

Even today we have Lovett alumni in the choir and every year we have a number of GSU students who sing with the Chenaults. I love to go to choir practice because it feels like good family.  People laugh and work hard.  The friendships are inter-generational.  The older members are pals and mentors, and the younger members bring life and fresh, gorgeous voices.  Beloved Community.

And it’s no coincidence that Karol Kimmel and our children’s choirs have that same deep family of God structure.  Like the Chenaults, Karol is that holy combination  of gifted professional artist and gifted, loving personhood.

And it is so good to know that people never grow out of our choirs.  People that move out of town come back when they can.  (I’m looking at you, James Marshall and Susan Bolen among many others.)  College students come back and sing in the youth choirs and reconnect with one another.  Also, there literally is no telling how many musical careers have been launched by singing at All Saints’.  Thanks be to God.

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To learn to attend, to blend, to sing out your truth and know it is part of the whole.  Holy Spirit.

We are blessed at All Saints’.  Choral music is not a product for our consumption. Music is a living gift of faith to be offered and passed around and around, and the children and adults in our choirs are being formed as they form us.  Think of that moment at the end of the service when you have turned to follow the cross out into the world and the choir is all across the back of the nave and they move into a descant and a young GSU student conductor is usually leading everybody and we all sing our hearts out. That may be my favorite weekly moment at All Saints’.

May we always remember that we belong to the great Chorus of Creation in the name of the One who sings us into being and gives us voice and teaches each and all of us the gift of our very own song.    

 

Martha +

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simon!

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The Rev. Simon Mainwaring is our new Rector.  My heart is full of joy and not just because I get to go back to eating bonbons, reading novels, and hanging out with Carroll and Flash and our family.  I am truly, truly  joyful because this particular human being and this family  are coming.  

I asked some members of the Search Committee and Vestry and two priest friends who have encountered Simon to describe your new rector and then I pulled pictures off the internet so  here you go!

From Search Committee member:

First AHA moment: I initially got to know Simon through his responses to the Diocese application. Clear from the beginning that Simon has a deep faith, sound theological grounding and keen intellect. But what really caught me was his passion for sussing out our christian call to be a church “in the world’. What does that mean for us in a changing downtown Atlanta neighborhood and frankly in a pretty scary global community. I was intrigued by his church’s community outreach to the beach community their around their property and the growing hispanic population in San Diego. Was clear to me that while Simon is grounded in tradition, liturgy and Episcopal worship, he can comfortably stretch himself to boldly follow the Cross out into world and meet folks where there are outside the four walls of his parish.

Second AHA moment: I had the privilege of visiting Simon’s parish for Sunday service. St. Andrews By the Sea is not by any means a “resource” parish. They operate on a very lean budget. HOWEVER, you never got a sense of scarcity in the parish. The Word coming from that community is abundant life. Joyful hospitality for all who entered the doors, including the homeless population that lives around their block. It was as warm, welcoming and authentic an experience as I have had in a long time in a church pew. The tone of course was set by Simon and his staff. I have to say I came away feeling very sure that the Holy Spirit was alive, well and doing good work at St. Andrews By the Sea.

Third AHA moment: As part of our parish visit, we would ask the candidate and his wife to pick a restaurant for us to have dinner together as a group. Simon and Monica insisted that we join them and their children for dinner in the rectory. After a few weeks on the road doing these kinds of visits, a home cooked meal and a relaxed casual evening around a family dinner table was a welcome respite. Such easy hospitality … They had me at hello!

And this from a priest colleague:

Gentle and kind, deep and good.

And this from a Vestry member:

Simon has a sparkling intellect, an insuppressible but gentle sense of humor and a passion for Christ.  He has a special way of connecting with people.  I can’t wait for the people of All Saints’ to join in the fun.

Simon is a fit but relatively unimposing man.  During the worship portion of his interview with the vestry, he delivered a brilliant, humorous and inspiring sermon.  Then, during Eucharist, he bowled us over by chanting the Great Thanksgiving beautifully.  It was clear by this point that we were   dealing with a heavyweight.

And this:

He is so easy to be around and just exudes happiness and fun.  Simon is extremely talented, doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously and is up for the challenge of All Saints’ and the block.  They both seem to enjoy life and adore their children and each other.  We are going to have fun with them. 

