Beauty in the darkness: Memorial service remembers 39 who passed on

By Jessica Connor

“Listen to your life,” preached the Rev. Kitty Holtzclaw. “See it for the fathomless mystery that it is, in the boredom and pain of it no less than the excitement and gladness. Touch, taste and smell your way to the holy, hidden part of it. Because in the last analysis, all moments are key moments, and life itself is grace.”

That was the message brought by Holtzclaw during a memorial service during Annual Conference that celebrated the lives of 39 souls who passed on since last June.

In a sermon titled “Family Stories,” Holtzclaw talked about how her mother, who died earlier this year, considered her worn black leather Bible her prized possession. She would underline passages intensely and diligently, and up until her passing, Holtzclaw would often call her mother to ask where she could find a particular story or verse.

As a child, that Bible was set on the coffee table in the parlor, and Holtzclaw would often marvel that anytime something important would happen—a birth, death or marriage—it would be recorded in the Bible. It always baffled her that someone would do this. But curiosity piqued in her young mind.

“Then one day I asked, ‘Is my name in there?’ And it was!” Holtzclaw recalled.

Today, Holtzclaw calls the Bible “our faith family scrapbook”—our family story of what God has done and is doing from creation through eternity.

Every one of our names is written down in God’s big book, she said. We’re all part of God’s vision, His holy plan for creation—us, and our loved ones who have passed on to the Church Triumphant.

“It’s my story and your story and it’s our story,” she said. “Now I can find my place and you can find yours in that grand story of how God is saving the world.”

Holtzclaw noted how the Bible details a journey from garden to city, but it doesn't move in a straight line. The people—sometimes faithful, sometimes not—wander through the wilderness, become slaves, become free, become slaves again, meet their Savior, reject their Savior, realize their mistake and establish Christ’s church. Our lives are the same way: not such a straight path. But in the end, Jesus always wins. And our loved ones who have left this life stand now in the Kingdom, living into the dream, resting in the arms of the Father.

She talked about how recently she walked the prayer labyrinth at Lake Junaluska with a group of confirmands, and somehow, the message of our life’s journey and the importance of paving the way for those who come after us really hit home.

“While our journey seems solitary, it is not,” Holtzclaw said. “Even in the times we think we journey alone, we are not. We all walk the same path. Every step I took was upon the step of another and another and another that had worn the path down to the earth. … In the labyrinth I could not see the way my steps were paving the way for the next; neither can we see how our lives pave the way for the next stepping into it.”

Those who have gone before us pave the way for our own steps, Holtzclaw said.

It doesn’t mean we won’t have our share of false steps: “Being God’s people doesn't prevent us from disappointments.”

But it does give the promise we will not be overwhelmed or consumed by those disappointments. The darkness will not consume us. Rather, we will be able to see the beauty in the darkness, and know fully that we can rely on God.

“As you go through the times of darkness, look for the treasures that can only be found in the dark,” Holtzclaw said in close, noting like the stars in the sky, both Manna in the wilderness and Joseph’s dreams came in the dark. “Remember this—remember our God is the one in whom darkness is not dark at all and night is as bright as day.”

And while the weight of grief may keep us pinned to our spots, God is calling us to walk on, understanding our loved ones are standing in the light of Christ.

Those 39 souls celebrated at the memorial service passed on since the last Annual Conference. They include active ministers Deloris Tart Inman, Charles Ernest Summey Jr. and Cynthia Louise Swofford.

Retired ministers: Charles Martin Blackmon, Barry Franklin Brisbon, Dorothy Nell Cobb Culp, Charles Loney Dunn, Foster Barney Fowler Jr., Thomas Caroll Gilliam, John Patrick Griffith, Ernest Marvin Heape Sr., Kinsler Boyd Mack Sr., Roosevelt Montravel McFadden, Melvin Eugene Mullikin, Jack Ewell Ray, Richard Edward Seignious, Angelin Jones Simmons and Theodore Brandon Thomas Jr.

Spouses: Ruth Delores James Adams, Brenda Kay Ivey Brown, Martha Peterson Coble, Carnella Arthur Frazier, Ralph Terry Ray, Dorothy Peach Reese, Luretha Perry Thomas and Doris Tooke Wofford.

Surviving Spouses: Lucy Eleanor Waldrop Boozer, Edneta J. Conner, Betty Bacot Stall Mullikin, Mabel Guyton Parrott, Eloise Deaton Perry, Ernestine Williams Robinson, Ethel Lee Lewis Rogers, Margaret Davis Rogers, Louise Mack Singletary, Eunice Horne Williamson and Mary Alice Parkman Wilson.

Others: Oneida Soler Floyd and Catherine Roberta “Dot” Forrester.

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