Saturday, September 26, 2009

Love Is the Theme

A diverse gathering of folks from 23 states brought musicians, teachers, university administrator and professors, prison teacher, doctors, housewives, preachers, nurses, sales people, office workers, farmers, banker, dentist, computer specialists, journalists, social workers, and no telling what else together again. Most are now retired or semi-retired. Hugs, the loud chatter of nearly 100 voices catching up on news with friends, beautiful music, a few tears, and lots of laughter for two days is both exhilarating and exhausting. Despite our diversity, we were unified by our love for each other and for Jesus and his teachings.

Our 87-year-old leader was there with short curly hair from her recent chemo. She said the illness might have slowed her down physically but mentally she was still in good shape. Most significant to us, her incredible sense of humor was functioning in top form. Maybe I should say her outrageous sense of humor. Only Helen Green Galloway could get away with the constant quips, digs, barbs, and quick-witted responses that she serves up in her unique style each year. I am sure the young man across from me at the supper table was as amazed by her as we all are when he described her master-of-ceremony style as fabulous. Her humor makes it easy to forget the hours of hard work (physical and mental) she has done for all of us for the past seven years after she replaced the late Maurice Swinford as president.

We were gathering for the annual reunion of alumni from Southern Illinois University Carbondale from the 1940s, 50s, and 60s who once upon a time participated in the activities of what then was called Baptist Student Union. This event started with four or five couples who somehow got together one morning over donuts while someone had a garage sale. That story always includes the explanation that the late Bob Hastings passed on the donuts to eat Rinnie Spencer’s cornbread left over from the night before. They had so much fun that they decided to meet annually. The crowd soon outgrew their homes. This year we met in Carbondale, and Thursday evening was in the Baptist Student Center to acquaint us with activities available for today’s collegiates.

Helen plans for the opening gathering to be a fun evening. This year featured four clowns who had us laughing hysterically as we sang along with them. We did sober up for serious and inspiring remarks by Chase Abner and Linda Auxier although Helen could not resist flirting with good-looking Chase. We enjoyed the lovely music by the Korean Singers under the leadership of Yunduk Kim, and we were also rewarded with the annual vocal selections by Jim and Rosie Robinson.

The next morning we met early for breakfast and more visiting at the University Baptist Church. There we were greeted with recycling bins in the back parking lot. Signs on the hall walls pointed the way to the food pantry, the clothing closet, the library. Folks were coming and going to reap those benefits, and our group joined in directing people to the help spots. Mid-morning we moved to the dignified sanctuary with windows of blue and red and bits of yellow that I remembered from my college days. On the outside, the windows are quietly dark and subdued; I had forgotten how lovely that sanctuary was with light flowing through those windows.

Now we were treated to a concert directed by Rayford Raby by the New Chapel Singers. Their music always seems incredible since they have only two rehearsals during our reunion. But Rayford is a director with both extraordinary ability and good-nature, and many of the singers are gifted musicians. Rayford’s wife Martha helps make sure everything goes smoothly for the group, and Helen Ruth Dillow accompanies with grace and talent. Don Dillow made us think deeply as we commemorated those who had died this past year, and Doris Taylor Bush filled the sanctuary with her gorgeous piano medley as we reflected on lives well spent.

During our two days, we listened to our fellow attendees tell stories of a mobile feeding unit working near ground zero for eleven months in New York City, teaching GED classes in the inner city, teaching college classes in a women’s prison, helping clean up after storms, taking medical care to other nations, roofing homes of needy folk, and, of course, how delightful their grandchildren and great grandchildren were--with photos to illustrate.

After a bountiful noon meal, we heard an inspiring sermon by Nate Adams urging us to be the conduits of God’s love flowing down from the mountain top to thirsty humanity. Then we had to say goodbye.

Next year we will meet at the First Baptist Church of Vandalia since Helen recruited Ginger Wells from there to be our new president. Helen does intend to continue the newsy website she started for us. Her servant mentality reflects what we were all taught by parents, leaders, and pastors long gone from this earth, but who were brought to mind as we met with those we’d shared our youth with. Gerald will be relieved as secretary-treasurer by Rosie Robinson, Ginger’s college roommate, so Ginger said they knew they could work together. Helen also has the ability to get others to do what she wants them to do. Hence, I am blogging about our reunion again this year.

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