Like many churches, Old South had a matriarch. I use the past tense here, as our matriarch passed away a few days ago. It’s a very sad time for Old South. In the midst of the many challenges we face, the passing of our matriarch, Louise, is a huge loss.
When I was growing up, in a large suburban Congregational church outside of Boston, I knew a lot of matriarchs. The church had a sort of cluster of them. In a church of so many, each area of church life had its own matriarch—the choir, the church office, Christian Education, etc.
I didn’t especially like the matriarchs, although I learned how to navigate their domains—at least for a few of them. The matriarchs often wielded their power like a cudgel. Step on their toes, and whack! You might lose an appendage, or your self-respect.
The matriarchs were a fearsome group, and for the most part, they didn’t like each other, although most of them knew enough to stick to their own area and to be wary of straying into another woman’s domain. The matriarchs of my childhood inspired me to think long and hard about that initial awareness of my call to ordained ministry, and to resist at first. Who would want to deal with people like that on a regular basis?
When I took the call as Pastor and Teacher at Old South, it was immediately clear that Old South had just one matriarch. Yet she was like no matriarch I had known in my younger years. Louise was a woman of immense dignity and faith. She was a woman of grace, and courage, love and laughter. And, she made the world’s best lemon squares.
Over the years, Louise and I spent a great deal of time together. Perhaps the most powerful of my memories are those that involved discussions we had when Louise was unhappy about a decision that I and/or the church’s governing body had made. When I explained the decision-making process, Louise always listened with an open mind, and an open heart. She didn’t always change her mind, but she sometimes did—or at least, she would give the new thing a try. Worship on Zoom was one of those things. She didn’t like it, but she didn’t resist it or complain about it, at least not much.
She may have balked at the title of “matriarch,” but I think she knew that, like or not, that’s who she was. And, while the role had power, it also had a great deal of responsibility. She understood that relationship between power and responsibility like no woman I had ever known before.
Over the course of my long relationship with Old South, we have lost many important people. The loss of Louise is not more important than the other losses, but it is different. The loss of the matriarch, the one to whom so many turned (whether they realized it or not) to get a sense of the mood and direction of the church community, is a loss that will not only be deeply felt, but will reverberate through so many aspects of our life and ministry together. In these challenging days, it will likely feel as if we’ve lost our earthly, human anchor.
In all of her grace and wisdom through her long life, Louise offered many lessons: perseverance in the midst of challenge and loss; finding meaning and purpose in good days and not so good days; and, laughing heartily on a regular basis. Louise gave freely of herself and her gifts. She formed deep relationships in her commitment to community. She was loved, and she offered love to others.
I feel blessed to have known Louise, and to have been a part of the church she loved so much. For her grace and her strength, her love of church and church community, I am deeply grateful. Rest in peace, my dear friend.