In Joliet at Our Savior’s Episcopal Church, a favorite daughter, Doris Spaulding, was recently laid to rest. As I thought about her, many memories flooded my mind.
I served as pastor at Our Savior’s for more than 12 years, from the mid ’80s to late ’90s. The women there were phenomenal and steady as the Rock of Gibraltar. They all were hard workers, tremendous cooks, generous, kind and so supportive of the church, the community and each other.
Jo Hatten raised unbelievable dahlias. I had no idea at the time what a dahlia even was, but Jo’s were huge and bright. She had a plot the size of a driveway beside her house filled with spectacular blooms of every color, and often brought them to grace the altar for worship.
Barbara Warddrip could crochet anything. One time she designed and made an intricate altar cloth of linen with crocheted side panels filled with symbols of faith. It fit and hung perfectly. Who could do that today?
Betty Steinmetz, who worked at the Laurel oil refinery, was a tireless, feisty presence and advocate for not only the church but for those in need. She made sure that at every coffee hour there was something with protein, which I for one greatly appreciated.
Jo Bell, an accomplished pianist and organist, taught music. She came every Sunday for years — for decades — and provided accompaniment for hymns as well as special music week after week, to the delight of parishioners.
Gladys Dowell, who kind of reminded me of the Queen of England because she had such a quiet dignity and presence; Lillian Saffell; Betty Grewell (who is younger and still very much living); and others were forces to be reckoned with. And, of course, there was Doris, who served in most if not every position of leadership and as an active lay reader and Communion assistant.
Every Christmas Eve as I made my trek across Montana to do four services for the small churches I served, Doris would be waiting for me as I pulled up next to the church’s side door, slipped into my vestments with moments to spare, and walked in to begin the worship service as though I'd had all evening to get ready. She always had a gift of goodies for the evening, and often it was shortbread that was absolutely the best I have had (other than my mom’s).
I didn't realize at the time how privileged I was to be taken under the wing by these phenomenal women of faith. They held me in prayer. They supported me by attending faithfully every service, every class, the fellowship after church and countless other ways too numerous to remember.
As each of them has passed on, I have mourned. I would bet they had no idea how extraordinary they were, how powerful their witness of faith was and remains. They are representative of so many unsung heroes in faith communities throughout the world.
I am not very good at remembering names — there have been so many of them over the years. But these names I remember. I wanted to speak the names of these women out loud, to lift up their service and dedication.
Their little church building remains, but struggles as many tiny congregations do. But these women's gifts have sustained me and others. They are not forgotten. And it is hard to imagine anyone filling their shoes.
It reminds me that none of us can underestimate the power of faithful, mostly unrecognized and unrewarded service in the name of Jesus Christ. It gives me the courage and fortitude to keep on serving, trusting that God is working in often hidden ways to bring about the kingdom.
It also reminds me how important it is to celebrate heroes while we still have them with us, to eulogize (bless) the living, not just the dead.