Ann Woodall and I were on staff together here at All Saints’ for years. Ann is hilarious and also deeply gracious though we both had our off-gracious days when I would go to her office and lay down on the sofa and say “Okay, who’s Bad on Your Nerves Today??” ( The answer was usually Harry! Just kidding, Harry!)
Ann taught me lots of things but the biggest was also the littlest. Small, kind actions mean a lot. They really, really do. Here’s an example that happened to me this fall. A man took a few minutes and wrote me an e-mail which just touched me so. I bet Ann would call this “The Ministry of the Note.” Here’s Mark Blair’s Ministry of the Note to me.
I hope this finds you well and in joyful spirits. This past Wednesday was our 25th wedding anniversary and we came down to All Saints for the mid day service. It seemed fitting to come back to All Saints on this occasion and we enjoyed the service very much. Imagine our surprise when we inquired about what you were doing these days, only to find out that you were back on an interim basis. In fact, I think we may have passed you leaving the parking lot as we pulled in. I am not sure if you remember us from back then, but we wanted to reach out to you and say thank you. These days it seems not many people make it ten years, let along 25.
Patty and I have two children now and live in the Cumming area and are members of the Episcopal Church of the Holy Spirit.
I’ve attached a picture that we took Wednesday.
As you can tell, after 25 years we haven’t changed a bit. Ok maybe we changed a good bit. In any case, we thought you would like to know that it’s been a very blessed 25 years, not always easy, but rather a constant work in progress. If I remember correctly, you coached us on that point in the marriage classes. We have enjoyed many wonderful occasions, have lots to be thankful for and pushed our way through the tough times too. Thank you for your guidance ahead of time! We will try to come back down again soon to see you in person. Many blessings to you.
Mark & Patty Blair
The Ministry of the Note is so powerful. Will you consider writing a small, kind email or note today? For of such small, kind actions is the kingdom of heaven created. And see you at the Woodall Lecture, Thursday Night! Ann will be there, too!! And I bet none of us will get on each other’s nerves AT ALL.
Around this block, Barbara Blender is a presence— Covenant Community, Adult Formation, Vestry, and a gazillion other ministries. She is kind and patient. She gets things done, and she loves goofy-ness. This works out so well for all the Saints – two-footed and four-pawed!
“Four years ago I left the corporate work I had done most of my life thinking I would enjoy the free time to travel and do volunteer work. But a call from an acquaintance who owns a pet sitting company asking if I could temporarily help out a few hours a week changed all that .It’s 3-1/2 years later and I’ve traded business clothes for jeans and high heels for (of necessity) shoes that can go in the washing machine. What I now do many more than a few hours a week is not a job—it’s a ministry of 4-legged children.
Well, most of them are four legged. Riley has three because he was abused and lost his leg. He’s nine months old.
Riley is the sweetest, silliest, full of life puppy ever. He’d fit right in at All Saints’.
So would Coco who looks like she needs to go to confession. Immediately.
It is such a pleasure to watch their unabashed joy in getting a new toy or seeing something surprising like a big butterfly or getting that beloved treat.”
The moment, the moment, the moment, the moment, the moment. This moment looks like a great one for swimming!
“Their joy unquestionably gets passed on to me. Otherwise, I may never have noticed this butterfly or that moment.
And, like children, of course there is some whining (I want more treats) and some stubbornness (I don’t want to go out in the rain).
And yes, there is the dealing with sickness and sometimes even the loss of a pet. Along with the sadness when that happens comes my profound gratitude for having been a small part of an animal’s life. Here are Blackie, Chessie, and Freddie who have been my home cats down through the years. They were my teachers.
A few years ago, there is no way in the world I could have imagined myself caring for such a diverse group of loving, thinking, feeling, barking, meowing kids at this stage of my life or any stage of my life. But God is good—God is a surprise!
Thank you, Barbara, for reminding us that God is such a surprise, and that new adventures await around every corner if we will just open our hearts and see who comes bouncing, bounding, galumphing, purring, sneaking, prissing, strolling in!
And don’t forget the Pet Blessing in Ellis Hall, SUNDAY, OCTOBER 9 AT 9:00. Bring ’em on!
This is how dumb I am. In 1988 when I was finishing seminary, Bishop Child brought up All Saints’ and said Harry Pritchett wanted to talk with me about coming there. I said, “But I have got a lot family there. Won’t that be a problem?”
A version of his rather short answer was “NO, DODO BIRD, THAT WILL NOT BE YOUR PROBLEM. Not with your grandmother-in-law, aunt-in-law, uncle-in-law, and cousins-in-law, who are some of the best saints in the world!”
Today, I am just remembering two of them, and there are scads more.
