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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 liquorstore, 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.
(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.
I am always curious about how people get formed. We don’t just come out of nowhere like Venus rising from the sea!
I am especially curious about artists. How do they find their way? For instance, how does a little kid from Fredericksburg, Virginia, become one of the most best organist-choirmasters in the world? I asked Ray Chenault the other day what his growing up was like. And he told me about his childhood world.
We talked especially about two men who formed him both as a person and as a musician. We all have Fathers in God and so here’s Ray thanking the Good Lord for his.
My dad was the number one tenor around Fredericksburg, Virginia, so he would often sing at weddings and funerals. He also would take me around to lots of revivals, bringing me along to play the piano. And he was the choir director at our church.
And every day my father delivered milk – we’d be getting around the route – and he would stop and talk with an old couple for an hour – I would want to be going home to play but my father would spend as much time as it took. He was greatly beloved. And he taught me that you learn a lot from people
On Sunday mornings, in order for him to be at church and direct the choir, he would have to get up at 2:30 in the morning to do the milk route. Then he would come back and pick me up to play the piano and we wouldgo sing with some nursing home people. He did that nursing home stop every Sunday morning – about 8 am – we would run a bunch of hymns. It was an old retirement home and it wasn’t really kept too clean. My dad knew the power of music!
Then we would come back to Salem Baptist Church where he was the choir director. He was not much trained in music. He’d say to me hit “Rock of Ages” or something, and then all of a sudden people would start singing. My dad totally lived the importance of music and connecting with people. He was my hero.
My mother was very organized. She made us march to a strong tune. She had my father marching, too!
At a family celebration, somebody asked my father what would he do differently in life. And he started crying and said “I’d like to be like my son. I’d like to have the opportunities and success my son has had in music.”
(A thought from Martha: I think we sometimes live out the un-lived dreams of our parents. I really do. I believe I lived into the Episcopal Church as my father would have loved to. I think I lived a life working outside the home in ways that were not open in my mother’s time and place. It’s all good.)
Here’s Ray again. My first organ teacher was Harold Abmyer, Mr. A. Mr. A had judged me in a competition, so he knew I played the piano, and he and my parents were friends. My mother would invite him to dinner occasionally. She was a great cook – roast beef and mashed potatoes and blackberry cobbler!
Mr. A. came to the house one Friday night and ate dinner and he usually played after dinner, but that night he asked me to play. And he said tomorrow morning I am coming to pick you up for your first organ lesson and you’re not going to say no. So I went and had my first organ lesson.
And I don’t know what it was but I knew that I had found my profession. Then I started practicing and took to the organ like a duck to water and progressed quickly and studied with him for three years.
My little sister, who is a fine musician, wanted to study organ with Mr. A. so my father asked Mr. A to take her on. Mr. A. told our dad, “I don’t teach young kids.” And my father said, ” You are making a mistake. This is your legacy.” So my sister studied with him, and he eventually taught little nursery kids all the way up to grown ups with great success and joy.
Mr. A. was the organist at a big church, Fredericksburg United Methodist, and he had me helping him with their choral music. On a Palm Sunday the first hymn I ever played on the organ for a church program was “All Glory Laud and Honor.” Mr. A. sat right on the bench beside me with his hand on my back giving me courage.
As I mentioned, Mr. A. had lots of young students after my sister and me. And he helped many find careers. He listened to my father – that was his legacy. I always made sure he knew how important he was in our lives. I went back and played his funeral.
I’ve gone back to all my teachers and let them know how important they are to me. Having been a teacher at Lovett, I know what that means. I remember Beth had a kid who misbehaved. Years later, the kid wrote the headmaster and said Mrs. Chenault was the one who kept me in school. What that kid treasured most – that mentorship.
Beth and I met in college. I saw Beth first day in music class. And that was that.
I think we Saints may forget that “Mr. and Mrs. Chenault” taught high school and middle school for over thirty years and led the Fine Arts Department at Lovett.
Surely the loving family feel and lush all-in-it-together sound of our parish choir come from the Chenaults having learned everything there is to know about the formation of young people all those years. My daughter teaches at Lovett and she tells me the Chenaults are still iconic role models there to this day, years after they left.
