“What We Need is More Saints” by Marjory Bankson

October 31, 2021, Observing All Saints Day

Because today is All Saints Day, I am going to depart a bit from my usual practice of working with the lectionary scriptures and, instead, tell some of the story of Seekers Church through the six people that we will be adding to our Memory Wall this year.  The number is larger than usual because we did not add any tiles to the wall last year because of the pandemic.

Many years ago, when Peter and I were shepherding a youth group at the Post Chapel in Ft. Benning, Georgia, somebody gave us an old copy of Faith At Work magazine. In it we found an article by Elizabeth O’Connor titled “What We Need is More Saints.” That is the title of my sermon today.

In it she wrote:

With Christians everywhere we need to throw away the maps which we have used in the past, to know that we have capacities that we have not exercised. What happens to people under the stimulation of the Holy Spirit is that they discover that they have been living far beneath that of which they are capable.

The essence of that article can be found in a late chapter of her book, Call to Commitment, titled “What the World Needs.” Perhaps it’s not surprising that the reflection paragraph which we used in our bulletin for recommitment season also came from that chapter – because it summarizes the challenge of call that we share as a Church of the Saviour community.

Fred Taylor, 1932-2019

Fred Taylor was a founder of Seekers Church, along with the co-founder he invited, Sonya Dyer. At that time, in 1976, Fred’s fulltime work was being the Director of FLOC (For Love of Children). He was deeply involved in the city’s foster-care system (such as it was) and had led the fight to close Junior Village, an overcrowded facility for Black children in Washington, DC. Sonya was the volunteer coordinator of FLOC volunteers, and many who became Seekers were involved with Hope and a Home, FLOC’s primary mission group for supporting families that took in foster children from Junior Village.

Fred’s FLOC office was in the Church of the Saviour building at 2025 Massachusetts Avenue, where he enjoyed a good working relationship with Gordon Cosby. Because most of the Church of the Saviour families with children came to the early service at 2025, it was an easy shift to make the early service the nucleus of Seekers Church.

Fred was an ordained Baptist minister who had graduated from Vanderbuilt and Yale Divinity School, and he wanted a place where he could preach again. Sonya believed that creative liturgy would shape spiritual formation, so together they made a great team.

The gradual shift from Fred as our primary preacher to the open pulpit that we have today began with Fred’s commitment to giving women a voice. In the early 80s, whenever he was to be away, Fred began asking various women to preach in his stead.

When Fred left Seekers in 1991, Celebration Circle recommended that we open the pulpit — first to a group of recognized preachers, and later to anyone who felt called to preach – the pattern which we now have. It’s become a mark of shared leadership at Seekers.

Fred Taylor was a saint who moved the city’s welfare system a notch closer to humane care for children and our church a step closer to gender equality.

Art Carpenter, 1937-2020

Art Carpenter was a spiritual seeker. He grew up in Western Maryland on a farm, and came to DC as an IT specialist. He took pride in his yearly demonstration of shearing sheep at the Montgomery County Fair, and was an early member of Celebration Circle mission group to offer his gifts and explore his own spiritual path through movement, clowning and work with the children.

Art became a core member (now Steward) in 1980 and was a steady presence there as core membership dipped to 11 in 1982, and then began to climb slowly toward 21 when he left in 1989. By then, Art had completed a 3-year training program with Jean Houston, and he was ready to move West, looking for a new adventure.

Peter and I kept in touch with Art as he landed in San Francisco, married a UCC pastor there, and moved to Port Townsend WA, where they offered spiritual companionship and retreat experiences for others. After Art died last January, Barb sent us a copy of the prayer which Art had been reciting every day:

Welcome. Welcome, welcome. I welcome everything that comes to me in this moment because I know it is for my healing. I welcome all thoughts, feelings, emotions, persons, situations and conditions. I let go of my desire for power and control. I let go of my desire for affection, esteem, approval and pleasure. I open to the love and presence of God and God’s action within.

Art’s prayer was very much in the spirit of our current class in the School for Christian Growth, focusing on the understanding that a stranger is simply a part of me that I do not know yet.

Art Carpenter was a saint who shared his passions with others.

John Schultz, 1939-2020

John is present with us every Sunday when we worship in the building, because he is the artist who designed and built the beautiful altar table, the lectern and the cross for our sanctuary.

We first knew John as a restless government worker and a passionate outdoorsman: hiking, canoeing and leading a yearly wilderness trek along one of northern Canada’ s great rivers. In the 80s, John and his wife, Kay, sponsored many informal parties at their local clubhouse – sociable times to dance and eat and kibbitz together with or without children.

In 1987, John applied for a Growing Edge grant to purchase a wood lathe. It was the first major piece of equipment for his new call as a woodworker. When he retired, they moved to …… Western Maryland and John gradually built a reputation for working WITH wood to make custom-designed pieces like the cross and communion table which he made for Seekers.

