Marilyn L. Alamsha
"Well done, good and faithful servant..." - Matthew 25:23
Today, I received word from Lloyd Alamsha that his wife Marilyn died yesterday. She had been under hospice care, and the entire Alamsha family had gathered and were with her as she passed from this world to the next. I have been keeping Lloyd in my prayers and remembering the days when they both served Wekiva Presbyterian Church with a great deal of fondness. There will be a memorial service for Marilyn next Saturday morning, August 25, 2012, at 11:00 a.m. at the Palms Presbyterian Church in Jacksonville, Florida.
It was during my first year in Florida as the senior pastor of Wekiva Presbyterian Church that I first became aware of Marilyn Alamsha. The place was a meeting of Central Florida Presbytery. The occasion was Marilyn’s retirement. I listened attentively and appreciatively to the accolades that were presented in Marilyn’s honor, and then the entire room fairly leaped from their seats to offer Marilyn a heartfelt standing ovation. Even though I was quite new to the Presbytery, I could sense immediately that Marilyn was both deeply loved and highly respected for her gifts in ministry. I thought, “Wouldn’t it be great to have a chance to share in ministry with Marilyn”.
Soon thereafter, I asked Woody Brown, who was at that time the chairperson of the Committee on Ministry, what Marilyn was planning to do in retirement, and whether she might have any interest in serving a church part-time? Woody replied that he thought Marilyn was glad for a time to stop and relax, and gave me the impression that working in retirement was the last thing on Marilyn’s mind. Happily, as things turned out, I was wrong.
Even so, for a month or two that was that, to my way of thinking. But then I was called to preach at my home church, in Pennsylvania, for an anniversary Sunday. I was the only pastor at Wekiva at the time; we were between associate ministers. When I began thinking about who I might ask to preach while I was away, Marilyn was the person who came to mind.
I called to invite her and she responded in the affirmative at once. And came and preached and was well received by the people of the congregation. I had left her a little note of welcome on my desk and when I returned, I found that she had left a note of reply, there, saying how much she had enjoyed being at Wekiva. At once, I picked up the phone and called Marilyn, to thank her. And as we talked she said that several people had commented that they wished Marilyn could be with us every Sunday. I said, “So do I; let’s talk about that…!”
Before long I proposed that Marilyn become part of our staff, and the Session agreed. And so began a collegial friendship that brought joy to my heart and I hope to Marilyn’s as well, as she worked on our staff as a minister of visitation and sharing in the leading worship each Sunday.
It is important to note that Marilyn was the first ordained woman to serve Wekiva. In the PC(USA), we may soon get to the point where we will not need to make that distinction, and it will be as routine and unremarkable that an ordained woman would serve as an ordained man. But we were not there yet, at Wekiva. Marilyn got us there, by her remarkable faith, poise, wisdom, and love that she had honed for many years and showed in everything she did in her ministry.
Marilyn found that some of our Wekiva members had been friends and members of other congregations she had served, which brought a bit of added delight to them all.
Not long thereafter, Lloyd reached the day of retirement and our sentiment at Wekiva was, “Quick! Let’s invite Lloyd to come and work with us, before someone else beats us to it!” We did, and Lloyd accepted, and we had such a grand time, Lloyd and Marilyn and Paul our associate and I, the four pastors, working side-by-side, sharing worship of a Sunday and being friends in the faith.
It is an ancient saying that all good things must come to an end, but we don’t have to like it…
When Lloyd and Marilyn departed from us to Jacksonville, not only were we sad to see them go, but we were also quite aware that Marilyn had broken new ground among us in such a way that we were the better for it. Indeed, I said to the Session, “Because of Marilyn and her ministry among us, if ever the time comes that Wekiva is seeking a new associate pastor or senior pastor and finds among the candidates women whose gifts correspond with the church’s needs, you all can be confident in considering them for those positions.”
Many, many people will have memories to share in the various chapters of their life that coincided with the chapters in Marilyn's. Among the many lives she blessed please count mine…and our family’s. We cherish Marilyn’s friendship and are glad we shared in ministry together. Today we are thanking the Lord for Marilyn’s love and we will honor her in our memories forevermore.