Carroll’s Aunt Bown was a force of nature for the good of the universe. I’ve told you that she got herself elected the first female vestry person in the state of Georgia by way of a male fellow traveler nominating her from the floor, and she won by a landslide.
We learned from Bown not to ever talk bad about people. I think she trained herself not to even think bad about people. I really do. She did have a way of voicing her lack of enthusiasm for some folks by saying that they were “sweet people” which coming from Bown was the Kiss of Death. She called all her nieces and nephews and the people they married and all their children her “cutie-pies.”She KNEW each of us as our best selves which is the best gift in the world from an aunt or really anybody else.
Almost to the year she died, Bown led annual trips to New York with two or three cousins in tow. At the beginning of the trip, she gave each “girl” ( most in their sixties!) an envelope with spending money! Bown never admitted she was in a wheel chair; she just called it a “transporter.” And Bown never ever missed the Rockettes Christmas Show!
Now look below. Grandmother Sterne (Bown’s mother) looks beatific, doesn’t she? But I have learned that sweet looking little old ladies at All Saints can be FIERCE FOR JUSTICE. Grandmother Sterne was.
Grandmother was a ‘radical’ meaning she lived and moved and had her being nurtured FROM THE ‘ROOT’ OF THE GOSPEL! She was committed to the gospel of Jesus Christ wherever it led. May we live that way also!! Ann Pearce sent me a great 1925 AP article with Grandmother eloquently arguing for the removal of the word ‘obey’ in the marriage liturgy. “The word ‘obey’ in the marriage ceremony is as unneccessary and the idea as obsolete as that of the world’s being flat … The word “Love” is the only absolutely necessary vow.” 1925! Go Grandmother! I just know Grandmother has danced in the stars at all her family’s weddings including her great-granddaughter Ann Stuart’s wedding to Ellen Porter! Love is all we need. Yes!
Grandmother worked tirelessly for decades and decades to end racism and do justice and love mercy. One of the ways she worked was by gathering a small group of women at her house in 1941. They quickly became black and white and Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic and Anglican and Protestant women together—Atlanta Church Women United—and began strong prison ministries (starting off with serving ice cream and cookies at the prison every Wednesday) as well as long-term ministry with the mentally ill— both in Milledgeville and in an Atlanta halfway house—by listening more than talking and yes, playing bridge!! Grandmother knew that women together can do anything.
A small familial example of her approach: her granddaughter, Ann Pearce, remembers receiving a telegram from Grandmother, in Athens, in 1961, when Charlayne Hunter and Hamilton Holmes came to enter UGA after a brutal (and bizarre on the University’s end) legal battle to end segregation.
Grandmother Sterne wrote to Ann, “I know you will do the right thing and remember we are all in this together.” She wasn’t particularly anxious about her granddaughter; she was trusting Jesus and fierce for righteousness and unity of all peoples! This was so needed at that time and in our day . (FYI Here is Ms. Hunter-Gault remembering those same days. She and Dr. Hamilton Holmes, may he rest in peace and rise in glory were REALLY fierce, thank the Good Lord.)
Grandmothers, let’s remember to tell our grandchildren about these kinds of moments! We really are—in this state and throughout this nation and on this planet—all called to be in this together. Pass it on!
Grandmother was not a float-above-it-all saint. She was wildly competitive and played bridge with gusto! No telling what the games with the prisoners and the mentally ill were like! Not to mention her regular Monday afternoon game with the alcoholics at St. Jude’s! I bet she tried hard to win!
Actually Bown was pretty competitive, too. Grandmother Sterne died right before her 100th birthday party. I think the invitations were printed! Bown was determined to beat her record and she did!!
Tomorrow Carroll and I will travel to Greece (though it used to be to Turkey-God bless Turkey in her turmoil) with a group of Saints and others led by the wondrous Dr. Max Miller of Emory University. We wouldn’t have timed our trip like this if I’d known that the Good Lord had in mind this season with you, but around this block we know Grandmother and Bown and all the rest of our rocking procession of Saints—(every bit as fabulous as the Rockettes)—are watching over all of us wherever we are! Can you sense their presence? I can, especially in the nave all around us on Sunday mornings.
Remember, they’ve got our backs always and into eternity. And remember to tell your children and grandchildren as often as you can—WE ARE ALL CUTIE-PIES IN THIS TOGETHER!
One afternoon this summer as I was driving down Ponce de Leon, I received a call from a woman named Jill that about broke my heart. Her sister, Joy Gatreau, an All Saints’ parishioner and Threads volunteer, had died, a victim of domestic violence. Jill wanted the Threads volunteers in particular to know of Joy’s death.
If you ever wonder whether the Episcopal Church is real and matters, please read Joy’s letter written to her mom a year before her death:
Jill and their mother gave me permission to share this letter with you. The priest in Louisiana read her letter at the service. Dear God, it touches me.
