Thursday, April 4, 2013
The Preacher’s Corner
Graham and Paul made sure I wasn’t shaggy on Sunday
Saturday afternoon before Easter found me, as so many Saturday afternoon’s, at the barber’s, getting ready for the big day ahead. Whenever I end up waiting till Saturday, I always think of two of my great saints, Graham Miller and Paul Randolph. Most who will read this knew Graham well; few will know Paul.
Graham was intensely loyal to his friends and his church. Harmon Walker’s barber shop and Graham Miller’s shoe store stood side by side for years. They helped each other out. Graham would deliver a box lunch to Harmon every day, and Harmon had a soft drink cooler, which Graham’s store lacked.
If Graham were not busy, he’d wander over to Harmon’s to try and hear the latest news, or just to sit in one of the vacant barber chairs and take a nap. When Bennie Howell took over the barber shop, the practice continued.
For reasons I cannot fully explain, Graham would make sure newcomers to our community knew about the barber shop and the Presbyterian Church. At least two couples who now worship with us were directed to our corner by Graham Miller — and the husbands also informed of the location of the barber shop.
Whether Graham thought those husbands needed a haircut (as well as religion) I cannot say. But I certainly knew that Graham thought his minister should be well groomed on Sunday. He outfitted my clothing, and introduced me to my barber. That was pretty good service from the local haberdasher, don’t you think?
At church, Graham was our friendly usher. He would also help receive the offering. He also made a ritual of closing the sanctuary doors after he was satisfied that our latecomers had all arrived (he knew who these people were), so that Claiborne Thompson and Mary Doxey would not get chilled from the drafts that float up the stairs from the outside during the winter. Now that Graham is no longer with us this still gets done, but it is strictly ad hoc.
My friend Paul Randolph was the head usher in our church in Chicago. He had held that role for so long nobody could remember when he had not. He never, ever missed a Sunday.
Paul was the genuine article. He could have written the How to Win Friends and Influence People book. Paul had served for many years in the state legislature down in Springfield. For decades he had been the only Republican member of the legislature elected from the city of Chicago.
But he was not an obstructionist. The essence of Paul’s politics was diplomacy and goodwill. He knew how to be positive and to get things done. He accomplished untold good for the city, for Illinois, and for his church.
As the first person people saw when they entered our church, Paul could connect with strangers in that perfect blend of warm, friendly and clear guidance that got visitors down the long center aisle and into just the right seat. People often feel uncertain when they visit a strange place of worship, especially when they are newcomers in a community. Paul understood all about that, for though few would guess from the confident and friendly gentleman they encountered extending his right hand in greeting at the church door, he had arrived in Chicago as a country boy himself many years before.
It was a marvel to watch how Paul could gently cajole recalcitrant aisle-sitters to scoot in toward the center of the pew so there was room for latecomers, for our church in Chicago was always full, and every single seat was vital.
Paul’s wife Flo had poor health, and it was often my privilege to sit with her on Sunday mornings, and it helped Paul, I think, to know somebody was watching out for her while he tended to the ushering duties. Flo was the unrivaled congregational matchmaker, and she did her best for me.
But there was one thing about Paul: his ushers (and they were all men in those days) had to have proper haircuts. His men could all have appeared in the Brooks Brothers’ catalog — well, the old Brooks Brothers’ catalog, at least.
The scuttlebutt was that if you appeared a bit shaggy around the ears (or were reputed to be a Democrat), you were consigned to ushering in the rear balcony, which was so far from God’s altar that it took binoculars to see. Some kindly person warned me of this early on, for even though I was to be up front in the pulpit, the preachers were to be no less well-groomed than the ushers.
And so the memories of Graham and Paul still motivate me. Well, motivate is not quite the right word: if Saturday afternoon has come, and I haven’t been to the barber, these two guys put the fear of God in me, and I do what I have to do!
Gosh, I miss ’em!
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