“Melting Blocks of Ice is What We Do”

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George Alexander, Jim Pritchett, Me, Harry Pritchett back in the day
Last Sunday, our beloved colleague, George Alexander showed up in church with his family.  A memory got stirred up in David Aldridge, Finance Chair (and Good Egg). Here’s David:

“Sometimes the Holy Spirit seems to rattle around in the rafters at All Saints and descend into our midst at the most unpredictable moments. This past Sunday was one of those moments.

As background, Dana and I have been attending All Saints since the late 1980s. We have been to countless Christmas Eve Services, Easter Sunday services, All Saints’ Sundays, baptisms (including our three boys), and many, many more in between.

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The Aldridges back in the day
We have seen only two head Rectors in almost thirty years (which is pretty amazing), two interims (we love you Martha!), and a gazillion other clergy that have graced our presence, and all, in one way or another, have left an indelible mark upon our campus and upon our people.

But this past Sunday, was truly a ‘blast from the past’ when George and Norma Alexander attended our 9 am service. Their presence was not totally coincidental, as Martha in her wonderful sermon (“It’s what you make of it, I suppose”) mentioned George and a letter he recently had written to her. In any event, seeing George brought back some old memories, and one in particular that really gets to the heart of what we are at All Saints’.

Many of you remember George and Norma. George served here for many years as an associate rector, both under Harry and Geoffrey. George was a retired Army chaplain, and up until Kim Jackson’s arrival in a few weeks, our one and only African American priest at All Saints (that is also pretty amazing). George is a wonderful, calm, quiet soul, and his wife Norma is among the most genuinely beautiful people you will ever meet. Among George’s most memorable gifts is his warm, almost wry smile that could melt a block of ice at twenty paces—I kid you not.

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George melting block of ice at 20 paces
So, I digress, but here is a story, a story from a long time ago. Please bear with me here.

I spent most of my professional career as the head finance guy for an industrial manufacturing company, headquartered in Atlanta but with operations across the US and other countries as well. In the late 1990’s we were going through a period of very rapid expansion, and had brought in a new Head of HR who relocated to Marietta from somewhere in the southeast, I believe Nashville. Jim was the penultimate HR guy—along with being extremely bright, he was empathetic, understanding, compassionate, and extremely well liked by everyone.  Jim scored at the Mother Teresa level on a Myers Briggs test.

While Jim and I worked together closely, there were two facts about Jim that I did not know; however both became readily apparent over the course of several days. The first fact was that Jim was type 2 diabetic. This became shockingly apparent when Jim, age 44, was found dead at his desk just before lunch on an otherwise normal workday. You can imagine the devastation felt for the loss of an apparent healthy, vibrant, relatively young work associate.

The second thing I didn’t know about Jim became apparent when his wife, Candy, called me two days after Jim’s passing. She wanted to ask me a “favor”. Candy told me that Jim was raised Episcopalian. And while he had not been worshiping as such for years, Candy said Jim had always wanted to be buried by an Episcopal priest. She had heard from others around the office that I was a member of an Episcopal church, and she wanted to see if I could find a priest to bury Jim. What could I say but “No problem.”

This was in the late 1990’s and Geoffrey had only been with us for a short period of time, but I did have his cell phone number, and I did call him—hoping for some miracle to arrange for a priest, on 36 hours’ notice, to bury someone he or she has never met in a funeral home in Marietta, Georgia.   When I reached Geoffrey, he was out of town and wouldn’t return for several days, but he said—“Don’t worry, I will ‘take care of it’.” Within the hour Geoffrey called me back, and said George Alexander would be glad to bury your friend on 36 hours’ notice in Marietta Georgia—and there goes that Holy Spirit rattling around in the rafters again.

So, I called Candy back to let her know that we did have an Episcopal priest to bury Jim. However, I must admit, at that time (remember this was almost twenty years ago), I wondered whether I dare mention to Candy that George was African American (or black, as was more prevalent in those times)? Well, after telling her George’s name and background, I did tell Candy that George was black. And, when I did, there was a slight pause on the line, and then she responded, “Jim would approve of that.” Very simple, very straightforward, very clear.

Since Jim and Candy had only recently moved to Atlanta, the memorial service was a fairly small gathering, mostly folks from the office and some family from out of town. George conducted a lovely service, having met with Candy beforehand, and delivering a short but touching eulogy and homily. I did notice a few eyebrows raised when George first appeared at the altar —remembering again that this is Marietta, Georgia twenty years ago. But there is George with that quiet, comforting voice and that warm, empathetic smile. I know George won a few hearts, and definitely melted a few blocks of ice that day.

