Thankful for Helen and Eutha

by the Rev. Paul McLain


‘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?

10 thoughts on “Thankful for Helen and Eutha”

  1. As one who mentored EFM for many years, I truly understand the reactions of Helen and Eutha. I have to say that each and every one of those who studied while I was mentoring taught me much more than I ever learned from the material. It is the secret of teaching – being open to being taught. On this Thanksgiving Day, I am grateful to all of them – those who are with us and those who have died.

    1. Martin, thanks for your reflection. I agree that the secret of teaching is being open to being taught. Glad you are grateful for teachers and students, mentors and mentees in your life this Thanksgiving weekend.
      Love and Blessings,

  2. Thank You for this. Although I have worked hard at pairing down and trying to simplify my life, I have maintained mementos of teachers throughout my life. Those I called friends but in someway taught in ways to help me grow to be a better person. I can say a prayer or a special remembrance when view or touch those objects. Still sending love to each.

    1. David,
      So glad you have maintained physical reminders of teachers in your life. And glad your heart is filled with gratitude and love for these friends.
      Love and Thanksgiving Blessings,

  3. Thanks for sharing this, Paul. I remember my first Sunday school teacher, Mrs. Moody, at First Methodist in downtown Memphis. I still have the “Youth Bible” presented to me after completing her class.

  4. Paul,
    Thank you so much for sharing. I have fond memories of Lynwood Beers, a shoe salesman by day and my third and fourth grade Sunday School teacher at Woodmont Baptist in Florence, AL. He built a table-sized model of the Tabernacle with pillars, the veil, the inner sanctuary, and the Ark of the Covenant, and we spent weeks using it as we learned. We were mesmerized.

    I also have such fond memories of Lucille Martin, our Girls in Action leader at Woodmont. I was fortunate to be able to thank her in June of this year; she died last month. She and my mother were dear friends and sat next to each other in Woodmont’s choir for over 50 years, up until a few weeks before Lucille’s death.

    And then there was Sissy Carpenter, who had the most impact on my growing faith as a teen, even though we girls rolled our eyes that she made us wear one-piece bathing suits at youth events. She and I still keep up with each other.

    Thanks for helping me remember and give thanks for those, and many others, who helped me know what Christ’s love means.

    1. Julie,
      So glad this reflection shared up fond memories of Lynwood, Lucille, and Sissy. Glad it also stirred up feelings of gratitude for what each one of them means in your spiritual journey.
      Love and Blessed Advent,

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