March 11, 2021

Partying with Ruth, Barbara and Caroline
Christmas, 2001

STRINGING PEARLS AND PSALMS

Together at my Christmas open house, the four of us had unique stories and strong connections to each other. Ruth was a close friend and colleague from Providence Hospital days, and was once married to an Episcopal priest. She was Director of Volunteer Services and the Gift Shop at the hospital. Caroline developed a Providence relationship—first as volunteer and later as an employee– after her beloved husband died suddenly. Barbara was a close friend of Brailsford Sutton, who was married to a top cardiovascular surgeon at Providence.  Brailsford began bringing Barbara to a weekly noontime Bible study I was leading downtown.

I truly had never met anyone like Barbara—before or since!  She seemed so full of joy and hope, and had an overwhelming passion for sharing the love of Jesus with the poor and downtrodden.  Both she and Ruth were members of the historic Trinity Episcopal Cathedral downtown.  Although Barbara had many friends who were wealthy, she herself was quite poor.  She earned money by polishing silver and stringing pearls for local society women, also babysitting and cleaning houses. 

At Trinity, she was the liaison between the street people who existed near the church grounds and the Vestry members and parishioners.  The church was open to supporting weekly breakfasts and lunches to their homeless neighbors, as well as giving them winter clothes and Christmas gifts. Barbara got volunteers, manned the kitchen, and did all she could to provide necessities to all who came.  Of course, the Vestry did ask her to be sure these homeless guests were completely off the premises before parishioners arrived for worship services.

One of Barbara’s greatest thrills was making a pilgrimage to Israel with some friends.  There she met a Palestinian bishop and was delighted when he came to America to tell his story of struggles faced by Christians living in Palestine. While she was in Bethlehem, she discovered a young Jewish man who had emigrated there from New York.  He had researched the type of harp that might have been used by the psalmist David.  Soon he was creating handcrafted harps—the first to have been made in Bethlehem for centuries, she said.  Of course, she had to have one—and she started a new ministry.  She learned to chant the psalms using chords on the harp—and soon she was visiting seriously ill patients in hospitals and homes with her music. One night six weeks or so before Mother died, she came to her bedside.  Together we chanted psalms all through the night with her Bethlehem harp.

Each year at Passover, Barbara got out all her own best china, crystal, silver and table linens, prepared a feast with roast lamb, and invited her homeless friends to her home to share it.  She actually did so many of the things most of us just think about doing. What a gift she was!

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