After the funeral, I spoke with Candy briefly. She thanked me for helping to arrange for George to be there, describing him as a ‘dear man’, and saying “I am sure Jim liked that”. Again, very simple, very straight forward, very clear.

So, as I said earlier, the Holy Spirit does rattle around in the rafters of All Saints’ a lot. I don’t think that is going to change. And All Saints’ also has a reputation for melting a lot of blocks of ice. I know as we look back over the past twenty years or more (in some cases many, many more), at times there were blocks of ice that I think we should have left alone. But that is not us. That is not All Saints’. On the corner of North Avenue and West Peachtree we melt blocks of ice. As they say in that insurance commercial, ‘It’s what we do’.”

Thanks, David for you yourself  being a “very simple, very straightforward, very clear” witness.

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Around this block, we know the real sermons are written in hearts day by day, week by week, year by year, ice chip melting by ice chip melting.

Martha +

“For mercy has a human heart …

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Sometimes mercy looks just like strawberry shortcake.

Kristina Armstrong teaches  Covenant Community guys how to find and keep jobs. She is the one slicing the strawberries – enough for a feast.  I have known, respected, loved her for over twenty-five years. She helps people move into employment just like she makes strawberry shortcake—by doing the next little right thing.

Want to see some more human hearts in fine working order?

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The Program Director, the Clinical Director, the Seminarian (although the Seminarian has gone back to Sewanee, I leave him in the slide show because he told me his year with Covenant Community will always be in his heart), the Clinical Counselor, the MD … Strong-Hearted, Real-Hearted.  One is actually named Mercy!  She told me that what keeps her going is to witness how hard the men fight for their lives.

Maybe addiction is the most honest and brutal war of all since recovering addicts know exactly where both the friend and the enemy reside.  (Hint: tap your chest.)

 

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Dr. Debra Danzler, Executive Director, leaves Covenant Community this month after seven years and two days.   She leaves the place stronger than when she found it. She put her heart into the covenant and now she will rest.  Godspeed, Dr. D.

Around this block, the human heart is our very best commodity.  William Blake says it well (though I would translate “Pity” as  “Empathy” for pity parties are not where it’s at).  Instead, deep down, day by day,  we remind each other around this block that we are all really truly deeply human and thus really-truly-deeply-by-the-grace-of-Christ “All Saints.”

For Mercy has a human heart,
Pity a human face,
And Love, the human form divine,
And Peace, the human dress.
Martha +

 

 

 

 

 

Where’s your purse? Really.

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Can you believe all these lovely women fit in Virginia Harrison’s purse?  It’s TRUE!              Dot Miller, Kara Wilkes, Virginia, EJ Diedrich, Beth Blalock, Nixon Harris

Here’s Virginia’s story and you will see that EVEN MORE PEOPLE fit in her purse:

“On Monday, August 15th, my beloved father will have been dead for nine years.”

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The Rev. Hendree Harrison – a faithful  priest-shepherd in Diocese of Atlanta.

“The last sermon he preached, just days before his unexpected death, was on these words from Luke: Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.

I’ve been thinking about those words a lot lately, partly because, especially near this time of year, I think about last conversations and words with him and partly because we are at that part of our lectionary, but mostly because it’s been a really tough summer.

A big part of the reason it’s been tough is because a desperate man in a very desperate act, attacked me as I walked home and stole my purse.  It was brutal and unbelievably scary.  He physically hurt me bad, but it could have been so much worse.  He took my little, navy blue, nylon purse, but he didn’t get my real purse (which I firmly believe is also blue – my favorite color)!

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My real purse is overflowing and it stayed with me, unable to be touched by him.  That purse is spilling over because it holds people like the women in this photo, taken just a few days before, who immediately surrounded me with love, support, and kindness (as did so many others).

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PURSE PEOPLE! DOT, KARA, VIRGINIA, EJ, BETH, NIXON

Immediately after the attack God put a new person in my purse.  A precious young man who came to my rescue just moments after I began to try and continue walking home.  He climbed into my purse and held my hand while he called for help.  Then he scooted over so that one of the paramedics could get in my purse as he convinced a different hospital to let me come there because it would be much, much more convenient for me than where he was supposed to take me.  My aunt was already in my purse, of course, but she popped her head up to be with me in the emergency room and beyond.  Then, just a couple of weeks later, I popped my head up out of her purse, when her son, my beloved cousin, died, tragically, at the age of 37.

