By Jessica Brodie
FLORENCE—Lifting up 38 saints who have gone before us into God’s eternal Kingdom, the Rev. Patricia J. Parrish brought a word about remembering God’s “remarkable words of promise” even in our grief.
“Today we are so very thankful that God has shared these saints with all of us and that we are the church together,” Parrish said, drawing from John 14:1-3 in her message. “We will not forget their stories; their names are inscribed upon our hearts. And we will not forget God’s story, the story that reminds us what God has done for us in Jesus Christ.
Thirty-eight clergy, spouses, surviving spouses and others were honored during the Tuesday afternoon service during Annual Conference at the Florence Civic Center.
Parrish, outgoing Charleston District superintendent, spoke about how, when she learned she would be preaching the memorial service, she began to think about the power of words and which word she would choose to bring.
“I began to search for some remarkable words, a word that would somehow wash over all of us like a healing bath, some word that would enable us to feel the weight of grief just being lifted away, some remarkable way to express the deep appreciation of this body for those we have come here to remember and honor today,” Parrish said. “I do not have such words.
“But I will tell you that God has those words.”
Then she shared the story of a Liberian warrior who left his pregnant wife and four sons and went off to fight, spear and shield in his hands. Time passed, and the unborn baby was born and grew into a 4-year-old boy, and still his father had not returned. Finally, that child began to ask repeatedly where his father was, and his older brothers organized a lengthy search. When they finally found his lifeless form, they began to pray, and as they clasped hands and their prayers deepened and intensified, their father’s body miraculously began to take shape again, and then their father’s reshaped form breathed, and he stood and greeted his sons.
A week later, at the village celebration, the father presented his youngest son with a special gift in gratitude for his restoration.
“You, my child, have restored my life because you are the one who asked the question, ‘Where is my father?’ It was you who would not forget,” Parrish said.
Parrish told the body the people of Liberia believe no one is really dead as long as they are remembered—and the 38 saints honored at the Annual Conference Memorial Service today will never be forgotten.
“Their stories connect us. They take us back to God,” Parrish said—like the laugh of one that will never be forgotten, or the letters to the editor and prophetic voice for racial reconciliation of another
“We are here today because we are all a part of God’s family,” Parrish said. “We are the church. And we are here today to acknowledge what it means to grieve and what it means to believe in the resurrection of the dead.”
Parrish said someone who had lost her husband once described grief as losing all her air—but that very same woman said she also learned that when life sucks you under, you can kick against the bottom, break the surface and breathe again. Stories and memories help, and the promises of God help most of all.
“For me, grief is like walking through the valley of the shadow of death,” Parrish said. “It’s the season in our lives when we move from the depths of darkness into varying shadows of light. … As we move through the days of our lives, through days that are perfunctory, when all we can feel is numbness and pain, but when we go into that valley we carry those stories with us, don’t we?”
We are the church, and we are students of the Scripture, Parrish told the body.
“Wherever we go, the story of God’s love goes with us,” she said. “And that story speaks words that comfort beyond human ability. Words that remind us over again … God is with us. We are not alone.”
Choosing Jesus is choosing life, choosing to go on. And as we go on, we remember,
During the service, the Clergy Choir of the South Carolina Annual Conference lifted the Lord and His promises in song. The Rev. Neil M. Yongue read Psalm 116:12-19 and Revelation 7:9-17 as Scripture lessons. Bishop Jonathan Holston led the body in the affirmation of faith, the Apostles Creed.
Then, at the close, a bell rang and loved ones stood as Bishop Holston lifted each saint’s name before the body.
Active ministers honored during the service were Robert Christopher Barrett and Edwina Juliette Williams.
Retired ministers honored were Eugene Holland Bedenbaugh, Douglas Arthur Bowling, George Raymond Cousar, Harry Mulford Goewey, Betty Sue Griffin, Franklin Herman Johnson, William Randolph Kinnett, George Alfred McClenan, Edward Donald McKinney, Joseph Robert Nicholson Sr., Lewis Carroll Pope Jr., Fred Mortimer Reese Jr., Dwight Moody Smith Jr., Woodrow Marshall Smith, Norris McDonald “Don” Swett, William Joseph Vines and Seth W. Williams.
Spouses honored were Betty Wilson Alewine, Judy Risinger Benton, Iris Faye Cothran, Patricia Jenkins Cross, Barbara Rate Davis, Betty Howell Ratliff Lewis, Jackie Jennings Morris, Sherry Prater Murphy, Alice Patricia “Patty” Padgett, Hazel Marie Abercrombie Templeton and Bernard Issac Timmons.
Surviving spouses honored were Helen Hutto Brabham, Carolyn Crenshaw, Olivia Rayfield Davis, Mildred Kennerly Hendrix, Agnes Dawsey Rogers, Dorothy Coker Way and Bernice Martin Wright.
Mary Jo Chreitzberg Reese Brodie was also honored during the service.