How the Doggrells got to St. Paul’s

Joan’s birthday dinner, November 2017

For all of our lives, Don and I have belonged to an Anglican or Episcopal church. However, until we came to St. Paul’s, neither of us could claim a profound commitment to the Christianity that the church represents. The people of St. Paul’s have changed all that.

We were born, baptized, confirmed, and married in the Anglican Church of Canada. We immigrated to the USA in 1962, and brought our first child back to Canada to be baptized in the same church we were married in. But thereafter we became Episcopalians.

Over the years and in different cities, we have stayed connected to the Episcopal Church. We made sure each of our four boys was baptized and confirmed. However, getting them to church clean, dressed and on time was a challenge we did not always meet. I sang in choirs whenever I could. Don served on the vestry at All Saints in Las Vegas, Nevada where I taught Sunday School. We tried, but I can’t say our commitment went very deep. I was getting the college education I had missed. Don was busy with hockey and Cub Scouts and eventually went back to school himself. So for those and other reasons, church took a back seat in our lives.

In Huntsville, Alabama, where Don took a new job in 1985, we attended the Nativity Episcopal Church for awhile. They had a great choir, but no one in the congregation bothered to speak to Don. Thus we joined St. Matthew’s, a small storefront church in Madison, a Huntsville suburb. Shortly thereafter, Don went off to Saudi Arabia for four years, not an ideal place to practice Christianity – at least not openly. I stayed in Madison and donated “sweat equity” toward the construction of St. Matthew’s church building.

After Don’s return from Saudi Arabia, we landed in Dallas, Texas, where we ran smack into the gay controversy. The congregation of St. Nicholas had made it their mission to oppose the national church for ordaining a gay bishop. For the first and only time, we formally resigned from a parish. Sadly, in the Dallas diocese, there was no Episcopal church that did not espouse the same views, so for awhile we were unchurched. But not for long, as we were transferred to Atlanta within months.

In Atlanta, I joined the choir of St, Martin’s-in-the-Field, and Don attended there too. After two years, I was laid off, Don retired, and we decided to make our home in Newnan. This, at last, brings us to St. Paul’s, where we hope to stay for the rest of our lives.

We were met at the door by Dawn and Bill Harrison. I jokingly say “accosted” because Dawn tried to drag me downstairs to sing with the choir that very day. It felt good to be wanted.

Choir didn’t start off so well. The director took an hour and a half to tell the sad saga of why he was resigning. But I was not deterred. Every Wednesday and Sunday, I stood beside Dawn and followed her perfectly pitched alto notes and knew I was there to stay.

We found everyone at St. Paul’s friendly and welcoming, made several friends, and at last felt a true sense of belonging. But we didn’t know just what a treasure we had stumbled upon until Don got sick. Really sick. His illness became obvious on Christmas Eve of 2015. He was Vestry member of the day. Trying to lock up, he realized he could hardly stand. Son Jim and I helped him to the car. Fast forward to the ER. I called Lee Daniel, who called Bill Tudor, who called Father Allen. He prayed, and we all laid hands on Don. Lee and Bill stayed until Allen told them to leave.

On arrival, Don had been given an EKG. It seemed that when they found out he was not having a heart attack, medical personnel became very scarce. Allen sat with us for hours. Finally he had to leave to be able to conduct the service Christmas morning.

The wee hours got larger and larger. At last Don was admitted, and Jim drove the two of us home in a violent rain storm.

Don was diagnosed with a huge abscess in his abdominal wall. He was septic and spent the next fifteen days in the hospital on heavy antibiotics. This was a scary time for us both. But we weren’t alone. Don had loads of visitors, including the entire Vestry who left their retreat to drop in unannounced.

When Don was finally released, he was ordered to go every day to an infusion center for more antibiotics. I was teaching full time at West Georgia Technical College. I couldn’t get him there without quitting my job. So Linda Tudor organized a group to take turns driving him. Lee Daniel, Bill Tudor, John Abbey, Bill Harrison, Ron Wilson … these are names I remember. And frequent visitors appeared at our home bearing hot meals and flowers.

Don recovered, but the abscess formed again a year later. I found him helpless on the bathroom floor. He’d been there for five hours. When the ambulance arrived at the hospital, Lee Daniel and Bill Tudor were waiting. This time the abscess was removed surgically, and it hasn’t returned. The eight-inch incision took many months to heal. But heal it did.

