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Alice Swift’s Homecoming

  • Posted on Sep 5, 2012

O God, whose beloved Son took children in his arms and blessed them:  Give us grace to entrust Alice to your never-failing care and love.  Book of Common Prayer, p. 494

Most of us at Memorial Church didn’t know Alice Swift.  In fact, most people would have never seen her.  Alice was a quiet, little lady who lived almost her whole life in Bolton Hill.  She died this week at the age of 99 at Roland Park Place.  When I came to Memorial, I noticed that someone by that name was regularly pledging to Memorial Church.  I couldn’t put a face to that name.  Who was this Alice Swift?  One day I finally met her.

I walked to the 1700 block of Park Avenue to a brick apartment building on the corner.  Alice said to call up to apartment and she would buzz me in.  As I walked up to the third floor, I noticed that this once grand apartment was now very much student housing for MICA.  Surrounded by the music of college and the sounds of dorm life, I knocked on the door and Alice welcomed me into her home.  The first thing I noticed was that it was very dark in her apartment.  Alice apologized and noted that she had an eye problem that made her very sensitive to light.  We sat down and Alice began to tell me her story.  She had lived in that apartment for decades.  She first came to Bolton Hill with her parents as a young girl.  First one parent died.  Then another.  Alice remained in the apartment–the only daughter and then alone.  She worked most of her life for a German Lutheran Church in East Baltimore.  I thanked her for her support of Memorial and then asked how she became a member of Memorial? Alice quickly replied, “Oh, I’m not a member of Memorial.  I just liked the way the church looked–sitting on that corner–and decided that I would support Memorial.  As a church secretary, I love churches.”  She smiled and then added, “You know, I’ve never been inside Memorial ever.”  As I left, I invited her to come inside Memorial Church sometime soon, but somehow I knew she wouldn’t.  She was happy with her relationship just as it was.

The next time I visited Alice she had taken fall in her apartment.  She was badly bruised.  She had tried to change a light bulb and climbed on the ironing board.  As I looked around the apartment, I saw the years of neglect and wear.  I looked at Alice.  She seemed all alone in the world.  Who took care of her?  She mentioned a nephew who lived far away.  She mentioned a friend who picked her up for lunch once a week.  Alice had neer learned to drive and so now depended on a friend or two to take her to the store or out to eat.  I soon received a call that she had taken another fall.  She was in rehab at Maryland General.  When I visited Alice, she was in physical therapy.  She seemed to be having the time of her life–throwing a red rubber ball back and forth with the therapist.  It took going to the hospital finally to have some community.

Alice lived out her last days at Roland Park Place. She was well cared for and loved.  Her graveside is this Friday at 2 pm.  It will be a small service with one or two folks other than me and the funeral home director.  This will be the fourth funeral this summer that I have officiated at that involved a ninety-plus year old elder—Emily Cox, Alice Jewell, Josephine deButts and now Alice Swift.  How the world changed during their lifetime.  Some were celebrated by a large service; some had just a few family members standing by.  But one thing I know for sure, being present for these folk is at the heart of what a church is all about.  Memorial mattered to Alice.  And Alice mattered to Memorial Church.  She mattered in this world.  That’s what we will remember at her graveside on Friday.  Welcome home, Alice—enjoy the bright light of eternity.  We will miss you.