When You Wish Upon a Star …

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I know. My photo is not  a great picture of the chapel, dedicated to the memory of our 60 parishioners who died with AIDS and to those who loved and cared for them. Our prayers and response to the AIDS crisis tested and deepened our faith community  and formed me as a priest.  At the top of the chapel window is a little star named Philip. And this is the star’s story told mainly by his sister Ann and a little bit by me.

This is my last Around this Block post and it is about a far-flung All Saints’ family.  As a matter of fact, one brother lives on as a star!  The sibling closest at hand is All Saints’ Connie Curry, a longtime civil rights activist, lawyer, writer and great public servant for the city of Atlanta.

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Connie with Mississippi’s Winson Hudson, the “grandmother of the Mississippi movement.”  Connie has given voice to so many civil rights heroines. Her books focused on the  previously ignored stories of the  women.

Here is an article that gives you a sense of Connie’s journey.  We have quite a legacy, dear Saints, in the Civil Rights Movement.   Connie can’t get to church much but she lives in midtown and loves to hear from her friends.

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Silver Rights was Connie’s  breakout book.

When you are lucky, one relationship leads you into a new world, and getting to know Connie led me to her brother Philip and a family that loved him strong and well.  Here is Sister Ann’s memory of that time.

When I traveled from my home in Savannah to Atlanta earlier this summer, I wasn’t thinking of All Saints Church or my brother Philip Holloway, who had been a member there. My mind was on my sister Connie Curry, who had recently been in and out of the hospital multiple times. Though she is as headstrong, funny and irreverent as ever, Connie needed help .

Then I learned that Martha Sterne is the church’s interim rector. Martha had come to see Connie at Emory Hospital and had a chance to see our sons, Walker and Coran. I hadn’t seen Martha in years and years.

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Ann Curry and I just hit if off during Philip’s illness so many years ago. One of the great joys of this year is reconnecting with people with whom I had shared the deepest human experiences—baptisms, renewals of vows after you’ve lived into them a while,  terrifying illnesses and operations, wondrous healings and yes, heartbreaking but also healing funerals.

Ann again:  After such a warm reunion with Martha, I attended early church, listened to her homily, took communion, and studied the tiny star in the chapel window our family had dedicated in memory of Philip.

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Here is Philip’s star, top of window closest to the chapel altar on the cemetery side.  God bless Lisa Bell-Davis who climbed way way up on a ladder to get this pic. Hello Philip! I think his sisters and his mother got NASA or somebody to really name a star after him!

Philip’s darling sister Ann, again:  In July 1995, Philip was living and dying at Haven House, a hospice house for people with HIV/AIDS. No one thought he would make it to the Fourth of July, so I came to Atlanta from Tennessee to join our mom Isabel, who had been staying in Midtown for several weeks, and Connie, who lived there. I remember walking with Connie to Haven House, through Piedmont Park to 14th Street, expecting to see a hearse. Instead we were greeted by hundreds of runners pouring into the park as the Peachtree Road Race ended. As we stood there, unable to cross the street, I looked and on the front porch of Haven House, sitting in a high back wheelchair sat Philip, waving like the Queen of England. He lived another 15 days.

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This Halloween photo with his sister Ann is the closest I could come to Philip waving like the Queen of England.  OMG, he was adorable.

Haven House was an amazing place. The nurses worked so hard caring for patients. I remember Isabel, sitting on the porch with a nurse named Walter as he smoked a cigarette. “Walter,” she said, “you need a vacation!” (I bet my mother told him to stop smoking too!) Walter, who had the largest, gentlest hands, was never too tired to rub Philip’s feet since neuropathy had set in. Philip loved that.

On one early morning visit, I asked Philip if he needed anything. Without batting an eye, he replied, “YES, I want some cheese and crackers and some very fine champagne.”

(Martha here:  my memory of that time is stopping by occasionally to Haven House which I believe was yellow, to see Philip and that the day he died, the Spirit had nudged me over there. Philip loved  Robert Shaw’s  Rachmaninoff’s Vespers and I remember the Nunc Dimittis filling the room with this gorgeous good news:

Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace according to thy word.
For mine eyes have seen thy salvation,
Which thou hast prepared before the face of all people;
To be a light to lighten the Gentiles and to be the glory of thy people Israel.

I believe that revelation happened in and through Philip at that very moment and into eternity.

Here’s Ann again:

Weeks later, before his memorial service at All Saints, another brother, Ian, and I went to Patterson Funeral home to pick up Philip’s ashes. We stopped by Ansley Mall liquor store and, appropriately, bought a case of champagne. As we drove back to Philip’s apartment, Ian said, “Do you have the ashes?” I said, “No, you’ve got the ashes!” … neither of us had the ashes. Upon returning to the liquor store, the nice woman behind the counter asked why we were back. “Aw, honey,” she said, after I told her. “I lost someone recently. I can help you find him.” I still think that would make a great country music song title, “I left my brother’s ashes in the liquor store.”