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Life can be tough and the connections we make and the treasures we store up where no thief can get them, make all the difference.

Here at the end of a hard summer, I think of my parents and the treasure in our home purse.

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Virginia’s mom and dad, Carol and Hendree – BLUE PURSE PEOPLE

I’m also reminded of another set of words from that August nine years ago.  Just days after my father’s death, my grief stricken mother stood in front of the church and said, “I am sad beyond measure but I will be OK and my children will be OK because we did not build our house on sand.  Our house is built on a rock.'”

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After a really hard summer,  Virginia says, “I‘m standing on that rock, with my beautiful (blue) purse overflowing. And I’m grateful.” 

And to that I say AMEN.  

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Virginia walks me home after our Monday morning warden meetings. She’s in my purse.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Noelle! Noelle! Ultreia et Suseia!!

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Baby Noelle, Holly and Marty.  Pretty Adorable!!

So that little candy striped hunka burning love is our Noelle!  She  came into this world on Christmas Eve.  What a gift!!!  I asked her how she got to All Saints’:

“My parents were trying to figure out where to go to church because it turns out that to join the church they had been going to, the governing board had to vote on you. And they didn’t understand that.

Their friend and my future godfather James Marshall had just joined the All Saints’ choir, and he and his former wife Sheryl (my future godmother) loved the church and mentioned a fantastic preacher who turned out to be Barbara Brown Taylor.   We came in 1985 when I was eight, and the next year I was baptized by Barbara.”

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This makes me cry for the joy of all the seasons of life and love that we three have known here at All Saints’ and for the sadness of goodbyes.  I’m not good at goodbyes.  Are you?  You dear Saints are experiencing two HUGE GOODBYES this summer.  So, between Geoffrey and Noelle,  this is a real goodbye season of 31 years of  All Saints priests. How you doing with that?   (We took the photo last week, which lets you know that saints’ goodbyes are NOT forever.)

Noelle has been part of the Saints since she was child and has been an all sorts and conditions of saint in and of herself!!!!  Kathy Roberts was her youth advisor!

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Kathy and Noelle having mimosas at the staff going away party.    Time is an ever rolling stream!

Here are a few thanksgivings the staff wrote to God about Noelle:

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I thank God for Noelle because she has been a source of support, honesty and unbridled joy in my life (and I think other people’s lives as well). She is in this world being fully human  and someone who has given her life to the work of the priesthood.

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I thank God for Noelle because she is fully she!  The role of priest doesn’t change who she is, how she dresses, what she does, how she celebrates life.

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She is so incredibly cool, a wonderfully animated story teller—not nearly as introverted as she claims to be.  In fact sometimes I think she might need to ice down her jaws from talking so much! Amazingly fun to work with.  Thanks be to God for a bomb of a priest and colleague!

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She has been a source of joy, beauty and truth for me and this church family. She is always clear in her purpose and vision for doing something. 

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We have lovingly watched her grow up, and now it’s time for her to leave the nest. Leaving is never easy for those leaving or those left behind.    I trust God in this season of goodbyes.   We watch her go and know she will do great things.

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I will always be grateful and a little more at peace knowing that her gifts are being used to the Glory of God.

 

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Once a saint, always a saint.  Go with God beloved Noelle, Kevin, and children!!

Me, I love her because she is the dance.  With every move and word and expression across her face, she dances.  Around this block, we follow the Lord of the Dance. Yes we do. Amen

Martha +

 

 

 

 

 

 

“Everybody bleeds red.”

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Sydney Cleland fell down this week around her home block, and told me the story.  Here’s Sydney:

“I’m taking my morning walk through our affluent, mostly white residential neighborhood when I trip on uneven sidewalk and make an undignified face plant in the grassy median. Rolling over onto my back, I lay there to collect myself. When I open my eyes, three workmen I’d just passed are standing over me. Two are black and one is white. The white man kindly asks if I need water and retrieves my phone from its landing place. One of the black men leans in, asking if I am okay and if I know my name. I say my name and that I’m okay but could use a hand up. Without hesitation, he extends his hands and helps me stand. Then, this: the white homeowner comes out her door, and before she opens her mouth the black man who has just helped me throws up his hands in the surrender position and says something like, ‘Didn’t do anything! Just helping out!’