And here is what Jill wants us to know about her sister who loved our church:
Jill loved her family and her church. She loved to travel and loved working with people. As her obituary says, she was a flight attendant with Delta Airlines. She loved all animals, especially dogs. She volunteered at Threads and at Atlanta Pet Rescue and Adoption and contributed to many charities that benefited people, animals and the environment. She was very kind and thoughtful and worked continuously on being a better person. I recently read in one of her notebooks some goals she had set for herself. One goal was – Prayer Life: Closer relationship to God. Develop strength through faith and understanding in God’s plan for me. Learn how to relate to people in a way that pleases God and give others hope, joy and peace.
Rest in Peace, Joy. Looking at your face, we think you are so well named and pray that the angels greet you every moment into eternity in the arms of the One who made you and all of us, and loves you and all of us forever and ever.
And Saints, if any of you would like to reach out to Jill and her mom with a word of comfort, Pat Kiley (email@example.com) has Jill’s email and mail address.
Around this block, we have a lot of animal lovers! But ever since I read Melissa Fay Greene’s wondrous “The Underlings” (remember she’s coming to All Saints’ to read and sign next Wednesday, September, 28), I’ve been trying to think from a dog’s point of view. Do dogs love us?? Unless Flash is really faking me and Carroll out, I believe he does!
And here’s Sydney Cleland and the gifts of love and new life with her friend, Peaches:
Facebook pros will recognize TBT—Throwback Thursday, a day when people post photos of events from years past. Well, I’m in a real-time TBT.
I recently left my teaching post, visualizing the carefree life of the empty-nester with a little means—frequenting trendy spots for coffees with friends, meandering through the Atlanta Botanical Garden or the High Museum, maybe traveling abroad. Even grocery shopping, errands, and appointments would be scheduled back-to-back in a single day, without worrying about fixing dinner, driving carpool, or taking care of pets.
And then, we got a dog—actually, a puppy. A five month old rescue Basset Hound named Peaches.
In her short life, Peaches has been cast off as many times, so she’s a kind of throw-back herself. The moment Peaches came to live with us, my dreams of no schedule were replaced by puppy schedule: Feed Dog, Let Dog Out, Let Dog In, Play with Dog, Walk Dog, Train Dog, Keep Dog Away from Danger. And Repeat. Several times a day.
So this is the TBT, as it were: I haven’t had a puppy in 15 years or a toddler in 20. I feel like I’m in the Throwback Time Machine, at home with and organizing my day around a dependent. I chose to do this, having forgotten how much time and energy a puppy requires. Those with grandchildren understand. But I have a skill now I lacked back then. I have learned mindfulness: being in the moment. Dogs (and children) have a way of pulling us to be in the moment. That is their gift to us.
Even as puppies, Basset Hounds don’t hurry, so I’ve slowed for Peaches. We sit long stretches in the yard — listening to traffic zipping and children playing and owls calling, noticing ants and worms and butterflies and yellow jackets. Apart from food, water, and shelter, Peaches wants my presence. Not my distracted-by-cell-phone or do-list presence, but my calm, breath-conscious, in-the-moment mindful presence. Of course, we’ll have misfortunes and frustrations. But we’ll also have joy, like last Thursday, when we lay belly-up on the warm deck staring at the blue sky, two thrown back beings, living in the now.
Thanks, girls. Sydney and Peaches are our teachers, Throw-Yourself-Back-to-the-Heart-of-Matter Teachers.
And here’s a shout out to your buddies Mary Margaret Oliver and Henry.
Mary Margaret (and maybe Henry) will be introducing their friend Melissa Fay Greene. Melissa is such a swell writer, and her new book, “The Underdogs”, is a deeply moving read about an astonishing service dog academy which began with thrown-back-almost-end-of-rope pound dogs and serves kids and families with the most difficult challenges I have ever read about .
Not sure how one bread would work! But one cup is mighty fine.
I don’t know exactly how great Peaches and Henry would be as service dogs. But O yes, they believe in unconditional love. Really, they live it.
Heval says he first met some Saints when he was seventeen years old.
In this old picture at Ed and Martha Daughterty’s Heval is with his family and the African refugee family in the back right is the Muhumuza family from Rwanda and our very own and dear Marie Louise, who has been for many years All Saints’ gracious and stalwart receptionist! And of course, there are a bunch of All Saintsers!. Do you recognize anybody? Do you see you? This picture makes me cry for it is a picture of new heaven, new earth. What would it be like to lose everything and then find love all around you?
Barbara Thompson was our first Refugee Guru. She had traveled to Bosnia and Serbia and written a renowned book called Children of War. She has lived the gospel out of that brutal experience ever since. Barbara and Martha D and other Saints could see that Heval was carrying his family on his back, and she and the Saints’ got determined and when that happens, WATCH OUT!!
