The Rev. Jake Miles Joseph
Plymouth Congregational UCC,
Fort Collins, Colorado
Seminary 101. The first rule of being a congregational minister is to never pick favorites! The second rule, sort of a derivative of the first rule, is if you do accidentally pick or end-up with a favorite… never ever say it out loud!
Today, I am going to break both the first and the second Cardinal Rules of Ministry by telling you all that George Bryan was my favorite—and I imagine, by your presence here today, that he was one of your favorite human beings as well.
It has been among the greatest honors, privileges, and blessings of my yet-young career to be in ministry with George Ward Bryan. He was indeed, perhaps, my favorite member of Plymouth. I would always say that I was in ministry with George rather than saying that I ministered to George. To be clergy for George was a journey, a lesson, a learning deeper than words can express. It wasn’t unidirectional but mutual blessing.
To say the least, it has been a unique Holy Week, preparing for today’s Holy Saturday Memorial Service for of George! The presence of George Bryan, his care, his encouragement towards excellence and open-mindedness (his wisdom and questions) have engulfed my consciousness this entire week. Is George following any of you all around as well, or is it just me? His wisdom? His stories and jokes? That wonderful accent?
I will never forget the first time, some four plus years ago, when I went over to visit with George and Nancy Bryan for the first time. I had been forewarned that this wouldn’t be an ordinary home visit, and indeed it was not. The first thing you learned upon meeting George was his sincere spirit of care. During that visit, and all subsequent visits over the last few years, I was astounded by George’s care for the world, his careful attention to the news around the globe (especially the subject of war/ peace), and his deep theological understanding of God through the lenses of stories and colors. George saw the world for more than how it is usually seen. George saw the universe for all of the potential it has for new colors and beauty and peace. The current situation wasn’t the limit for him of what is possible.
Having both lived in Atlanta and both being alumni of Emory University in common certainly was a quick bond for me and George, but more than anything it was the questions he would ask about God that made me look forward to those visits. They were never questions with possible answers, but they were conversation prompts to help our conversation go deeper.
At the end of my first visit with George and Nancy, I offered my customary parting prayer as clergy. When clergy offer to say a prayer, it is our way (just so you know) of saying that we are out of time and need to leave. We all held hands, and I offered my best effort at a prayer for this great man and family. As I went to let go of his hand, much to my surprise, George wasn’t letting go of my or Nancy’s hands. He simply opened his eyes, turned his head, smiled and said, “my turn!” He then proceeded to offer a prayer of blessing to me as a young minister. Never before and never since has anyone offered a prayer for me on the same level as that one—not even on my ordination day.
There is a long line of clergy (including some Civil Rights leaders), from Central Presbyterian and All Saints in Atlanta, to me and Hal here at Plymouth, who had the unique privilege of ministering with (not to) George. I never wanted to be at this funeral—I sincerely hoped it would never happen—that George Bryan would just keep living. In many ways, while he is no longer physically with us, George does keep living both in the presence of God and the Saints of Light… but also in all of you, your hearts, the eyes of Nancy, the humor of the family, the care extended through friends, and the wisdom for a better world George left with all of us.
Cor Prudentis Possidebit Scientiam: “The Wise Heart Seeks Knowledge”
This is the motto of Emory University, George’s undergraduate and law school alma mater: The Wise Heart Seeks Knowledge.” If this motto is true, then George’s heart was the wisest of them all—for he always sought knowledge and greater and deeper understanding—especially of the Divine
After retiring from law, George went to the Atlanta College of Art (now SCAD Atlanta), where he acquired a whole new thirst for knowledge. George often spoke with me about color, hues, paints, and spectrums. George once told me, when he was getting closer to hospice, that he saw God with deeper and deeper gratitude every day. “What an amazing God we must have,” George once exclaimed, “who has gifted us with lives so filled with endless possibilities of color and beauty all around us. God didn’t have to do that, you know?” He then glanced over at Nancy, his rainbow of inspiration before continuing, “Beauty is such a gift from the heart of the Creator.” After George entered hospice and the end was in sight, his understanding of color also became a way to understand death and hope for new, never seen spectrums of colors, beyond death. While we don’t know what comes after death, George was pretty sure it is a realm of colors not yet imagined or seen.
Genesis 1:1-5 is the familiar story of the moment of Creation. It is a story told so often, repeated in monotone readings, misused by those who see it as a replacement for science, that we have lost the great spectacular color in its representation. It has become bland and black and while. George himself selected this passage for today’s service of celebration and hoped we might find in it a new hearing—Celebrating the understanding that even in death and in passing onto the next universe, there is endless potential for God’s Creative Spirit. Then God said, “Let there be light… let there be reds, and blues, and yellows, magenta, deep burgundy, and orange, and pink, and purple, and vibrant turquoise, green, and brown, and all of the colors in between… and there was light… and there were all the colors! And God saw that the light was good; and God separated the light from darkness.”
"The Wise Heart Seeks Knowledge ."
I am so glad that we were able to get all of the Easter decorations up for tomorrow in time for this service of remembrance. The flowers and the colors could not be more fitting for today’s service for a man, a father, a grandfather, an activist, a people-leader, an influencer, an artist, a friend, a mentor, a community organizer, an advocate, an ally for peace, for hope, and for a world bursting, filled with endless possibilities for love yet unseen.
We will all continue on in our ministries, our politics, our lives, and community now without George’s physical presence, but George’s anointing and reawakening of colorful hope for peace lives on. In every sunrise over the Eastern Plains, in every sunset over the mountains, in every indescribable blue color of a mountain lake, in every sign of springtime green life, I hope that you hear George’s laughter resonating and hear him say—"You know, God didn’t have to make life so beautiful? It didn’t have to have color. How can we be filled with anything other than profound gratitude when we live in such unimaginable beauty? There are endless possibilities for new colors we have never seen, and maybe…just maybe that is the heart of the Creator and the meaning of resurrection.”
Goodbye, Wise Heart George Bryan, until we meet again in the Realm of God’s endless color and peace.