I can’t possibly express the gratitude I feel for all that these wonderful people did for us. All I can say is that Jesus is no longer an abstraction for me. He lives at St. Paul’s.

The Rev. Becca Stevens’ Address to St. Paul’s

By Joan Doggrell

On May 19, a lovely Sunday afternoon, approximately 80 people gathered in the nave at St Paul’s Episcopal Church to hear from The Reverend Becca Stevens, author and founder of Thistle Farms, a social enterprise aimed to empower women who have been abused. She talked about a subject many of us would rather avoid; women who live on the streets. Her talk was anything but a downer, though; she focused on the help that her ministry offers to women willing to accept it.

The organization she founded in 1997, Magdalene, offers much more than food and shelter; it provides medical and dental care, therapy, and an opportunity to contribute to their own support and learn marketable skills while encouraging residents to leave the streets and the habits that keep them there. Resident women manufacture, package and market natural home and personal care products, everything from bug-spray to bath salts. The income from the sale of these products provides 70 percent of the support of Magdalene.

The women – they call themselves survivors — are especially proud of their candles, not only for their quality but also for their symbolism.

Ty, one of the graduates of the program, told us the women light a candle every morning for women on the street who have not found their way home yet. The candlelight, like a beacon, welcomes them home. Ty had been homeless for eight years living rough on the streets. Now, she has a driver’s license, a car (which she is proud of the deal she got on it by the way,) and has earned her GED. She is ready to live on her own with dignity, safety, and self-respect.

After hearing from Ty, Becca herself, who is also a survivor, spoke. She was sexually abused from age five. She remarked on how hard it is to talk about an abusive sexual history. Even though abuse is not the fault of the victim, there is such sense of shame and self-loathing associated with being a victim that many bury it deep in their psyche leaving their personalities less than whole.

Becca’s talk was organized around a song and dance we all associate with childhood fun: “The Hokey Pokey.” According to Becca, it was written to make fun of the “hocus-pocus” that priests appear to be engaged in at the altar. As a priest herself, she thinks the song and its history are hilarious. She also sees it as a metaphor for the healing process. She mentioned bazaars, dear to the hearts of youth and women’s groups as money makers. She pointed out that in terms of economics, they are extremely inefficient. People make things at their own expense, then sell them to each other. They might have more profitably thrown their money in a pot and saved all the effort. But that’s not the point. People put themselves into the things they make.  As the song says, they “put their whole selves in,” and that is much better than a simple cash donation.

Then comes the line, “Shake it all about.”

“The disciples went out from the Last Supper and shook up the world,” Becca said. Another part of shaking things up is letting it go, “it” being fear, anger, shame, bitterness. She told us another part of Ty’s story. Ty had been safe at Thistle Farms, working, paying taxes. Then she was arrested on an old warrant. Despite Becca’s testifying to the fact that she had turned her life around, the District Attorney made her serve a jail sentence of three years. When she returned to Thistle Farms, she just wanted to keep pouring candles and forgive. When asked how she kept up her spirit through her ordeal, she said “I knew loving friends were waiting for me.” The candle in the window was still burning.

“We must have the courage to speak of the unspeakable,” said Becca. We must shake it up and let it go.

Becca founded Thistle Farms in 1997 with five women who had experienced trafficking, violence, and addiction. Now, according to Thistle Farm’s website, “the Global Market of Thistle Farms helps employ more than 1,800 women worldwide, and the national network has more than 40 sister communities.”

A place such as Thistle Farms is “a mission with a church, not a church with a mission,” a place to “turn yourself about.”

Becca told us of an especially difficult set of circumstances in 2017, at the height of the refugee crisis, where her group was able to turn things about. Desperate women were frequently stuck in refugee camps such as a notorious one in Greece. The men would leave to find new lives in Europe, but the women and children were often left behind. Without fathers, brothers or husbands as protectors, they were vulnerable to human trafficking. Philanthropic organizations find it extremely difficult to get into such camps to help, but with financial support from Wendy Schmidt (whose husband is the former Executive Chairman of Google) Becca’s group was able to organize five women who used their weaving skills to earn much-needed money for necessities not provided in the camp, such as dental work and fresh food. They wove welcome mats from the blankets and life jackets they had used on the crossing over the Mediterranean, where so many others had lost their lives. They sold the mats, trained other women, and were eventually reunited with their husbands.