Here’s a recent TED Peachtree article about that time.
“Mohamed Kelli and his family depended on others’ kindness and assistance when they immigrated as Kurdish Muslim refugees to Clarkston, Ga., in the 1990s. His father was in poor health, so Mohamed Kelli, who was 17 at the time, became the primary wage-earner even though he didn’t speak English and they had no car.
He says that despite the fact that his family was of a different faith, the members of a local Episcopal church (THAT’S US, Y’ALL!) were the most crucial part of helping his family find their footing.
‘My mother was wearing a headscarf. You couldn’t ignore the fact that we were Muslim,” he recalls. ‘And still, the church members were the biggest part. And that is how the world should function. If a Christian family takes refuge in a Muslim country, it should be the first thing for the religious group of that country to help them out, which is what happened. And it’s still so.’
People connected him to a job washing dishes; they introduced him to mentors in the medical field; one even provided transportation so he could get an in-state tuition waiver for college.” (That person was Martha D, the party hostess !)
This is Martha D playing with my dog Flash all these years later, in the same rooms where the Refugees and Saints first connected
So isn’t that beautiful? A simple ride, an act of kindness. And you end up with:
Dishwasher to Doctor Serving Health, Education and Mentorship to our World
“Dr. Heval Mohamed Kelli came to the US as a teenage Kurdish refugee from Syria and worked as dishwasher to support his family and education for several years. He is currently named the prestigious Katz foundation Fellow in Preventive Cardiology at Emory University. He graduated Cum Laude from Morehouse School of Medicine. He finished his internal medicine residency training with resident of the year award and honorable distinctions in social and inpatient medicine at Emory University.
He has co-founded and operates several non-profit organizations focused on mentorship (U-Beyond), healthcare outreach (You4Prevent) and medical education (Young Physician Initiative and You4Education).
Heval’s remarkable journey and story were featured on national and international news including the Emory University magazine, Creative Loafing, Associated Press, Emory News, Atlanta Journal Constitution, NY times, Washington Post and more. We will send you more info about the TED talk when it becomes available.
Dr. Kelli, may the One who is known by many names bless him and keep him, passes skilled love forward all day long.
And All Saints’ Refugee Ministries is still being blessed by being blessed homemakers for refugees and is currently working with twenty families. Louisa Merchant is our current fabulous Refugee Guru.
One hundred Saints have cared for refugees this year. Martha D and Heval and that first group are glad. Generation to generation. Holy, holy, holy. Really.
Betsey Gibbs is a 21st century guru for she is keeper of our membership data base and of all the communities therein. She also processes our communal financial givings and dispersings, and she produces all the worship bulletins which are like jigsaw puzzles with pieces that shape-shift. The synapses in her brain awe me for I have NONE operating in the realms of math and space.
We have found a friendship and a common language through photography as a spiritual practice. Here’s Betsey describing what I also experience even with my little I-phone camera:
“I studied photography for two years. I would walk around watching life through the view finder and I would see these moments in time. I really wanted to be able to capture that and make a perfect picture moment that will last a lifetime.
And still when I see it I really see it! I know I have it.
Working in the city it is always go go go go. When I am close to home—this photo is on a back country road between my house and Madison—and see farmlands and the blue sky, it takes me back to the simple things and causes me to slow down and be thankful for the stillness in a life full of crazy traffic.”
This old cabin is also close to home. See the tiny surprise on the front door. That got me.
(Betsey has the dubious honor of longest commute to/fro All Saints’—an hour and a half on a normal day. Thank God she has moments of beauty here among the Saints, too!)
“In the midst of the city to see the seasons change is a gift.
There is a worship song, “All around Creation Calls,” and in the song, people who are un-reached by the scripture gospel, look around and believe because all around us creation calls—in a new born baby’s cry and in the crash of the sea.
I think of that hymn when I’m at the beach. I’m in awe of the majesty of his greatness – the God of the universe who commands the seas loves me – so small and insignificant.
This is a Japanese magnolia right outside our garage door, and every spring it is glorious like that. It’s kind of like the magnolia tree at All Saints’. Tate (our seven year old) and all the other children gravitate to it because it is a great climbing tree. Our family loves it! Makes me think of my favorite bible verse—Ever since the creation of the world, God’s eternal power and divine nature, invisible though they are, have been understood and seen through the things God has made. (Romans 1.20) ”
Thanks Betsey for your quiet, effective back-of-the-shop wizardry here at All Saints’—helping us connect to one another with our lives and our treasure and our worship. And thank you for reminding us that all creation calls and speaks the Word of God’s power and beauty and love. And yes, when we see it we really see it.