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!