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.
Last weekend, I asked John Frazer to give me a ride back from the vestry retreat (in what turned out to be the truck with the worst springs in the history of Georgia). John and I have known each other for a long time both through All Saints’ and my husband’s banking circle of friends. We know each other best of all through Covenant Community of which John was an early days board member and has been a stalwart supporter for decades. This is John Frazer’s coming of age story.
“So in my Montgomery, Alabama high school, I was class president and a three year letterman, and I thought I was hot stuff. Kind of fearless. I had no idea.
When time for college came, the Citadel sounded good and I thought i would “walk on” for football. Again I had no idea (a theme in my life) what I was getting into . My parents took me to the airport, and I arrived in a yellow cab to the steps of the Citadel. Let me repeat, I had no idea what I was getting into! My football career ended up with me toting towels and water bottles.
Also when the Citadel shaves your head and puts everybody in the same clothes, does the Citadel know who you are or know what kind of high school hot stuff you were where you came from? NO. And they don’t care!
My parents came to see me on Labor Day weekend. When they left I cried like a baby all afternoon. My father had given me the name of a friend of a friend of his – a Captain Cousins who taught in the History Department. Dad said I could call him for a lifeline.
I called him and he came and picked me up and took me to his house. And miraculously a little while later, a recent Citadel grad showed up. I said to him I don’t see how I am going to graduate from the Citadel. I don’t see how I am going to make it through my freshman year or even to Christmas.
And he said Buddy you’ve got it all wrong. You’ve got to pray to God you can make it through lunch tomorrow.
And then pray to God you make it through dinner.
And so I did. I prayed relentlessly. Every day as a freshman, I would go in Summerall Chapel and get down on my knees on the back row and pray to make it through the lunch formation. (That’s when they would yell at you the worst.)
And I did make it through. And make it through and make it through. One day at a time. That afternoon over at a stranger’s house with another stranger just giving me the hard truth of my situation was the turning point of my life.”
One day at a time friends, one day at a time. Pass this along to your favorite new collegiate or anybody else who needs a short and timely lifeline. Thank you John for passing the faith along.
Tom Shillock and Mary Ann Camann were/are/will be saints around this block since a long time and for always. Mary Ann died six months ago after a long, tough, brave battle with ovarian cancer. Her beloved husband Tom is here each week—engaged and authentic. Last Wednesday night we were hanging out and he told me a story about the attempted resuscitation of his drowned cell phone and yes, underneath it all, a story about the resilience and grace of Christ in the human spirit. Here’sTom:
“I share this now as we prepare to celebrate, to rejoice, to partake in the march, the dance of the All Saints Ministries…I make it through these days, because of the outpouring of love, of graces I received from Noelle, from Geoffrey, and Tim. From all the many beautiful saints of All Saints. From my small group of DOCCians that meet on a monthly schedule for almost twenty years now. From the Gals of the Good Shepherd, the Sunday Callers, the Garden Group, St Helena Group, the Flower and Alter Guilds; I make it because I am surrounded by caring care-givers, by loving love-extenders, by hope replenishers, by a community of unconditional grace providers.”
(Ahem, the guy is talking about you Saints. If you ever wonder if the gifts of time and love you make to the church matter, boom. Now you know.)
Back to Tom: “Last week My cell phone decided to place itself through the laundry. All I can say is that the cell phone must have done this under great duress, certainly under its own premonition. Lord knows I would never intentionally place my phone in the washing machine.
The story begins innocently enough. It was a gorgeous Saturday morning and my neighbor John and I decided to go for a bike ride on the Silver Comet Trail. Returning home following the bike ride, I resumed my Saturday morning ritual, thus to begin a load of laundry.
In goes my load of grubby articles, and in went my bike shorts. Had someone phoned me, or text me just then I would have been apprised that my cell phone was hiding-out in the zip-pocket of my bike shorts.
It was not until I was transferring the clothes from the washer to the dryer that my unimaginable dismay hit me full in the face. My cell phone had been through the wash and spin cycle. Well I dare say the phone had never looked cleaner, yet there was nothing being displayed on the screen. It was a total loss. Without use of the screen, I would not be able to transfer all my saved contact information from the washed phone to a new phone. Further complicating my distress was the fact, to the best of my research in the Book of Common Prayer, there is no prayer for the redemption of a washed cell phone.
Later Saturday evening I had a thought, surely other people have experienced a soaked phone crisis. What have they done? In that my prayers were not having the desired results to remediate my sodden phone, I went in search of the answer to a highly elevated technical source… YouTube. Sure enough there was this guy that had an answer – you carefully remove the back of the phone, remove the battery, and the SIMs card. Then using a wet-vac, very, very carefully; you vacuum all the moisture from the phone.
Following the wet-vac procedure you place the phone in a dry location for 1 to 3 hours. I chose to give my phone a full 8 hours of dry-time. Actually I told myself, let’s go to the 8:00 am service Sunday morning and when I return home from church, I’ll see if for the love of God, my phone screen would come to life.
I returned home from church, there over in the corner, all by itself was my wishy-washy phone. I reassembled the phone, with my eyes lifted to the heavens, I whispered one more plea. I pressed the on button … And glory be on high, the phone came back to life. I could see the screen! I would be able to recover all my contact data. I rejoiced, I mean what else could an Episcopalian do? And I’m here to tell you, rejoicing feels good! We should all rejoice more often!