Many Seekers celebrated the arrival of the New Millenium with John and Kay. By then, we had said farewell to Manning and Sonya Dyer, and were beginning the renovation process in the building that is now our church home. Along with many others, the Year 2000 signaled an uncertain future. There was a HUGE bonfire outdoors, and we invited anyone who wanted to let go of something to add their piece to the flames. Afterwards, many of us spent the night in sleeping bags around the Schultz’s house, wondering what the next few years would bring.

John Schultz was a rebel saint with an eye for beauty and a hand for skilled craftsmanship.

Jeffrey Silverstone, 1959-2021

Jeffrey came to Seekers through his marriage to Margreta in 1992, when he promised to support her call to this community. As an IT specialist working for the Federal Government, Jeffrey was an “early adapter” to the internet and he built our first website as a gift to Seekers. Because he was able to anticipate different uses for the data, his original design carried us far into this burgeoning world of internet opportunities. I remember the care that he took with that, because he also built a website for Faith@Work, where I was working then.

After both Margreta and Jeffrey participated in a work-pilgrimage to Guatemala, they adopted Ozy and arrived with their new baby at our first Christmas gathering here at Seekers – a live “holy family” and a long-awaited blessing. Many of us made squares for Ozy’s baby quilt.

Because Jeffrey and Margreta were also enthusiastic participants in local folk-music and folk-dancing groups, they were also regulars at our monthly sing-alongs, and later, active supporters of Carroll Café here at Seekers. Those of us who live in this area also enjoyed Jeffrey every year on July 4th, when he led the parade down the main streets of Takoma Park dressed as Uncle Sam.

Although he never joined Seekers himself, Jeffrey was a valued and visible member of our life here and an active saint in this community.

Dave McMakin, 1934-2021

Like Jeffrey, Dave McMakin came to us “through marriage.” He was not a joiner, but he believed deeply in service. Dave was a management specialist with USAID, so his organizational skills were well-developed. Married to his high school sweetheart, Jackie, the two of them enjoyed a lifetime of service stints in other countries, beginning with Korea.  He also enjoyed planning their trips down to the last detail, especially their hiking and biking adventures in Europe.

In 1996, Dave and Jackie participated in Seekers first overseas trip to accompany healthcare workers in the highlands of El Salvador. Later, he and Jackie spent a month there, helping Dr. Vicky Guzman’s staff to organize their headquarters for the many different missions that they had.  They also spent extended time in Mexico and Winterveld, South Africa.

When we moved to this building, in 2004, Dave recognized the need for a volunteer group to do routine maintenance. I believe he was the one who coined the name, “Martha’s Mob,” as a sly twist on the usual religious preference for Mary’s devotional stance. “Somebody’s got to do the practical stuff,” he said with a twinkle in his eye. And to this day, Dave Lloyd has continued the quarterly gatherings of Martha’s Mob to keep our building spruced up and lights working as we would our own homes. (As a side note here, Martha’s Mob was one of those places where Jeffrey and Ozy Silverstone made a regular contribution, replacing any burned-out light bulbs in the building each quarter.)

Dave McMakin was a practical saint who was always willing to lend a helping hand.

Kenny Shaw 1928-2020

Finally, Kenny Shaw came to us off the streets in 2011, when he was about 84 years old. Invited here by Jake Folger and Will Ramsey, Kenny quickly became a steady presence at the front door, welcoming everyone who came here for Circle Time. He understood the give and take of community life, and regularly came during the week to pick up the back parking lot and sweep the front sidewalk. Trish reported to Stewards that Kenny would be upset if she and Pat were late picking him up for church, because he also wanted to sweep the front sidewalk before worship. He wanted us to look our best for the Sunday service.

In exploring what government services that he might qualify for, the SLT learned that Kenny was considered “undocumented,” and so our work became one of sheltering him from deportation as well as finding medical help when he needed it. The first task was getting him some dentures, so he could move beyond a soft diet. Trish spent many days on that project, and we celebrated when Kenny was able to enjoy a real meal at Mark’s Kitchen.

Kenny was a man of deep faith, and he always appreciated the visits and cards from other Seekers when he landed in the hospital. In many ways, Seekers became his family — and he gave us an experience of loving beyond the legal hurdles that our government has placed on immigrants.

Kenny was a saint who stretched our boundaries in the direction that Jesus led, to feed the hungry and clothe the naked, to visit the sick and care for those at the margins.

Today we celebrate All Saints Day, and we celebrate these men who have been saints among us, from Fred Taylor to Kenny Shaw, showing us how to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God.” Each one will have a commemorative tile on the Memory Wall in the back stairwell.

Here at Seekers, may we continue to learn and grow toward the goodness God has promised, here, now, and in the world to come.

What the world needs now is more saints!

Amen.

"The Wisdom of the Widows" by Erica Lloyd
"Mercy and Sight" by Margreta Silverstone