After the service (officiated those 22 years ago by Martha), Harry Pritchett buried most of Philip’s ashes in the church’s Memorial Garden. The remaining ashes were sent to be spread at the Valley of Elke in Northern Chile, a place Philip loved. Then, we celebrated his life with some cheese and crackers and some very fine champagne.

I learned a lot through Philip’s illness and death. I learned how incredibly loving and accepting my family was… How my mom took charge and cared for her son.. How patient my husband Enoch was, while I traveled back and forth to Atlanta… How doctors and nurses kindly helped AIDS patients die with dignity. On numerous trips, my brothers came from Florida and New Jersey to help care for Philip. Connie and the neighbors in Midtown rallied even as they had already witnessed the devastating impact of HIV/AIDS.

I’ll never forget what a great community All Saints Episcopal Church was during that time.  Philip died surrounded by love and song and blessing. To this day, he remains one of my favorite people and I miss him still.

Fast forward twenty years to June 26, 2015, I also couldn’t help but think of Philip and his partner of ten years, Bob as my husband and I gathered with hundreds of others in Johnson Square in downtown Savannah cheering and celebrating the passage of the marriage equality act. Earlier that morning my son Philip Walker, named for his uncle, sent me a text that read, “Mom all f%$@ing 50 states!” I took a moment to let that sink in.

I am grateful for circles and reconnections and grace and a tiny star in All Saint’s Chapel.

Ann Curry

(Martha again) And beloved Saints, I am grateful as well.  For all the love we share and for how God passes that love on and on and on even to the furthest star.  I’ll be taking a big pause from All Saints’ but God willing I’ll see you again.  God bless you and when you look up at that little star way way high in the chapel, remember all the days the saints have been through and thank God for the power and the glory and the love and the hope for tomorrow for all God’s children.  And remember, When you wish upon a star, your wish just may come true!  My prayers sure have spending this year with you.

Martha +

Star squared up

 

Do you have prophets in your circle? Sure hope so! We need the cranky things!

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 Flash thinks Ethel Ware Carter is beautiful because she is—inside and out!

This week Flash and I went down the elevator from our abode on the 28th floor. You’d be amazed at the number of dogs in our building—Flash has a Napoleonic complex and is very rude to three of the big dogs but is quite the ladies’ man with a circle of small four-pawed ladies in the building. Everybody has a circle, probably many circles. Circles matter.

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Last July 4th—Flash ADORES Bella—her fluffy tail and her outfits and her attitude.  I know – rear-end sniffing looks tacky to us but is great form in Flash’s circle!

 So on Wednesday, we  walked across the street  to Second Ponce de Leon Baptist Church.  Second Ponce is a cool, inclusive, and mission-minded Baptist Church, and they have made a home for Ethel Ware and her circle, the Regional Council of Atlanta Churches.

Actually Ethel Ware and the Council is in offices with another dear friend of All Saints, Peter Wallace and the crowd at Day1. 

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Peter and Ethel Ware are circle gurus. Peter’s circle is the internet and  300 radio stations across the world and Ethel Ware’s is a circle of churches across the region and get this –   18,000 people!
Ethel Ware told Flash and me that the Regional Council of Atlanta Churches started in 1878 as a mainline Protestant all male (of course) pastors’ group.  And from the very beginning,  they were passionate about meeting human need and advocacy.  For instance these guys went to bat for NO CHILD LABOR LAWS and UNIVERSAL PUBLIC EDUCATION! Those realities didn’t just hop out of the air into our city!  A circle of people had dreams for the common good and made them happen!!

And when it came time (way past time), to integrate Atlanta, the Regional Council of Atlanta Churches put together a manifesto!!  Our rector, Frank Ross, signed it and marched and marched and wrote and preached about respecting the dignity of every human being! (We still have original copies of his sermons and almost every sermon of every preacher thereafter. Really interesting! We ought to do a little study.)

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The ministers signed as individuals but as is true of all of us, those pastors  then touched the circles around them.  Within a year, 315 Atlanta pastors signed and thousands of church members affirmed. (Not all).

In 2017, it is worth reading the points of the Manifesto of 1957 and what that circle of faithful people thought was most important—to me, still most important.