When I conveyed my story to Martha, we decided what was necessary was a proper prayer to pray when a cell phone goes to a place of incommunicado.
So I composed the following for those in need:
Now I lay me down to sleep
I washed my phone today, causing me to moan and weep.
A prayer was said, asking for my phone to awake
Its an old phone, I know not the style nor make
Oh how I hoped my phone would revive today
Lord I promise to be kinder to all who journey my way
My phone did signal, and then there was a weak beep
You are an amazing Lord, your grace has caused my faith to leap!
Nice, huh?? Well done, Tom! Now when you go to Celebrations of Ministries think even beyond your cell phone! Notice the real live flesh and blood people who love their neighbor around this block in all the holy ways we can think of.It matters so. Tom Shillock knows ALL ABOUT THAT. Here’s Tom again:
“On Monday March 14th (Mary Ann died on March 16) I wrote this in my daily notes. I do not think I ever shared this with Tim.
Rev. Tim Black from All Saints came to pray at Mary Ann’s bedside today. He spoke about not being afraid, he assured Mary Ann she was not alone, she is never alone.
He spoke about how every breath from Mary Ann sounded like she was saying the word Yahweh, a prayer, over and over, Yahweh, fifteen times a minute, 900 times an hour.
Yahweh I know You are near Standing always at my side You guard me from the foe And you lead me in ways everlasting
Lord you have searched my heart And You know when I sit and when I stand Your hand is upon me Protecting me from death Keeping me from harm
“I sat alone in the hospital room until the announcement; all visitors will need to leave for the evening. I sat alone and listened to each heavy breath from Mary Ann, followed by another purposeful breath, and most certainly I heard her prayer to Yahweh.
Before I left Mary Ann’s’ room the evening nurse came on duty and with this lovely smile introduced herself. Her name was Angel, and indeed she did appear to me as one with great angelic skills.”
And for now and all our days, Tom gives us another prayer:
Give me strength to face another day
Let me not turn coward before its difficulties
Let me not lose faith in other people.”
Tom says we must be vigilant—you and I— for we might see the face of God just when we need God most. Or read a prayer. Or answer our cell phone. True, true, true, true.
One spring dusky evening in 1988, I got lost looking to meet Mary Brennan who was the chair of a group sussing me out as a candidate for the “outreach priest.” Well I fooled them that night and became one of the Saints, and all these years later I still get lost around All Saints’ —in wonder, love, and praise.
Here’s Mary remembering our first Mission Sunday and a saint named Ann Walker, a joyful sign of God’s power even in our weakness
“Before the days of the creative, 3-D, flashy signs we love seeing sweep down the center aisle on Celebration of Ministries Sunday, we celebrated just plain ol’ Mission Sunday—the original being September 11, 1988. Nothing real fancy. The ministries financially supported by the All Saints’ Mission Committee marched in and out of the services, then met and informed folks about their work at tables set up in Ellis Hall. All Saints’ own Boy Scouts, Camp Fire, and Night Shelter were represented because the committee budget helped support them, but the main idea was to give a little publicity to the organizations outside the parish. So none of the All Saints’ committees, events, chapters, choirs, or range of ministries we highlight now were included.
Still, the array was impressive. Our little budget supported ministries for the elderly, the homeless, addiction and mental health, innovative educational opportunities, interfaith and ecumenical efforts, and more. Honoring the work of these groups and giving the parish a chance to learn more about them was our Mission Sunday goal.
It was a big undertaking in those days. Those of us planning the event soon realized that if we wanted to make an All Saints’ impression we’d need something fabulous for the worship processional. Signs! We needed signs!
Well, the good Lord always provides, and our needful prayers were answered by parishioner and artist, the late great Ann Walker, who stepped up to create just the flair and flash we needed for our Mission Sunday signs.
I gave Ann the list of our ministries, and she gave me a shopping list for lots of foam-core and paint pens. As I recall, it took us several weekends to work our way through the list and art supplies. Ann did the hard, artistic stuff, while I was the hold-that-board-steady-and-hand-me-another-pen helper. Her creativity and hilarious spirit made what could have been a boring job much easier.
What I want you to know is that Ann was very sick at the time. But with great, dry wit, she persevered, using her artistic gifts to do justice to each of our ministries. Everything I know about paint pens and strength of spirit in the face of death I learned from Ann Walker.
So. Look at us now!
Our little annual mission showcase has grown into wonderful Celebration of Ministries Sunday and an almost never-ending procession of the many ways All Saints’ folks live and love church.
Ann Walker died in September 1989, about a year after our first Mission Sunday effort. But whenever I see all the cool, glorious signs bobbing up and down the aisle at our Celebration of Ministries, I remember that Mission Sunday almost 30 years ago and Ann, the sign-angel, whose grace, humor, talent, and courage laid an impressive foundation for us to build upon.”
Thanks Mary. And a warning to the rest of you. Mary Brennan served as Mission Committee chair while serving on the All Saints’ Vestry from 1987-1990. And now she is the Communications Officer for Mission on Presiding Bishop Michael Curry’s staff. No telling what happens when that sign -waving Holy Spirit gets ‘holt’ of you.