Saturday, April 28, 2012

A Tribute to a Good Friend: Marion Aldridge

(I was asked to be one of the speakers at a dinner honoring a good friend,  Marion Aldridge. Marion is a Baptist minister who has worn many hats. Pastor. Husband. Father. Clemson fan. Writer. Traveler. Lover of life. He will be retiring from his position as Cooperative Baptist Fellowship in South Carolina in January. The Cooperative Fellowship began some twenty years ago as an alternative to the fundamentalist turn of the Southern Baptists. Marion has served well in this position for 15 years. My remarks at the dinner are found here.)

What am I gonna say about Marion? There’s a lot I won’t say, I can’t say—and I shouldn’t say. But it’s not hard to talk about somebody that you have appreciated and admired since the late seventies. One of my blog buddies is Philip Jenks. Recently he wrote about The Good Shepherd and sheep. He begins that blog by asking have you ever smelled a sheep? They’re nothing like those pictures we see in the Sunday school rooms—Big sheep can’t be carried because are too big. Jenks goes on to say that being a Good Shepherd is a whole lot harder than it looks.  

And that’s what I want to talk about tonight. Marion Aldridge has been a good shepherd and he has smelled some sheep in his time—and he has walked ever so gently among them and behind a great many of them. But hard work has not stopped this Shepherd. He has come along at a time when Baptists were changing. And he dared to stick his neck out and talk about what was wrong with where we were going and the possibilities for the unknown and uncertain scary future. A lot of church folk didn't want to hear that. So being that kind of a Shepherd was a whole lot harder than it looked. 

But Marion hung in there. He pastored churches. He wrote books and splendid articles. And he didn’t say what people always wanted him to say—but he said what he thought they needed to hear. He never parked his brain outside the church door. Marion has been a Good Shepherd and Sally of all people knows how difficult that was some time. 

It was a great day when he was elected him to lead South Carolina CBF. He has worked tirelessly for a cause that he believes in—and working with churches that often did not understand and sometimes were very troubled. Some days he must have felt that being a Good Shepherd was harder than it looked. 

Weeks ago we had a funeral for a good friend of Marion’s. Clemson’s Mayor—Larry Abernathy. And I was very proud when Marion got up to speak in that very crowded room. I told somebody after his remarks that CBF could be very proud to have someone of Marion’s depth and commitment to be our spokesperson. We have been most fortunate. 

A good Shepherd stays with the sheep—the stubborn sheep and the docile sheep and the mean sheep. So if you want a good definition of commitment-you might look under the words: Marion Aldridge. He has kept at it through thick and thin. He has been a good Shepherd for Jesus Christ.  

George Buttrick, in his eighties, looked back on his years as a minister and said, “Despite it all—I am proud to be a member of this club.” Marion Aldridge has made a lot of us proud to be a member of this club. 

I want to thank him for all he has done for so many of us. I don’t know any better way to say it than using the words George Thurber used of his Editor at The New Yorker, Ross after he retired. This is what he said: “He just kept going like a bullet-torn battle flag and nobody captured his colors and nobody silenced his drums.” Marion learned early that sheep stink pretty bad. But he also knew that sheep need a good leader. But given all of that--he has been a very Good Shepherd even though most do not know that has been harder than it looks. We thank you Marion that nobody has captured your colors and nobody has silenced your drums.

(The photograph above is Marion Aldridge and his beloved wife, Sally.)

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