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.
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.
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.
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.