Enter Into Joy: Grandma Alleyne, 1906-2006

My great-grandmother Alleyne died last week. Her funeral was yesterday. She had the kind of death most people would hope for: peacefully, in her sleep, under the care of her children and hospice professionals, following a brief decline at the end of a long, full life.

Mom wasn't sure she was going to go to funeral, having been at her 100th birthday party just months before. But then my great aunt asked my father to perform the service, so that was that.

My grandmother would be the family matriarch now, had she not predeceased her mother by eight years. There's always something wrong about a child dying before her parent, even if the child in question in is her 70s.

I think this colors our grieving now: we grieve the present loss, and also the more distant one that has the effect that Grandma Marjorie is not around to step up to the plate and take charge of the arrangements. Not that her baby sister and co. haven't been handling things with grace, but Marjorie would have been a natural. The consummate firstborn and churchwoman extraordinaire, she knew how to "do" a funeral. She also knew how to care for the dying. So it makes me a bit wistful to think of how she couldn't be at her mother's bedside during those last days -- but then I think of her (and her brother David, who died decades earlier) welcoming Mama home, and I smile to think of Grandma Alleyne's children ushering her through the threshold between earth and heaven from both sides.

I did not know my great-grandmother very well -- I only recall meeting her three or four times, usually in the context of large family gatherings among a swarm of other great-grandchildren. We visited her, just my nuclear family, just once at her home in Pomona. I remember that the house was smallish and crowded (not unlike my present apartment), and that Grandma offered us "oleo" to put on our bread, which was a word that I had never heard before.

Though I lack a close personal relationship with Grandma Alleyne, I treasure the heritage I have from her. When my father's father's father died in his 90s in the '80s, I mourned, among other things, the loss of the "bragging rights" of being able to claim a centenarian relative. Older and wiser now by at least a bit, I recognize that the gift of my mother's mother's mother was not that she "made it" to a certain remarkable milestone, but the remarkable way she lived those 100 years.

I have on various occasions described myself as the daughter, granddaughter, and great-granddaughter of Christian ministers. (A former roommate, herself not only first generation clergy but first generation Christian, expressed amazement at the proportion of my family tree, on both sides, involved in church work and/or the advanced study of Christianity. I told her that God was our family business.) When I say "great-granddaughter," I am thinking of Grandma Alleyne.

Yes, she later renounced her ordination when she and Grandpa Elmer left the Four Square movement for the (Southern?) Baptists, but that did not represent her leaving the ministry, just reconceiving how it was described and how gender roles were to be performed in the context of serving Christ and his church. I probably make more of the fact that my great-grandmother was once upon a time an ordained minister than she would want me to, but as a young woman in the religion biz., I find it delightful that I am not exactly traveling on untrodden ground.

The ambivalence represented in Grandma's own life about her role as a woman in ministry echoes the broader ambivalence within my beloved evangelical tradition, beholden to a high view of scripture (even the passages we don't like) and the comfort of certain forms of tradition, as well as to our egalitarian impulses and experiences of God's gifting of both women and men in ways that don't always fit our traditional molds. Add to that an underdeveloped ecclesiology, and chaos ensues.

But I didn't set out here to write a theoretical analysis of women's leadership or lack thereof in 20th century American evangelicalism. Right now I just want to honor the ministry undertaken, under a variety of guises and definitions, of the faithful women who have run before me on this race of faith. Thank God for Grandma Alleyne, and may she rest in perfect peace.

As I type, my parents are trying to get back home to So. Ore. from the So. Cal. funeral -- I was just on the phone with them as they waited for their connecting flight in the San Francisco airport (They're flying entirely within the state of California, and they still have two connections each way! Is that nuts or what?), and the REALLY LOUD PA system came on to announce that their flight has been cancelled. So they had to hang up and go figure out what to do next. If you think of it, please pray for traveling mercies, that they don't get stuck in the Bay Area. And for my brother and sister-in-law, who are looking after my grandfather until they get back. Thanks.


David and Sarah said...

What a great reflection, Rachel. And what a heritage you have! May choirs of angels meet your Grandma Alleyne on the far side of the Jordan.

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