‘I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.’ – Ephesians 1:16
During these days when our thoughts turn to Thanksgiving, Ruthie and I are especially thankful for two people who were very formative in our journey. They were our Sunday School teachers when we were children, Helen Wall and Eutha Davis. Helen taught the girls’ and Eutha the boys’ classes for many years at Monticello, Mississippi, Baptist Church. They were always there for us each Sunday and brought a joyful presence as we learned the Christian story together.
Even at that age, Ruthie, a budding attorney, often disagreed with the Sunday School curriculum materials. She would challenge her teacher by saying, “Mrs. Wall, that’s not what my Bible says.” When other girls in the class would defend the answers in the printed Sunday School booklet, Helen would say, “Now, now,” and give space for Ruthie to make her points (with which Helen would often agree!) Ruthie remembers Helen’s kindness and her spirit of fun in not knowing what the girls might say at any moment. Helen’s openness invited Ruthie to explore different paths in her spiritual journey that ultimately led her to find a home in the Episcopal Church.
Eutha Davis thoroughly enjoyed his profession as a jeweler during the week, but he seemed most alive when he taught us boys during Sunday School. Like Helen, Eutha gave us space to ask hard questions as our young minds grappled with complex ideas like the Trinity, sin and grace, and how we should live. He took our thoughts seriously, and we felt respected and embraced. Eutha became a God-presence in our lives at that early age, and I still think of him when I imagine “God the Father.”
Diana Butler-Bass, a former Memphian and a favorite Calvary Lenten Preaching Series speaker, wrote about the gift of being able to thank her mentor, Phyllis Tickle, before Phyllis died in 2015. Diana reflected, “Phyllis knew the connection between work and thanks. On more than one occasion, I watched her leave a meeting or conference room to go and pray. She would step out briefly, open a book, utter a few ancient words, and come back into the group – often picking up exactly where she had left off. As a mentor, she taught me many things. None, however, struck so close to the heart as her natural habit of giving thanks in prayer.”
Ruthie called Helen recently to thank her for being her teacher and for the role she played in Ruthie’s spiritual journey. I could hear the smile in Helen’s voice as she and Ruthie reminisced. I also got a chance to thank Eutha before he died. We ran into each other in a drugstore in Monticello not long before Eutha died. He remembered we made him stay up late on Saturday nights, preparing for the hard questions we boys would ask him on Sunday mornings. It meant a lot to Ruthie and me to express our gratitude to Helen and Eutha. But remembering these teachers and mentors also challenges us to reflect on how we can better invest our lives in others, especially young people.
Who is the Helen, Eutha, or Phyllis in your life? How would you like to thank them?