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And this:

With Simon as our leader, people near and far will know that All Saints’, Atlanta is open for business.  He will invite the world into the church and help lead the church into the world.

And this:

Monica has an inquiring mind, a warm heart and a charming presence about her.  Gracious rector’s spouse, priest in her own right, and mother of three–look out.  This is going to be exciting!

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Here’s Monica in San Diego with two Dominicans who are her friends and also dear friends of my best priest friend in East Tennessee.  God’s love is so interconnected.  This makes me happy. 

 

And this:

Simon is a warm, real, smart, and passionate Christian. The love felt within his immediate family (with his wife Monica and their three children) was palpable; and he also spreads that love wherever he goes. Every person we interviewed was so positive about how he handles every aspect of life as a rector. Seeing how he has positively impacted lives through his vision and his pastoral care was impressive. The tears of sadness which will pour out from San Diego as he leaves will surely lead to tears of joy for us lucky ones at All Saints’.

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Goldfish blessing. Lovely!

And dear ones, the rest will unfold!

Martha +

 

“Celebrate Me Home!”

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This is who we are!  Party Animals and also at-Home-in-the-Body of Christ!

This week marks just about the one year anniversary of my being back here with the Saints.  The final rector candidates are wonderful people, and we can look forward to the call of the new rector of All Saints’ Church pretty soon!  When I look back over the circle of the days of this year, over and over I am remembering how much FUN it is to be church with you.  How good-natured you usually are, how hilarious you can be, how real you always are.  Churches sometimes are not able to be these things which is too bad.

Betty Derrick mentioned to me that great “Celebrate me Home” song from Kenny Loggins and wrote us a note that gets at the feel of All Saints’ on our best days. And even on our bad days.

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Betty Derrick gets it: the heart of the universe is celebration. Betty is a one of the wonderful Agnes Scott women that are all around All Saints’. She retired from AT&T after thirty years and then circled back to Agnes Scott for eleven years as special assistant to the President. She knows life-giving community.

 

Here are both of us thinking about you and the great dance of All Saints’.  Betty is in italics.

Some people joke that Episcopalians know how to party. (I have always taken it as a compliment.) It may be accurate but falls short of the essential truth, I think. What we really know how to do, at least at All Saints’, is celebrate.  We mark the small and great moments of our life together with song, streamers, flowers, beautiful liturgy, procession and even cymbals. The Psalmist would be proud.

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Every time we gather, we are remembering and hoping for a feast! Already but not yet! That’s the deal!  

One of my favorite celebrations is the rite of baptism. There are colorful banners with each child’s name. We reconfirm our own vows as a church family… and then we sing the welcoming message to Harry’s grand melody and march through the sanctuary to applause. How wonderful is that!

Betty and I are also both into the pet blessings!

I love the smiles.

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And I love the meetings.

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Thank you God.

And I love the public displays of affection.

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A lick on the nose is a true gift of love.

And the blessings!

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Here’s Betty: I learned an important lesson at the Blessing of the Animals several years ago. At the time I owned a young, frenetic, frighteningly intelligent border collie named Scout. By the time we took our place for the blessing, Scout had wrapped me around several lamp posts and provoked a number of other dogs by staring at them. When Walter Smith asked what I wanted him to pray for Scout, I answered “a calm and peaceful disposition.” Walter looked me squarely in the eye and replied, “I don’t think that is Scout’s nature.”

He proceeded to pray for a patient and understanding owner!

As I drove home with Scout, leaping from the front to the back seats, I thought: “that man just said I was the problem.” It was a lesson that not only changed my relationship with Scout but one I have remembered often with people. The Blessing of the Animals may seem a frivolous celebration to some, but it holds a lasting instruction for me.

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At our best we don’t just tolerate one another; we befriend one another, in spite of, no because of our differences. This is Flash with his old Mississippi friend Toby. Nothing first-hand to do with All Saints’  I just like the picture, and it reminds me how All Saints’ isn’t an end in itself.  Our community points to the power of love in far-flung corners of our lives apart. That is why we exist, dear ones.  That’s it.  Practice celebrating life at All Saints’  and carry it out the door.