Even today we have Lovett alumni in the choir and every year we have a number of GSU students who sing with the Chenaults. I love to go to choir practice because it feels like good family. People laugh and work hard. The friendships are inter-generational. The older members are pals and mentors, and the younger members bring life and fresh, gorgeous voices. Beloved Community.
And it’s no coincidence that Karol Kimmel and our children’s choirs have that same deep family of God structure. Like the Chenaults, Karol is that holy combination of gifted professional artist and gifted, loving personhood.
And it is so good to know that people never grow out of our choirs. People that move out of town come back when they can. (I’m looking at you, James Marshall and Susan Bolen among many others.) College students come back and sing in the youth choirs and reconnect with one another. Also, there literally is no telling how many musical careers have been launched by singing at All Saints’. Thanks be to God.
We are blessed at All Saints’. Choral music is not a product for our consumption. Music is a living gift of faith to be offered and passed around and around, and the children and adults in our choirs are being formed as they form us. Think of that moment at the end of the service when you have turned to follow the cross out into the world and the choir is all across the back of the nave and they move into a descant and a young GSU student conductor is usually leading everybody and we all sing our hearts out. That may be my favorite weekly moment at All Saints’.
May we always remember that we belong to the great Chorus of Creation in the name of the One who sings us into being and gives us voice and teaches each and all of us the gift of our very own song.
I asked some members of the Search Committee and Vestry and two priest friends who have encountered Simon to describe your new rector and then I pulled pictures off the internet so here you go!
From Search Committee member:
First AHA moment: I initially got to know Simon through his responses to the Diocese application. Clear from the beginning that Simon has a deep faith, sound theological grounding and keen intellect. But what really caught me was his passion for sussing out our christian call to be a church “in the world’. What does that mean for us in a changing downtown Atlanta neighborhood and frankly in a pretty scary global community. I was intrigued by his church’s community outreach to the beach community their around their property and the growing hispanic population in San Diego. Was clear to me that while Simon is grounded in tradition, liturgy and Episcopal worship, he can comfortably stretch himself to boldly follow the Cross out into world and meet folks where there are outside the four walls of his parish.
Second AHA moment: I had the privilege of visiting Simon’s parish for Sunday service. St. Andrews By the Sea is not by any means a “resource” parish. They operate on a very lean budget. HOWEVER, you never got a sense of scarcity in the parish. The Word coming from that community is abundant life. Joyful hospitality for all who entered the doors, including the homeless population that lives around their block. It was as warm, welcoming and authentic an experience as I have had in a long time in a church pew. The tone of course was set by Simon and his staff. I have to say I came away feeling very sure that the Holy Spirit was alive, well and doing good work at St. Andrews By the Sea.
Third AHA moment: As part of our parish visit, we would ask the candidate and his wife to pick a restaurant for us to have dinner together as a group. Simon and Monica insisted that we join them and their children for dinner in the rectory. After a few weeks on the road doing these kinds of visits, a home cooked meal and a relaxed casual evening around a family dinner table was a welcome respite. Such easy hospitality … They had me at hello!
And this from a priest colleague:
Gentle and kind, deep and good.
And this from a Vestry member:
Simon has a sparkling intellect, an insuppressible but gentle sense of humor and a passion for Christ. He has a special way of connecting with people. I can’t wait for the people of All Saints’ to join in the fun.
Simon is a fit but relatively unimposing man. During the worship portion of his interview with the vestry, he delivered a brilliant, humorous and inspiring sermon. Then, during Eucharist, he bowled us over by chanting the Great Thanksgiving beautifully. It was clear by this point that we were dealing with a heavyweight.
He is so easy to be around and just exudes happiness and fun. Simon is extremely talented, doesn’t seem to take himself too seriously and is up for the challenge of All Saints’ and the block. They both seem to enjoy life and adore their children and each other. We are going to have fun with them.
With Simon as our leader, people near and far will know that All Saints’, Atlanta is open for business. He will invite the world into the church and help lead the church into the world.
