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.