My favorite and very complex celebration this year was Maundy Thursday.  It is a night of betrayal and a night of love because that’s the way human beings roll.  We had a supper that turned into eucharist in Ellis, which is exactly how the last supper turned into the first eucharist—in a secular room lit by the light of the love of Christ.  And we washed feet.

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Strange and deep.  This.

Betty brings up one of our other best celebrations.  Rarely do I sit at the back of the sanctuary, but I always try to for the no stress children’s Christmas pageant. From the back one has a good vantage point to see all the ears of the animals—or one year, the claws of a lobster.

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Yes, that is a tiger heading to the manger.

I love that there are not just three “wise people”. We can use all the wisdom we can find. A friend worked on the pageant a few years ago when there were traditional costumes. More children volunteered than there were outfits. She stayed up many nights making angel wings. As she said, “ the heavenly host is not a finite number.” Indeed.

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No Words.
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Here’s Betty and her new friend, Mr. Chips. She says He was a little bit of a surprise. He came as a puppy from the border collie rescue and was advertised to be 45 lbs. like his mother. Forgot my biology-he’s 84 lbs and more like his Staffordshire Bull Terrier dad but all sweetness.

From the beginning of life to the remembrance of lives well-lived, we rejoice and celebrate. Through tears and laughter, we celebrate. We are reminded that each day is to be celebrated. We have good reason to celebrate. All are welcome at God’s table and we are home.  

 

AMEN BETTY!  THANKS FOR CELEBRATING US HOME!

Do you get into ‘Good Trouble’? Hope So!

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Lori Guarisco has laughing eyes, and she is always getting people into “good trouble” as John Lewis calls it. A gazillion people at All Saints’ have gotten into good trouble at Threads, our  mission dedicated to clothing children in need with dignity.

Lori is a dancer and performance artist as well as the coordinator of Threads.  She is a delight on so many levels, and right now I am remembering an Easter story that Lori told recently on the night of the Keep Threads Hanging On Auction.  Here is what she said:

“People just want to be loved. as long as that is true there will continue to be children who need to be clothed.

So thank you for helping make that happen.  I really love how so many of the auction items don’t have a starting bid. Instead they are marked as ‘priceless’, which is what Threads is – ‘priceless’.”

 

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People donated priceless stuff to the Threads Auction, including hours and hours and hearts and minds and art and all manner of things to delight.

Lori continues, “Just this week we have served 42 children – ten were here this morning!   The Saturday morning the children were all refugees—and no surprise they are artists— and they are the ones who painted the windows of Threads!

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Windows of Light and Handprints and Heart-thrilling colors!  Painted by refugee children.

A couple of days ago, we served 32 children including Quinton.  Quinton is about nine years old, and he and his grandmother and brothers and sisters came in pulling empty suitcases with a voucher that they had received from our newest referral partner, Markus Autism Center.

The grandmother explained to me that they had their suitcases because they were on their way to Michigan.

MICHIGAN! I Cried,  I’M FROM MICHIGAN! I WAS BORN IN KALAMAZOO!

The grandmother says I WAS BORN IN KALAMAZOO, TOO!

So immediately we are friends!

 

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Lori is from Kalamazoo! Who Knew?

(Martha aside: If we just take a moment, we will almost always find common ground.  Lori and the grandmother found Kalamazoo! Some time today, look for common ground with a stranger.  Common ground helps. I promise.)

 

 

As Quinton begins to look around, i explain to the grandmother how Threads works. That everything is free. That everything is washed. That all four children will get new shoes, new socks, new underwear.  And she bursts into tears.

And right about that time Quinton has discovered the EASTER RACK!!

And on the Easter Rack, he has found a full suit in his size including a tie and a shirt! With a big smile on his face he lifts it off the rack and announces to everyone:

I can wear this to my father’s funeral!

You see, that is why they were traveling to Michigan.

And that is priceless.”

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Jesus keeps telling us these two things: Fear Not and Love.  Priceless.

Thank you, dearest Lori. Thank you for all the love and expertise and diplomacy and creativity you pour into Threads. 

And thank all the rest of you ‘Thread-ians’ who buy the clothes, bring the clothes, sort the clothes, display the clothes, handle the records, shop with the children, get a kick out of your Threads friends and days together, and all the other beautiful moments done with love that keep Threads hanging on.  You are all Good Trouble Makers.  And You are all priceless.