Monica has an inquiring mind, a warm heart and a charming presence about her. Gracious rector’s spouse, priest in her own right, and mother of three–look out. This is going to be exciting!
Simon is a warm, real, smart, and passionate Christian. The love felt within his immediate family (with his wife Monica and their three children) was palpable; and he also spreads that love wherever he goes. Every person we interviewed was so positive about how he handles every aspect of life as a rector. Seeing how he has positively impacted lives through his vision and his pastoral care was impressive. The tears of sadness which will pour out from San Diego as he leaves will surely lead to tears of joy for us lucky ones at All Saints’.
Here’s an Easter that happened a few weeks before Easter Because yes, Saints, Resurrection can leap out of any hour, any old ordinary or even very bad day!
This particular March day started okay around this block. It was pretty. The staff was sitting in our Tuesday morning meeting and, like you do, somebody looked out the window. This is what we usually see:
This day we looked out and and there were several policemen just standing around! Here’s what was going down as told by Johnathan Davis, Executive Director, Covenant Community, Inc., and Julius, who was actually preparing with nine other residents for their six month Covenant Celebration in Ellis Hall in two days.
Johnathan: A policeman came to the door who requested to come in to see if we had a person here. I told them that due to federal regulations, I couldn’t confirm or deny the person was here. The policeman then snatched the door away from me. And I stood in the door and told him they could not come in.
Martha: In the meantime, the All Saints staff are still looking out our staff meeting window, aghast. There are even more cops swarming everywhere and ATF people in flak jackets, too. We love cops. We count on cops. Our beat cops check on us when they drive by at night, and here are our two longtime Directors of Security, Ralph Sullivan (now fishing and golfing in Florida!) and his nephew, Randy Miller, our current director. Both are Atlanta cops and we love and appreciate them and their colleagues.
Martha: But this was weird! So many wearing so many different uniforms!
What is going on? I texted Johnathan:
Martha: (The “Nelson” mentioned above is All Saints’ parishioner Nelson Tyrone, as scripture says, a very present help in trouble.)
Johnthan: They failed to show a warrant when we requested to see one. And they began to try to entice me to come outside the door. I refused. Other staff came and joined me at the door while the police for two hours repeatedly told us we would be locked up.
Johnathan: We talked several times to our lawyer Nelson Tyrone and asked him what to do – for advice and consultation.
Martha: (All Saints’ attorneys—please let Nelson or Johnathan know if you can help with a very occasional Covenant Community case, often civil. Really sometimes what is needed is just standing with a man before a judge and declaring that he is in treatment for his addiction. You will also be helping our country continue to be a great country of equal treatment under the law.)
Now back to the day police were swarming all around this block as told to me by Johnathan and Julius, the young man all those cops thought they were looking for.
Johnathan: I put Nelson on the speaker phone with the officers. He advised them that they couldn’t come in. I left the door to go tell the guys what was going on. I asked them to remain in the dorm and told them not to be distracted by what was happening and that things should be okay. I chose not to tell Julius that they were looking for him because it would upset him for no use.
Julius has completed truck-driving school and is applying for short distance routes as he continues in his recovery. Covenant Community senior residents are part of the tapestry of the block – working shifts on security and with the sextons. Say hey to them.
Julius: That day I didn’t know what was going on. I just knew cops were looking for someone and I didn’t think it was me.
Johnathan: I came back to the front door with staff and continued to ask law enforcement to leave or show a proper warrant. I remained there with the staff for another hour with the door forced open by the officers. They kept saying that their shifts had gotten extended and they were not happy. I spoke to eight different people – Fulton, Gwinnett, Atlanta, ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms).
Martha: In the meantime, the All Saints’ staff is worrying about our friends at Covenant Community. What to do? I decide to go sit in the garden and say my prayers and watch the cops in a kind and friendly way. Carl Palmer, the Program Manager for Covenant is also sitting there watching and worrying since he can’t get past the police to get in to his colleagues. We sent Johnathan an encouraging selfie and also asked if he wanted some lunch!
Martha: I don’t know why this says 8:16 am because it was lunch time!! My answer to all crises involves food, I went to the Bank of America cafeteria for Johnathan’s salad and also got some cookies for the cops. A lot of cookies because there were a gazillion cops!
