By Oz Cole-Arnal, former professor emeritus at Waterloo Lutheran Seminary
In Catholic parlance a saint becomes a singled out role model to emulate, but in terms of Scriptural usage the term applies to all the baptized who took on the name of Jesus the Christ. Rather than argue such a point, I would suggest that Julia MacLeod, my dear friend and mentor, whose loss we now mourn and whose life we honor, fulfills both above definitions. We have bid fond adieu to a sister who has role modeled for me what it means to love and follow Christ over against the common and easy definition of the term. Rather than define what this means in abstract terms, I choose instead to underscore her and her “hubby” George’s impact on my life and how they both shaped my Christian faith in maturing and radical ways. In other words, as feminists of the 1970s put it, “the personal is political”. This is and was Julia’s profound impact on my life. Now, on to some illustrations!
Introducing Julia & George MacLeod & their entry to my life: Ohioview Lutheran Church was my first parish, located in a small village, halfway between county seat and lily-white Beaver, Pennsylvania and steel town Midland with a 40% African American population. My wife and I were going to change the world, a naive “middle-of-the-road” middle-class liberal, via the usage of my strengths, youth work and adult Bible study involving my training in the historical critical analysis of Sacred Scripture. Well into the second year of our ministry I met “Julie”, as we knew her. She brought her stepdaughter Miriam to our youth group, and upon our welcoming of her, Julie and George joined the church. Although both Julie and George were unique in their own right, I am hardly able to tell a story of either without remembering the other. So forgive me if I constantly speak of Julie and George or George and Julie.
Picture them, if you will, as the Brady Bunch, but only with a grin followed by uproarious laughter. Yes, both brought eight children into the marriage, and yes, both were white and middle class. Soon enough both became regular church-goers. Julie herself even looked like a “Brady Bunch” mom or perhaps like a nice-looking traditional school-marm (appropriate given the fact that she was a school teacher by profession). Her rosy cheeks, her glasses and winsome smile could melt the most hardened and suspicious person imaginable. But, once you place crusty-no-nonsense George into the picture, you bring that hilarious battering ram to the Brady Bunch shtick. The handful of memories below underscores this truth.
Both widowed, George and Julie first met at a “Parents without Partners” orientation. As their relationship deepened Julie made it quite clear that her devotion to Christ was so important that, if they were to be married, then she expected him to go with her to church every Sunday and take communion monthly, as was our Lutheran habit at the time. His response: “But, Jule, what if I don’t believe?” Nonetheless, she drew the line, saying that her requirement stood firm, trusting God to take charge thereafter. Of course, crusty George capitulated. Soon enough, both of them became hooked in the adult Christian Education class, where we were studying and discussing major Protestant thinkers, such as Tillich, Bultmann and Reinhold Niebuhr. This class was the unofficial avant-garde of our church, which to my delight confirmed my role as “teaching elder” of the congregation. Upon choosing the book Doing the Truth by Episcopal bishop James Pike we faced and wrestled with the major ethical issues faced by the church and society, ultimately concluding that Civil Rights for the “Negro” was our local challenge, given both the national personage of Dr. King and the large African American population in nearby Midland. This focus became the launch pad both for our church’s entry into the local civil rights maelstrom and for my family’s deep connection and friendship with the Macleods. My wife Marian and I became deep friends and comrades from that moment on. In fact, the official church council authorized Gorge and I to contact Pastor McClellon, Midland’s prominent black minister to set up a pulpit exchange, followed by a coffee-cookie meeting of “getting-to-know” you get-together of interested adults from both congregations (at our church). Both events were highly successful and unprecedented. Without Julie and George assuming leadership in these early stages I would have had neither their sense of reality nor the courage to move forward.
Enter Civil Rights: The defining date of April 4, 1968 (the night of Dr. King’s assassination) shook not only the nation but also shattered the shaky and phoney racial peace of our Ohio River communities. Within a period of two months a handful of us, spurred by (you guessed it) Julie and George Macleod, joined the local NAACP and took to the streets against local institutionalized racism. In the photo above take note of dear St. Julie, with her smile at the head of our pack, bold yet humble, and I urge, you the reader, to note that gun-totting police and civilians had us surrounded. No Brady-Bunch mom in this crowd. In those turbulent years of my family’s journey, including both my activist closing parish years (1967-1970) through my doctoral studies (1970-1974) until my family’s move to Canada where I taught at a seminary in Waterloo, Ontario, Julie and George were always there for us. St. Julie and crusty George both spurred me and stood with me over against our bureaucratic church establishment, while continuing their presence with me on the streets. One particular example I will send to this site within the next two months. Sadly with my divorce our friendship went into hibernation by virtue of different roads and not hostility.
Sustaining the Friendship: Thankfully about four years ago, my brother-in-law Frank and I sought out Julie and George who, in spite of their ages, had remained active in a Beaver County Lutheran church and were still living in their home. We arranged a visit which stirred my heart with fond and precious memories of yester year. The following year I visited them by myself and was treated to a Julie-special omelette. Within less than a year I had been diagnosed with Parkinsons, rendering future visits impossible.
Final Footnotes: Far better by far than a Brady Bunch mom is the St. Julie I have portrayed, that real Julie Macleod (& her crusty George). No “Brady Bunch” mom would have taken in Walter a cerebral palsied teen-ager, always getting into mischief; no “Brady Bunch” mom would have gone to court to support her son’s right to wear long hair against a local high school’s retrograded dress code; no “Brady Bunch” mom would have welcomed into our activist group that “no-account” supposed “white-trash” elderly couple; no “Brady Bunch” mom (rosy-cheeked gentle voiced & all) would have stood up to armed power on the streets and structured moneyed power in all its forms. But St. Julie did! In my Canadian liberation theology book To Set the Captives Free (1998) I stated in the “Acknowledgments” (p. viii), “In my first parish as an ordained minister I was tutored into radicalism by a marvelous couple, George and Julie Macleod.” This one-sentence quote both says it all, while stating so little. At the same time, I find that even this longer-than-usual “Radical Discipleship” entry barely scratches the surface of her deep and abiding impact. So I say my good-byes, dear friend St. Julie, “Good-night, sweet princess, and flights of angels guide thee to thy rest”, while I hear that voice of the one you, George and I claim as Lord saying to you,
“Well done, good and faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your master (Matthew 25:21).”