 

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Here I am between  Two Very Good Trouble-Makers—Lauri Begley and Melanie Hardin.  I just put this picture in because I like being surrounded by kind geniuses!

Finally here’s the courtyard as that Threads Auction evening was coming on. It was the Saturday of Easter Week.  There were mysterious and beautifully dressed children floating everywhere.

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Go, said the bird, for the leaves were full of children,
Hidden excitedly, containing laughter.
Go, go, go, said the bird: human kind
Cannot bear very much reality.   (T. S. Eliot)

But T. S., I beg to differ!  Around this block, we do try time and again to bear reality. We try to love God’s world, really.  Sometimes we fail but sometimes we do love so powerfully. Some moments we do  hold the real world in our arms, just like our Savior Jesus held the little children, we love the Children of God with compassion, practicality, and yes some really cool threads.

Happy Eastertide.

Martha +


 

 

Is Easter over? Never, around this Block!

Here’s an Easter  that happened a few weeks before Easter Because yes, Saints,  Resurrection can leap out of any hour, any old ordinary or even very bad day!  

This particular March day started okay around this block. It was pretty.  The staff was sitting in our Tuesday morning meeting and, like you do, somebody looked out the window. This is what we usually see:

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Often the Bright Horizons little toddlers are out toddling around and there are lots and lots of songbirds and occasionally people on their ways somewhere stop to chat with one another.  It’s a happy oasis.

This day we looked out and and there were several policemen just standing around!  Here’s what was going down as told by Johnathan Davis, Executive Director, Covenant Community, Inc., and Julius, who was actually preparing with nine other residents for their six month Covenant Celebration in Ellis Hall in two days.

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Johnathan and Julius remind us that recovery takes a village.  In just the last month, two young men in families Carroll and I know socially have died in opioid overdoses and I have heard of two more through you,  The very hard, deep work of Covenant Community matters so much.

Johnathan:   A policeman came to the door who requested to come in to see if we had a person here. I told them that due to federal regulations,  I couldn’t confirm or deny the person was here. The policeman then snatched the door away from me. And I stood in the door and told him they could not come in.

 Martha:  In the meantime, the All Saints staff are still looking out our staff meeting window, aghast.  There are even more cops swarming everywhere and ATF people in flak jackets, too.  We love cops.  We count on cops. Our beat cops check on us when they drive by at night, and here are our two longtime Directors of Security, Ralph Sullivan (now fishing and golfing in Florida!) and his nephew, Randy Miller, our current director. Both are Atlanta cops and we love and appreciate them and their colleagues.

Martha: But this was weird! So many wearing so many different uniforms!

What is going on? I texted Johnathan:

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Martha: (The “Nelson” mentioned above is All Saints’ parishioner Nelson Tyrone, as scripture says, a very present help in trouble.)

Johnthan: They failed to show a warrant when we requested to see one. And they began to try to entice me to come outside the door. I refused. Other staff came and joined me at the door while the police for two hours repeatedly told us we would be locked up.

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This is a photo staged later of some of the staff who stood behind their director in support of the residents.  No warrant means no forced entry.  All of us need to know that. This trained staff  knows that the most vulnerable ones among us need the strongest constitutional rights.

Johnathan: We talked several times to  our lawyer  Nelson Tyrone and asked him what to do – for advice and consultation.

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All Saintser Nelson Tyrone has been a rock for many years for Covenant Community members who have legal issues.

Martha: (All Saints’ attorneys—please let Nelson or Johnathan know if you can help with a very occasional Covenant Community case, often civil.  Really sometimes what is needed is just  standing with a man before a judge and declaring that he is in treatment for his addiction.  You will also be helping our country continue to be a great country of equal treatment under the law.)

Now back to the day police were swarming all around this block as told to me by Johnathan and Julius, the young man all those cops thought they were looking for.

Johnathan:  I put Nelson on the speaker phone with the officers. He advised them that they couldn’t come in. I left the door to go tell the guys what was going on. I asked them to remain in the dorm and told them not to be distracted by what was happening and that things should be okay.  I chose not to tell Julius that they were looking for him because it would upset him for no use.

