Saturday, February 28, 2015

Roberta Harbor Bolton

Roberta Harbor Bolton
May 5, 1920 - February 25, 2015
February 28, 2015

Purpose of a funeral service:[1]
The grace and peace of our Lord Christ be with us all.
On behalf of Carolyn, Billie, Doug, and their families, on behalf of the grandchildren who dearly loved and admired their grandmother, we welcome everyone to this gathering in this place of Commerce Presbyterian Church.
In the presence of one another, and in the communion of the saints,
We come together to celebrate the life and love of Roberta Harbor Bolton.
We give thanks to God for every expression of God’s grace we experienced in and from and with Roberta.
We accept her death as God’s mercy and blessing upon nearly 95 years of life among us.
In this worship service, we will ask the God of Comfort to strengthen us in our grief;
To assure us that God’s reconciling mercy will prevail;
and claim resurrection hope for us.
The family emphasized they wanted this to be a celebration.  And so we will celebrate.
We will celebrate with tears. We will celebrate with laughter. We will celebrate with deep sighs, we will celebrate with stories, song and prayers.

Finally we will profess the faith of the Christian Church, grounded in God’s victory over death, revealed in the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and, abiding in that faith and hope we will commend Roberta to God’s eternal being with gratitude and great joy.
Hear these gracious words from Scripture:
Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.
I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.

The Lord be with you.
And also with you.
Let us pray.

O God our Maker,
we bless you for the great company of all those who have kept the faith, finished their race, and who now rest from their labor. As we gather to remember and to celebrate the life of one whose life was blessed with many years, we give you thanks for those dear to us who preceded her in death,  whom we name in our hearts before you. . . .
And now, at this time and in this place we thank you for Roberta;
we trust you have received her into your presence.
In this mystery of life and faith, we cling to the hope we experience as we share her story, wrapped in your own story of love for this world.  
As Roberta was nearing death, she asked her son Doug if she could go home...he gently touched her forehead and reassured her, you are going home, Mama. You’ll be home real soon.  We rejoice in picture painted in scripture of all your saints gathered in your home, in your eternal loving presence.
So We worship you, in this moment O Triune God; and we pray these things in the name of the one you raised from the grave, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Come, let us raise a joyful song, A shout of triumph to the rock of our salvation.
Our hymn is #339 in the blue hymnal.  As you are able, please stand to sing.

Miriam Moncrief, this church’s administrator, asked me this week to run by LifeWay near my home, to pick up bulletins for this occasion, saying, “we don’t have enough bulletins for Roberta Bolton’s funeral!”  Many of those dear to her, siblings, family members, friends, co-workers, have gone before her, still there are plenty around who care to celebrate the life, commitment, steadfastness, and love of Roberta.  

I have only served this congregation as pastor for a fast 8 months, and a regret that comes with such a short time is missing getting to know the likes of people like Roberta Bolton. Thankfully, I have all of you to share your stories and experiences with her.  
Already many stories have been shared.

Roberta was certainly one for stories. I’m told she always wanted to hear the news from commerce, know what was going on--who died, what was happening with tiger football, who was making what decisions on city council; she was genuinely concerned about any number of topics...she loved this community, this was her place, you are her people, of which and of whom she was very proud, proud to be part of it all.

She proudly wore the names bestowed upon her over those years in the community: Mama, Mimi, Mrs. Bolton, Bob, wife, First Lady, I’m sure there are many others reserved for her closest friends...
I hope you have noticed the scripture chosen to be read as part of this celebration of life speak of a God of care and tenderness, steadiness, consistency, help and protection; one who prepares for others a bountiful table of food; this is the way Roberta has been described to me.
The scripture chosen to be read as part of this celebration of life speak of worshipping God with gladness, coming into God’s presence with singing. Of the reassurance that comes from knowing what it means to be God’s own, and in knowing that, taking comfort in the goodness, and steadfast love of God which endures forever. Roberta was to be found in church worshipping most any time there was a gathering for worship in the congregations of which she was part. And she carried herself with such assurance.
The scripture chosen to be read as part of this celebration of life speaks of home, giving of oneself, and of abounding blessings--are these not defining marks of Roberta.
Nearly 95 years of life...almost all those years lived in only two places within 5 miles of each other, first in Banks County, where she was born and raised, and then to Commerce, a house on Washington Street, where she lived for over 50 years.

In a world where there is so much movement, movement because we are bored, movement because of a job, movement because of fear, stability is quite rare.  Even back in the 5th century, Saint Benedict noticed human tendency to up and move when the grass seemed greener, or when the monotony of life set in.  And so, when he founded his religious order, residents had to take a vow of stability. Those who were able to comply developed a depth of spirituality.  Those who lasted, became fixtures of their communities, people upon whom others relied, they were sought after for wisdom and guidance.

According to the obituary, “in 1965 Mrs. Bolton began a career at the Commerce Middle School where she was employed until 1999 when she retired at the age of 79!” I wonder why she didn’t make it one more year to the year 2000 and retired at the age of 80 to make it a solid 45 years; kind of like not making it to her 95th birthday...we know she wanted to keep going..she loved life, she loved her family, she loved her people, she wanted to do for others until the end. When she fell and broke her hip in November, she got right up and drove herself home; i think whenever she was down, she didn’t stay down long.  
What a remarkable woman.
Can you imagine the permanence of her in those schools, seeing the children in the community come through the school doors every day, watching them grow up move on, and there she was-- like what Clay said “a fixed place in the universe that [countless in this community] could always return to.”  Hospitable; Receptive, even to the last days when she barely had energy to speak, she greeted visitors with warmth and energy…..    
What a gift.  