I went to the Spring Street Covenant entrance. The cops were very courteous (little old lady in collar) and appreciative of the thought behind the cookies but they wouldn’t take the cookies. Which actually worked out fine. I went in the Covenant Community office entrance and handed Johnathan his salad and gave the staff the cookies! And then I joined the sit-in.
Now we are over three hours into this sit-in/stand-off. Nelson Tyrone arrives! Johnathan, the staff, and I gather around to listen. Nelson really gave me a civics lesson— the staff already knew this— that it is very important to strongly but calmly expect civil rights to be respected—the same ones you want for yourself, your children, your friends. Here’s what I remember Nelson said:
You really do have the right to remain silent. Nelson said, be pleasant about it but tell the officers that you are exercising your right not answer their questions. I watched how this rolls when the officers started asking us for our personal information, and Nelson told them very calmly that we are not doing that. And they stopped what was an unnecessary and kind of intimidating exercise.
People cannot search through your stuff without a warrant to search through your stuff. Now maybe you assume that when somebody doesn’t want their car or house searched, they are guilty of something. No, it’s just that person exercising their rights as an American.
Remember that cops are trained to get their objective done and are just doing their jobs even when they tell you something that seems not exactly true. They can do that to accomplish their objective. I may not be saying that right. But what I got out of it was don’t get caught up trying to catch the law enforcement out on what they say being accurate. That sort of takes it out of the personal anger realm. They were doing their jobs and our job was to be American citizens.
Nelson then told us that now the police had obtained a warrant to search for a Julius Johnson and that today would not be a good day for Julius, but that Nelson would be there at the jail this afternoon or tomorrow and see this through. I kept thinking, but he is ‘sposed to have his six-month celebration day after tomorrow. How sad that his life is going another way.
Johnathan: I was experiencing the love and support from staff; from Martha, and Nelson. Ken Stewart had also called (our senior warden and another All Saints’ lawyer who has been there for the legally underrepresented). I knew I wasn’t alone. Now Nelson was here and he and I together went to prepare the residents for the police entry and search.
Martha: The staff and I held vigil and sat in the door and ate cookies.
Julius: Nelson came to my room and told me that they were looking for me! I was so surprised. But there was nothing I could do about it. I knew I hadn’t done anything and so I shouldn’t have anything to worry. I was curious. It is a good thing that they didn’t tell me anything til the last minute. Nelson had said if they arrest you; we will be down there and don’t worry about it. They went through my stuff. They looked at my medicine and my school id and they thought it was me.
They walked me out in handcuffs, but then in the Covenant Community courtyard, they showed me the picture on the warrant and commented that I had changed quite a bit and changed my hair. I knew it wasn’t me. And I trusted Nelson would be there.
I trusted his word that I wasn’t by myself. The community had my back and we had a lawyer in place. I didn’t worry. Sometimes you can get anxiety and do something stupid. Not good. I truly felt like I didn’t have anything to worry about. I had people behind me. I wasn’t in it by myself. I wasn’t going to get lost in the system.
(An aside from Martha—in 1985, Dionne Warwick, Stevie Wonder, Elton John, and Gladys Knight did a version of “That’s What Friends are for” benefiting AIDS research. Here they are with composers Burt Bacharach and Carole Bayer Sager. This song raised a gazillion dollars for AIDS and, as important, broke through the silence and shame curtain. This Covenant Community day was one of those “That’s what Friends are for” moments. Listen here and be glad for friends.)
Julius: The policemen didn’t say anything to me the whole way to the jail. But one of the guys looked at me and looked at the picture on the warrant and kind of figured it out.
We get to Gwinnett. The one who had looked at me and the picture asked me my birthday. Before he took me to intake, he went with his supervisor. He talked to his supervisor for thirty minutes. They didn’t take me through intake. He helped me out of the car and took off the handcuffs. He said it was mistaken identity. Same name, close middle name.
Martha: (I also think it was a case of somebody taking the care and time to get the right identity. And I believe part of that was this law enforcement officer had seen the commitment and professionalism of the Covenant Community staff and the order and seriousness of the Covenant Community ethos.)