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Julius has completed  truck-driving school and is applying for short distance routes as he continues in his recovery.  Covenant Community senior residents are part of the tapestry of the block – working shifts on security and with the sextons.  Say hey to them. 

Julius:  That day I didn’t know what was going on. I just knew cops were looking for someone and I didn’t think it was me.

Johnathan: I came back to the front door with staff and continued to ask law enforcement to leave or show a proper warrant. I remained there with the staff for another hour with the door forced open by the officers.  They kept saying that their shifts had gotten extended and they were not happy. I spoke to eight different people – Fulton, Gwinnett, Atlanta, ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms).

Martha: In the meantime, the All Saints’ staff is worrying about our friends at  Covenant Community. What to do?  I decide to go sit in the garden and say my prayers and watch the cops in a kind and friendly way.  Carl Palmer, the Program Manager for Covenant is also sitting there watching and worrying since he can’t get past the police to get in to his colleagues.  We sent Johnathan an encouraging selfie and also asked if he wanted some lunch!

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Martha: I don’t know why this says 8:16 am because it was lunch time!! My answer to all crises involves food,  I went to the Bank of America cafeteria for Johnathan’s salad and also got some cookies for the cops. A lot of cookies because there were a gazillion cops!

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I went to the Spring Street Covenant entrance. The cops were very courteous (little old lady in collar) and appreciative of the thought behind the cookies but they wouldn’t take the cookies.  Which actually worked out fine.  I went in the Covenant Community office entrance and handed Johnathan his salad and  gave the staff the cookies!  And then I joined the sit-in.

Now we are over three hours into this sit-in/stand-off.   Nelson Tyrone arrives!  Johnathan, the staff, and I gather around to listen.  Nelson really gave me a civics lesson— the staff already knew this— that  it is very important to strongly but calmly expect civil rights to be respected—the same ones you want for yourself, your children, your friends.  Here’s what I remember Nelson said:

You really do have the right to remain silent.  Nelson said, be pleasant about it but tell the officers that you are exercising your right not answer their questions.  I watched how this rolls when the officers started asking us for our personal information, and Nelson told them very calmly that we are not doing that.  And they stopped what was an unnecessary and kind of intimidating exercise.

People cannot search through your stuff without a warrant to search through your stuff.  Now maybe you assume that when somebody doesn’t want their car or house searched, they are guilty of something. No, it’s just that person exercising their rights as an American.

Remember that cops are trained to get their objective done and are just doing their jobs even when they tell you something that seems not exactly true. They can do that to accomplish their objective. I may not be saying that right. But what I got out of it was don’t get caught up trying to catch the law enforcement out on what they say being accurate.  That  sort of takes it out of the personal anger realm.  They were doing their jobs and our job was to be American citizens.

Nelson then told us that now the police had obtained a warrant to search for a Julius Johnson and that today would not be a good day for Julius, but that Nelson would be there at the jail this afternoon or tomorrow and see this through.  I kept thinking, but he is ‘sposed to have his six-month celebration day after tomorrow.  How sad that his life is going another way.

Johnathan:  I was experiencing  the love and support from staff; from Martha, and Nelson.  Ken Stewart  had also called (our senior warden and another All Saints’ lawyer who has been there for the legally underrepresented).  I knew I wasn’t alone.  Now Nelson was here and he and I together went to prepare the residents for the police entry and search.

Martha: The staff and I held vigil and sat in the door and ate cookies.

Julius:  Nelson came to my room and told me that they were looking for me!  I was so surprised. But there was nothing I could do about it. I knew I hadn’t done anything and so I shouldn’t have anything to worry.  I was curious. It is a good thing that they didn’t tell me anything til the last minute. Nelson had said if they arrest you; we will be down there and don’t worry about it. They went through my stuff. They looked at my medicine and my school id and they thought it was me.

They walked me out in handcuffs, but then in the Covenant Community courtyard, they showed me the picture on the warrant and commented that I had changed quite a bit and changed my hair. I knew it wasn’t me. And I trusted Nelson would be there.

I trusted his word that I wasn’t by myself. The community had my back and we had a lawyer in place. I didn’t worry. Sometimes you can get anxiety and do something stupid. Not good. I truly felt like I didn’t have anything to worry about. I had people behind me. I wasn’t in it by myself. I wasn’t going to get lost in the system.