  1. FREEDOM of speech must at all costs be preserved. “Truth is mighty and will prevail.” No minister, editor, teacher, state employee, business man or other citizen should be penalized for expressing himself freely, so long as he does so with regard to the rights of others. Any position which can not stand upon its own merits and which can only be maintained by silencing all who hold contrary convictions, is a position which can not permanently endure.
  2. AS AMERICANS and as Christians we have an obligation to obey the law.
  3. THE PUBLIC school system must not be destroyed. It is an institution essential to the preservation and development of our democracy. To sacrifice that system in order to avoid obedience to the decree of the Supreme Court would be to inflict tremendous loss upon multitudes of children, whose whole lives would be impoverished as a result of such action. It would also mean the economic, intellectual and cultural impoverishment of our section, and would be a blow to the welfare of our nation as a whole.
  4. HATRED and scorn for those of another race, or for those who hold a position different from our own, can never be justified.
  5. COMMUNICATION between responsible leaders (“of the races” but you could substitute of the different political parties or the nations of the world)  must be maintained. One of the tragedies of our present situation is found in the fact that there is so little real discussion of the issues except within the separate …  groups.
  6. OUR DIFFICULTIES cannot be solved in our own strength or in human wisdom. It is appropriate, therefore, that we approach our task in a spirit of humility, of penitence, and of prayer. It is necessary that we pray earnestly and consistently that God will give us wisdom to understand His will: that He will grant us the courage and faith to follow the guidance of His spirit.

All Saints’ Vestry and many other faithful groups now meet in the Ross Room.  

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Thank you Mary Helen and Bob Miller.  Through this great meeting space and also your writings, Bob, you pass on vital, warts-and-all, transformative stories of courage and faith.
Below is Frank Ross preaching – he supported and encouraged many – including Atlanta Constitution Editor, Ralph McGill, and Judge Elbert Tuttle to courageous conscience and action, and yes a few to shaking the dust off their feet and leaving the parish.  (On my husband’s Episcopal side of the family, most Sternes stayed and the branch who left were more disturbed by the rector’s divorce.)  Frank Ross was not perfect; he was a saint, like the rest of us.

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Who are your prophets?  I thank God for Dr. J. Moody McDill of Fondren Presbyterian Church and also Governor William Winter, also of Fondren.
Frank Ross always started his letters to the parish with the words, “Dearly Beloved,” and when I became the rector of St. Andrew’s, Maryville, I copy-catted him. Because dearly beloved, that is who we are to one another.  In Christ, we are all over this world, dearly beloved.  That’s what every true prophet is teaching, writing, preaching, spreading around-the universal love of God for God’s world.

 

 

And here, on the very day Flash and I  visited, is Bishop Rob Wright, yes a prophet for our day, recording right down the hall  in the Day1 studios!

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Rob Wright is blessed to be a blessing, a circle maker and shaper. Watch him with students sometime. Always pointing toward God’s future of hope and inclusion.
After all, our diocesan motto is:

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For we are circles within circles upon circles of the One who stretched out his arms on the hard wood of the cross, encircling God’s whole, holy and broken world.

Martha +

 

 

We ARE ALL CUTIE-PIES in this together!

 

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Hugh Owen, Sue Brown (Bown) Sterne, and Yours Truly my deacon year.
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!

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Bown definitely rocked!
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. 

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Bad pic of Bown and Aunt Hannah (darling mother of Ann Pearce and Sue Mobley) but Grandmother does look beatific!
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!

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Fierce and Beatific!  Good combo!
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!! 

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Bown on her 100th with a gazillion of her Cutie-Pies including Carroll and me and ours! Bown beat her Mama in the 100th Birthday Party race!
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!

Martha +

 

 

 

 

What do we owe?

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I am the temporary, but happy occupant of the Office of the  Rector of All Saints’, a space I have known well and loved for close to thirty years due to having worked for Harry Pritchett from 1988-97.  I am not bringing in books or hanging stuff on the walls except for what you see above –  a print of a newspaper page which Reece and Phil hung over the fireplace for me. Thank you, guys.

I did not bring it to the Rector’s Office  because it’s beautiful but rather because it is a symbol of courage and faith which belongs in the same room where Judge Elbert Tuttle and Ralph McGill and so many other faithful saints pondered and prayed over their city and nation  with their rector in their day.

My offering is a copy of a full page 1968 Jackson, Mississippi newspaper ad, a Statement of Belief and Intention that about 100 citizens including my father signed.  It starts like this:  We believe in the essential worth and dignity of every human being and all that such implies.

The prose is not deathless; the sentiments are not daring unless you happened to live and move and have your business and your family and your being in Jackson, Mississippi in 1968. They were lawyers and business people, ministers and docs (my father),  and teachers and such – a lot like us here at All Saints’.

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My father, James Malcom Packer, MD

They put their names out there in public saying here we stand because we owe it to ourselves and to future generations to speak up for justice. The leader was a dry cleaner guy.

All of our citizens should work untiringly and unceasingly to bring out to the fullest the best in us in the way of kindness, compassion, friendliness and understanding that we may all progress through cooperation. We owe this to ourselves, our families, the oncoming generations, and the development of all of our talents. 

What do we “owe ourselves, our families, and the incoming generations?”  Where do you personally need to stand and act for justice? When do you need to stop being silent?

I am back at All Saints’ because I believe the people—layfolk and clergy—who came  before us answered the What is owed? question faithfully in their day.  And I believe that worshiping and being in their cloud of witnesses/company helps us do what we are called to do in ours.

Martha +