Julius: (With a little smile) I guess they’re not supposed to say I’m sorry. He did take me to Gwinnett Place Mall, and another guy took me from there. The second officer said “Where do you need to get dropped off at?? I said,”Where y’all picked me up from.” And that’s just where he took me. And I walked in the door.
Johnathan: We had NO IDEA! In fact we were debriefing with the residents about what happened and asking them not to let this be a trigger for something not good and reaffirming our love and care for them. And then we were starting a conversation with staff to connect and console each. Other. And somebody screamed Julius is back!! I ran to see him walking in the door and said forget policies and procedures! I’m going to give you a hug!
Looking back, it was kind of a fire drill. A pretty big drill. Everybody knew what to do.
Julius: I felt blessed. I was aware that you know I can’t let that situation stop me or keep me from moving forward. Which I could have probably easily. And been mad. And looking at it too much. It’s still baffling as far as how they got my name or where I was or got that all mixed up and got a warrant for the wrong person and go through all that.
But thinking too much about that would stop me from moving forward.
So I use it as a learning experience as far as reiterating that anything can happen at any moment.
It boils down to choices – I could have easily gotten upset with the cop – I could have had another charge – obstruction – me knowing it’s not me – and making wrong choices due to my feelings. I used it as a real learning experience.
I made decisions and handled it in the best way I could have. And the outcome was the best outcome. And that’s that.
Martha: Two days later it was a great Spring Celebration for Covenant Community Senior Residents. The biggest ever.
Martha: Out of all the people in a room full of people God set me down right behind Julius’ mom. I said, “You must be proud of your son especially after this week.” She gently said, “this week?” I thought, uh-oh. He didn’t want to worry her and he didn’t tell her. And that was true. Later, Johnathan said to her, “Julius made good decisions in light of other people making bad decisions.” And that was the truth.
Julius: The Celebration is a time mark. The significance of being away for six months is life changing. Then the Celebration lets people who love the residents ‘come in’. Recovery is something you never graduate from. Anybody can always – whether they are on drugs or not – can always be in recovery, working on yourself, doing better. Being aware. Growing.
Johnathan: That day with Julius was a life-changing experience for the community. The other residents felt a greater safety and comfort that there are people here ready to stand up for them. And the staff understood even more deeply that we are here for one purpose. We are a family. If we are for each other no one can be against us.
Martha: And what I say is Happy Easter. Happy Resurrection. May you have Easter new life every day. And may you help others find new life, too. Because around this block, dear ones, that is why we are here.
Do you need to get outside of yourself? Or turn more deeply into your interior world? One leads to the other. Pray? Fast? Serve? They all circle around when done intentionally, attentively. Whatever way you Live Lent this year, know that the world so deeply needs intentional, attentive persons. How will you be one? It all adds up.
But the rest of us need some practice. We forget who we are and Whose we are. Here’s Kim Jackson on the subject:
In the Adult Formation series, “Preparing for Holy Days,” the participants learned from our Abrahamic cousins some new ways to prepare for Holy Week during Lent. Some might borrow from the Jewish tradition and take the time to offer sincere apologies to those in our lives whom we have offended. Since Lent is a season of repentance, how much deeper might our experience of this season be if we actually picked up the phone and repented for that time when we hurt a friend or brother?
In the Islamic tradition, Muslims dedicate a time for prayer FIVE times a day. What if we decided to pray five times a day during Lent? Would you run out of things to pray about? Or, would our hearts break open in new ways?
Several class participants shared different practices and disciplines that they’ve taken on over the years. We offer these as tried and tested ways of being present during Lent:
Subscribe (and READ) the All Saints’ Daily Lenten Meditations
Fast from one meal each day and use that time to pray instead of eating.
Pray family devotions each night using Compline. (Kim)
Unsubscribe from Social Media and replace it with meeting a friend once a week for face-to-face conversation.
What fits YOU??
Here are some other possibilities from the staff and vestry:
From Leighton Stradtman (vestry and search liason): “I’ll prepare for Lent by having a colonoscopy. (OKAY, LEIGHTON! That’s the spirit!) And each day during each day of Lent, I’ll fast (there’s that word, “Fast” again) from complaining and write a short note of gratitude to someone who has shaped my life.