(An aside from Martha—in 1985, Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and Gladys Knight did a version of “That’s What Friends are for” benefiting AIDS research.  Here they are with composers Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager.  This song raised a gazillion dollars for AIDS and, as important, broke through the silence and shame curtain. This Covenant Community day was one of those “That’s what Friends are for” moments.  Listen here and be glad for friends.)

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Friends have been there for friends in ditches many, many times before around this block. May it always be so. 

Julius:  The policemen didn’t say anything to me the whole way to the jail.  But one of the guys looked at me and looked at the picture on the warrant and kind of figured it out.

We get to Gwinnett. The one who had looked at me and the picture asked me my birthday. Before he took me to intake, he went with his supervisor. He talked to his supervisor for thirty minutes.  They didn’t take me through intake.  He helped me out of the car and took off the handcuffs. He said it was mistaken identity. Same name, close middle name.

Martha: (I also think it was a case of somebody taking the care and time to get the right identity.   And I believe part of that was this law enforcement officer had seen the commitment and professionalism of the Covenant Community staff and the order and seriousness of the Covenant Community ethos.)

Julius:  (With a little smile) I guess they’re not supposed to say I’m sorry. He did take me to Gwinnett Place Mall, and another guy took me from there.   The second officer said “Where do you need to get dropped off at?? I said,”Where y’all picked me up from.” And that’s just where he took me.  And I walked in the door.

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Covenant Community is right next to Tate Hall, facing on Spring Street.  Hundreds of men have walked through the door and found new life here.  Hope Restored.

Johnathan: We had NO IDEA!  In fact we were debriefing with the residents about what happened and asking them not to let this be a trigger for something not good and reaffirming our love and care for them. And then we were starting a conversation with staff to connect and console each. Other. And somebody screamed Julius is back!! I ran to see him walking in the door and said forget policies and procedures! I’m going to give you a hug!

Looking back, it was kind of a fire drill. A pretty big drill. Everybody knew what to do.

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Carroll’s Aunt Bown used to say whatever doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. And that’s what happened with the residents and staff of Covenant Community!!

Julius: I felt blessed. I was aware that you know I can’t let that situation stop me or keep me from moving forward. Which I could have probably easily. And been mad. And looking at it too much. It’s still baffling as far as how they got my name or where I was or got that all mixed up and got a warrant for the wrong person and go through all that.

But thinking too much about that would stop me from moving forward.

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Reinhold Niebuhr is not just whistling dixie. Memorize the Serenity Prayer. It’ll come in handy at least three times a day.

So I use it as a learning experience as far as reiterating that anything can happen at any moment.

It boils down to choices – I could have easily gotten upset with the cop – I could have had another charge – obstruction – me knowing it’s not me – and making wrong choices due to my feelings. I used it as a real learning experience.

I made decisions and handled it in the best way I could have. And the outcome was the best outcome. And that’s that.

Martha: Two days later it was a great Spring Celebration for Covenant Community Senior Residents.  The biggest ever.

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Every one of these men is a hero, overcoming great odds and personal demons.  And all of these men together with new residents and staff are our teachers.  Covenant Community is a true faith community.  Though the members call God by many different names, they share the one faith in the Power of the Higher Power.

Martha: Out of all the people in a room full of people God set me down right behind Julius’ mom.  I said, “You must be proud of your son especially after this week.” She gently said, “this week?” I thought, uh-oh. He didn’t want to worry her and he didn’t tell her.  And that was true. Later, Johnathan said to her, “Julius made good decisions in light of other people making bad decisions.”  And that was the truth.

Julius:  The Celebration is a time mark. The significance of being away for six months is life changing. Then the Celebration lets people who love the residents ‘come in’. Recovery is something you never graduate from. Anybody can always – whether they are on drugs or not – can always be in recovery, working on yourself, doing better. Being aware. Growing.

Johnathan:  That day with Julius was a life-changing experience for the community. The other residents felt a greater safety and comfort that there are people here ready to stand up for them. And  the staff understood even more deeply that we are here for one purpose. We are a family.   If we are for each other no one can be against us.

Martha: And what I say is Happy Easter.  Happy Resurrection.  May you have Easter new life every day. And may you help others find new life, too.  Because around this block,  dear ones, that is why we are here.

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Martha +