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I think I hear a humorous tone, but I’m not sure. Everyone freezes for a second. The image of Charles Kinsey of North Miami, hands raised, shot while helping his autistic patient, flashes into my mind, propelling me across the few feet between us to bear-hug this man, exclaiming, ‘No, no, no — of course you didn’t do anything!’ He looks surprised, but says, ‘Yes, just helping.’ As he turns away from my thank-you’s, he says, ‘No big deal. We are all humans, right?’

As a white woman, I cannot even pretend to understand what that black man felt or what went through his mind in the situation. But I do know how I feel. I am heartbroken that he needed to — even jokingly — protect himself from any misinterpretation of his kindness by raising his hands.

This story would have ended right there, except on the same day, I mention it to Martha, who wants an Around This Block story. She asks too much. She wants a photo of the Good Samaritan!!

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(Here I am asking too much again.  I want you to tell your around block stories, too.)

What will I say to these men? Aren’t I making too big a deal out of this? Why don’t I just let the Samaritan go on his way? But I sense the story isn’t over.  So without a plan, but believing that cookies make any conversation less difficult, I pick up a batch.

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Cookies always help conversations.

Tina, the homeowner, helps connect us.  The Samaritan has a name, Duncan. Here are Duncan  and his co-worker, Bear.

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(A little plug for the Samaritan’s Company from the editor)

I tell him we had a “moment,” given recent events in our city and country, that we’ve experienced just a little thing, a small kindness connection, but that it feels big.

Turns out, Duncan heard me before he saw me. He didn’t know what had happened but he came running in response to the cry I don’t remember making. He tells me, ‘I don’t know about all this stuff going on, black lives matter, white lives matter, all lives matter. Black, White, Red, Yellow—everybody bleeds red to me. If that had been my mama or auntie and someone had just passed and not done anything, that would be terrible. I don’t see color; I just see someone who needs help.’

Duncan and I probably will not meet again, and that’s okay . We all have to start fresh every day. No one said it would be easy. Never has been, never will be. But we have to keep trying because, as Duncan says, ‘We are all humans, right?“”

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Duncan, Sydney, and Tina, the homeowner having a moment

Thanks, Sydney for taking the time to tell your story. May the grace of your encounter multiply a billion times today across our land.  And may Duncan speak for all of us:  “I don’t get all the hate going ‘round in this country. We are all human beings, right??”

How will you be fully and lovingly human this day?  Sort of like these guys!?!

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Martha +

 

 

Let us Proclaim the Mystery of Faith?

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Every once in a while, a stranger glides in to the cool and dark and peace of the church from the glare and chaos of the city and walks all the way up into the chancel and leaves an offering on the magnificent stone and snowy linen altar.

Blows my mind.  The power and humility. Can’t explain it so won’t try.

Wherever you are today, will you STOP and find a holy space—perhaps the altar built of memory and hope between your ears?  And make your offering?

Martha +

 

Cat Tales of Rescue and Resilience

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This little guy was dumped in the parking deck yesterday morning.  We keep a cat carrier handy for just such an occasion (and also for trips to the vet for the rodent patrol staff.)

Beautiful Shakyra, a teacher at Bright Horizons, our block’s early childhood center, said “I’ll take this little one home for the night, and I hope I can keep him/her! But I’ve never had a cat! What do you do??”

IMG_1722(1) The altar guild chairs, Dana Aldridge and Susan Virgin, stopped to ponder with her.

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IMMEDIATELY, BEHOLD!! THEY SEE A GAZILLION CAT EXPERTS EMERGE!!

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Around this block, we know it takes a village to raise little ones.  And I can’t wait to get there this morning to see how things went! Did the kitten settle down?  Are the roommates okay with the surprise?  The story is still being written as we speak!

And me, O I have some memories. Twenty-five years ago, I took home a lost little kitten  with the same golden eyes.  Perhaps an ancestor?   Someone found her under a tree on our block.  This is Baby Angel, aka Babs, ten years into her reign.

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And, O yes!! My roommate was totally shocked by her arrival.  And allergic.  A course of shots later (okay he is still taking the shots), Babs and Carroll found their way.

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And Babs opened the door to new life in our house which continues rambunctiously to this day!

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Around this block, we know stories never end if  we pass them on!  Do you pass your tales of rescue and resilience on?  Generation to generation?

Martha+