(Also do you sometimes let the best be the enemy of the good? That fences you out.) Our treasurer Charlie Ogburn has modified his Living Lent through the years for what really works for him. He writes
I say the Lord’s Prayer silently to myself once a day.
I don’t finish any food placed in front of me. I can eat anything, but only 1/2 to 3/4 of what is on the plate.
Alcohol restriction: I tried to eliminate it completely, but that was too hard and awkward (business dinner: “why aren’t you having a glass of wine?”). So I allow a couple of days a week, which can be “borrowed” backward and forward.
Charlie adds, for me, fasting is about a daily (or hourly) reminder of our connection to God, And I lose about 10 pounds, which means all of my clothes fit for another year. And I REALLY celebrate Easter.
Here’s one more approach to fasting from Louisa Merchant through a Muslim community where she was working.
Louisa says, “I’ve never had a Lenten practice, but I did have a Ramadan one because I worked at a Muslim school and everyone fasted, even the little kids, and so, I of course, did too. I remember Ramadans as some of the happiest times at the school. Sure, it was hard to go all day without food, but that wasn’t nearly as noticeable as the palpable presence of a communal and abiding calm, a peace among the brethren that was so tangible it will almost barometric, not freezing but cold and so clear. This is what I wish for us this Lenten Season. A chance to feel the communal centering, to be encouraged by the presence of others who are going within and to not only find the still, silent voice in ourselves, but to find it most of all in our togetherness.”
One of my favorite beloved communities is the Cathedral Book Store.
Here’s Vestry member, John Frazer Giving Up Negative Thinking: “I will try to be more positive in thoughts in hopes that those will develop into my reality, Fake it, tell you make it. (John says he’s not sure faking it is a Lenten practice. I told him It DEFINITELY IS. Act your way, fake your way into a more authentic way of being in the world.)
Here’s a heartening note from Clay Jackson, the chair of the Rector Search Committee!
Besides giving up only soft drinks, which is hard for an Atlanta boy to do, I cannot honestly admit to an annual Lenten practice. I would tell you that after conversations with many amazing clergy over the past few months, I have experienced a bit of a spiritual awakening. I will try and nurture that feeling during this season.
I went visiting over at Midtown Assistance Center last week and Executive Director Dorothy Chandler, Olympic Gold Medal Winner of the Compassion Marathon (23 years at MAC!), mentioned a volunteer who brings in REALLY GOOD snack bags. He named the snack bags for his Aunt B! I don’t know the back story on that but may Aunt B be our muse. She passed along compassion somehow! And as George Eliot wrote, “What do we live for, if not to make life less difficult for one another?”
Nadia says “I volunteer with another member, Lisby Ritchie, when I can. I worked in wealth management in the past so it seemed almost like penance to give my time to poverty alleviation. It really is an incredible place and I truly enjoy the time I spend there, I have met so many people from so many walks of life that were able to use a little boost to get them back on their feet. I have been blessed in so many ways and and feel compelled to do something to give back and help make someone’s world a better place, this is my something:-)”
Nadia adds, “someone asked me just this week if I can give an example of what agape love looks like and I thought of Dorothy Chandler and the way she interacts and engages with some of the scruffiest looking clients you could imagine. She does so in a way that they feel dignified enough to keep returning even if their visit is limited just to a snack pack and a conversation with her at the door:”
Dorothy says that when she gets up and is getting ready, “I think about the people who come to MAC and tears come to my eyes. Not tears of sadness but tears of joy because we are doing something that matters. MAC helps.”
How do people become compassionate? Is compassion in your DNA?
Here’s another Compassion in the DNA story from Wendy Silliman.