Becca quoted Jolie Varela, founder of Indigenous Women Hike, who said in an interview, “The healing of a community begins with its women.”

“Love is the most powerful force in the world because love has the power to heal,” says the Thistle Farms mission statement.

Isn’t it time we “turned ourselves about?”

Visit Thistle Farm’s website to learn more about Becca’s accomplishments, vision, and the wonderful products you can order. Oh, and you can also donate here.

Hazel Glover: Peregrina

Her Second Journey on the Camino de Santiago

Interviewer: Joan Doggrell

In April of 2019, shortly after a strenuous Holy Week and Easter Day, our Priest-in-Charge made her second journey to Spain to walk the Camino de Santiago.

In a sense, she was continuing the pilgrimage she and her daughter began 5 years earlier. At that time they hiked 300 of the 500 miles on the Camino Francis route to Santiago. After arriving at the famous cathedral containing the bones of St. James the Apostle, attending the Pilgrims’ mass (complete with the giant thurible swinging incense), they were awarded pilgrims’ certificates. That year marked the 800th anniversary of St. Francis’ pilgrimage to Santiago so the 2014 certificates were unique to that year. However, the most profound moment for Hazel was not the pilgrims’ mass but hiking up to the Iron Cross on Rabanal. “We arrived at the cross just as day broke. Each stone at the base of the cross represented either a person who had died or prayers for the living. The power of those prayers represented by the stones was palpable. I felt like I was standing in the midst of the communion of saints.”

“The slate trail down Rabanal was very steep and it was raining. I didn’t slip but I was so tense that my back seized up.” By the time they hiked to Ponferrada they decided that they should not attempt to conquer the next mountain. They skipped O’Cebrerio riding the train to Sarria.

Hazel was determined to go back one day and hike the leg of the Camino from Ponferrada to Sarria. She got that chance in 2019 as she and her son, Patrick, spent two weeks on the trail, picking up the trail at Ponferrada. “I was so glad I’d been there before, because I knew the lay of the land. Just showing the beautiful landscape to Patrick was fun.”

There were other advantages to making the trip for the second time. “My focus on this portion of the Camino shifted to focusing on the journey rather than the destination, walking slowly without worrying about how many miles we were clocking, sleeping 100% of the time in private pensions or hotels as opposed to the bunk-filled albergues. Martha and I were walking two to thirteen miles a day. Patrick and I didn’t walk more than four hours in any given day. I just wanted to soak it all in – which we did.”

“We spent the first night in Ponferrada, and then we began our walk to O’Cebrerio.” ‘’

From there Hazel and Patrick made their way over a lot of mountainous terrain to Sarria. On the way they visited the ancient Castle of the Templars. They spent two nights in Sarria, then took the train into Santiago, a first visit for Patrick.

“The spiritual experiences weren’t just in churches but in nature. Just hearing your footfalls on the road was holy. We walked in silence often. There is nothing to think about, nothing to worry about except where you will eat and sleep. The most difficult moments were seeing dogs and their owners in villages or along the route because my dog was at home.”

“We met pilgrims along the way, in these little cities. When we met some folks from Canada. I asked them if they were from Newfoundland where Lesley (our parish administrator) was born and raised. They replied ‘Oh no. That’s not really Canada.’”

They were from Ontario. (If you are Canadian, that explains everything.)

“Atop O’Cebreiro we met one Canadian marathon runner and hiker. He said he didn’t sleep for the first two weeks because he had stayed in albergues. The snoring and body noises combined with jet lag contributed to his exhaustion.”

Just as the Iron Cross was a sacred experience for Hazel in 2014, this year being in the hamlet of O’Cebrerio was profound. “I am still processing the spiritual impact of O’Cebreiro and the ancient church of Santa María la Real (dating from 836) on my soul.”

“We spent several nights in Santiago exploring the city. We attended the pilgrims’ mass that had been moved to San Francisco parish because the cathedral was undergoing internal renovations. To be in the midst of pilgrims who had traveled together and some who had met on the road was energizing. Additionally, we spend time hanging out in the courtyard of the Cathedral de Santiago watching as pilgrims arrived at the end of their pilgrimage.”

Patrick and Hazel arrived in Madrid on Saturday night, May 5th. On Sunday, Cinco de Mayo, they googled Mexican restaurants. “Finding one, we took an Uber into the city for a couple of margaritas and nachos.”

“I return to St. Paul’s with my heart full and my soul refreshed.” Buen Camino