I walked into her home yesterday, I could almost hear the walls speak, smell and taste the full spread on the table; as I sat I could almost sense her sitting with us.
And when we joined together for a meal, food kept appearing before me as I ate, and I was getting full, but it didn’t matter, “have some more” Was this Roberta speaking?

No one said anything about what I was wearing; I’m not sure if this was a good or a bad thing.  

Roberta lived through battles and challenges, through expectations and triumphs, and she endured, with steadfast loving care...  

A lasting memory I will carry with me of her for all of my life...In the church, we did an unusual thing this past fall for our pledge Sunday...We had a drawing. Yes, a form of gambling  i suppose:)...presbyterians.  
Everyone who turned in a pledge card was automatically entered to win the grand prize---lunch with the pastor and the aforementioned Miriam, the church secretary.  
Some people may have wished to withdraw their card as this was announced after the cards had been turned in :).  
Guess who the grandprize winner was? That’s right, Roberta.  Her card was drawn, her name announced, and with elegance and dignity, she proudly walked forward to be recognized, perhaps not entirely sure what to do next, none of us were;  
So the congregation applauded thanking her for her faithful commitment.

After I pronounced the closing blessing, I was making my way down the center aisle, and walked past her; just there was her place, her pew (signal). I stopped to speak with her, as the postlude was playing, she tenderly took my hand; I told her I would give her a call to set up a time to get together.  She beckoned me to come closer and she said, “I’m so pleased to get to have lunch with you, I suppose it it my reward for increasing my pledge this year.”  
I was so touched, so humbled.  We shared a lunch at Longhorn’s later that week, and that was really the first time I had the chance to know just who the remarkable woman was sitting across from me.
A dear, sweet spirit. A spirit of love, a spirit of life, a Christ-like spirit.
A rock in a river; a rock which has now been moved downstream.    
Blessed. blessed. Blessed. blessed. Rejoice and be glad, your reward is great in heaven.
Thanks be to God, Amen.
As you are able please stand to affirm the faith of the church using a creed shared by christians across time and space: It is found printed in your bulletin...:
I believe in God…

Please remain standing to sing Blessed Assurance: 341
Whenever I visited with Roberta after she was hospitalized, she would always make sure that I would “say a little prayer”.
“Say a little prayer for me,” she would say just as soon as I walked through the door.  So we’re going to say a little prayer.  
Which we will conclude together by reciting the Lord’s prayer found in the bulletin, feel free to pray the version of that prayer familiar to you.
Roberta was in many ways a unifier in this community, a common denominator, a touchpoint...and so to symbolize that, if you are willing I want to ask you to hold hands with someone sitting near you to symbolize how she has brought us all together over the years.   

Let us pray:
O God, before whom generations rise and pass away, we praise you for all your servants who, having lived this life in faith, now live eternally with you.
Especially we thank you for your servant Roberta, Mimi, Mama, Mrs. Bolton, whose baptism is now complete in death.
We praise you for the gift of her life, for her love;
for all in her that was good and kind and faithful,
for the grace you gave her, that kindled in her the love of your dear name, and enabled her to serve you and so many faithfully--
through hospitality and cooking, through perseverance and determination, through steadiness and commitment.  
We thank you for her service to this community in the schools, tending to the needs of students as well as teachers and administrators.  
We thank you for her service to this community through the public office held by her late husband, and the responsibilities that fell on her as a result.
We thank you for the ways she cared for and loved her family,
the ways laughed and shared life with her friends,
ways she served her church and civic communities.
We pray for Roberta’s family--for her surviving siblings, Rebecca, Mary Edna, Janet, Alice, and Buddy, and their families...for her dear children and grandchildren: Carolyn, Billie, Doug, Claire, Sam Jr, Betsy, Addie, and Clay, as well as their children and spouses. Comfort them in their grief...fill the void felt by her absence with your love,

Even as we mourn Roberta’s death, may we witness to the hope found in resurrection.  
So God, we give you thanks for the empty cross of hope;
we give you thanks for your grace which covers us all.
And finally, we thank you that for Roberta death is past, pain ended, and that she has now entered the joy you have prepared;
Into your hands, O merciful Savior, we commend your servant Roberta.
Acknowledge, we humbly pray, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner and a saint of your own redeeming.
Receive her into the arms of your mercy, into the blessed rest of everlasting peace, and into the glorious company of the saints in light.
Through Jesus Christ our Lord, who taught us to pray…

After the closing benediction, Jennie Snare will play, “nothing but the blood,” which I’m told is what Roberta would sing to any number of babies she held over the years to quiet and comfort them.

At the conclusion of the service, all are invited for refreshments in the fellowship hall prepared by the women’s group of this church where I encourage you to continue to celebrate, share stories, and unite in love.

At the methodist youth group Roberta’s children faithfully attended week after week, the children recited the benediction, which signaled not only that God is our keeper and giver of peace, that God is kind and gracious,
but also, that youth group was over and everyone could go home!  
And so I share that blessing with you now:

The Lord bless you and keep you.
The Lord be kind and gracious to you.
The Lord look upon you with favor and give you peace.
We say goodbye, we depart in peace.

[1] Adapted from Rev. Jasper Keith, spoken at the funeral service for Chester W. Morse.

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