Wendy writes, “one of my favorite MAC stories is that Dorothy Chandler is the one who came up with the initial idea for Threads! Back in 2003, an Ad Hoc Missions Committee led by Bob Miller was exploring new missions. Our first step was to investigate existing needs around the area. I called Dorothy to get her take on current community needs. She said that although MAC had a men’s clothing closet, no one had the space to house children’s clothing. As I then called other ministries, they agreed that a children’s clothing closet would be very helpful for the area. At the same time, the results of a parish forum and survey showed that All Saints wanted to do a new mission focusing on children and at or close to our block. Thus need met desire and of course, we had to put the All Saints twist on it and make it an upscale clothing boutique where we could clothe children in need with dignity.”
I think you can also catch compassion like a good cold. I know I have caught compassion down through the years from All the Saints.
I believe that compassion is in our DNA as children of God. And yes, compassion can be taught and caught. And as Jesus laid it on us in the beatitudes, compassion is often the hard and holy lesson of one’s own personal loss.
Here is blessed Naomi Shihab Nye on Kindness, aka Compassion.
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
How you ride and ride
thinking the bus will never stop,
the passengers eating maize and chicken
will stare out the window forever.
Before you learn the tender gravity of kindness
you must travel where the Indian in a white poncho
lies dead by the side of the road.
You must see how this could be you,
how he too was someone
who journeyed through the night with plans
and the simple breath that kept him alive.
Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.
One day complete justice and total mercy will kiss us into eternity. In the meantime, let us be a little strong and also be a little kind. That’s a good day’s work any day, every day.
Be kind. Be kind. Be kind. T’is the secret of life everlasting.
Above is a fabulous picture of Lynne Bryant (crowned) and her beloved sister, Melanie in about 1963. Lynne says, “This is for a Baptist girls club which helps young ladies to grow in the Kingdom of God. Melanie received her “Maiden” award that year and I received the ‘Queen’ award. See her shining eyes and mine closed!”
I’ve known Henry and Lynne Bryant through all the years I have been at All Saints’—not well but I knew that they quietly did good at the church and in this world and raised their kids to be strong and good people. Lynne told me this summer that her sister had become very sick very fast. Here is the story from Lynne with some gifts of courage and grace for you, I promise.
“My sister, Melanie, was diagnosed with glioblastoma—an aggressive,invasive form of brain cancer in July. In September we began daily trips to Georgia Radiation in Augusta, GA, so that she could receive 30 radiation treatments.
The first day there Melanie was able to hobble in using a walker. To our surprise the door popped open and a man welcomed us to the center. He seemed to be there every day. We thought that perhaps he worked there. About three weeks into the treatments, he came over as we sat in the clinic and introduced himself as “Allen.” We never found out whether he was Mr. Allen or Allen something else.
It seems that Allen had been an instructor for the US Army and had taught boxing to all the recruits. He said to Melanie, ‘Missus, I always tell the men to keep the gloves on and keep fighting ‘cause if you take the gloves off and stop fighting, it means the fight is over. So Missus, keep your gloves on!’
Allen was there the day she finished radiation and posed for pictures at the ringing of the bell ceremony traditional for radiation patients.
It turned out that he had fought cancer the year before and volunteered at the center as many days as he possibly could. Allen was unaware that he was actually one of God’s angels sent to give people hope.
Another one of the regulars—Jim- introduced himself while Melanie was in the treatment room. He told me the story of how his cancer had come back twice and this was his last chance with a second round of radiation. I told him that I was so sorry. “Oh, no!” he said. ‘God’s got my back. If he doesn’t heal me here, he will heal me up there (pointing to Heaven)!’ He walked down the hall repeating ‘God’s got my back!’ Jim was another angel for me.”
(Did you know that ‘angelos’ means messenger? An angel in our tradition is a messenger from God telling us God is with us and those we love and that God answers prayers. Sometimes the answer is just what we want, when we want. And sometimes the answer is not what we want but something deep inside us shifts, so that the situation does not change in the way we want it to, but we change. We change. And we trust. And that makes all the difference.)
“Melanie died in December, 2016. God’s got her back.”
Lynne says “God’s got her back.”
Even in the aftermath of great loss, Lynne said to me and writes to you that God has got her sister’s back. Sometimes it causes me to tremble—the troubles people go through, the kindness among strangers, the pain of loss, the power of hope, the trust that God has our backs. This matters so. Thank you Lynne and thank you saints.