On Friday, Donna got a call from a cousin that the Lord had called Marjorie Drickey home. She was ninety-two. We plan on attending her graveside service in Nebraska, where she will be buried beside her husband.
She had been a minister of the United Methodist Church since her twenties. She had retired from the full-time pastorate when she was sixty-nine, but had taken part-time appointments from the Bishop until she was eighty-six. In the nursing home where she died she was preaching and teaching whenever her failing health permitted. It wasn't that she needed the income to survive, or "needed to keep busy," but that she remained under the call of God to preach the urgent message of salvation to a lost world.
That's not the only reason I am writing about her. "The Lord gave the word; great was the company of the preachers," proclaims the chorus in Handel's Messiah. She was in that company, and so am I.
The shortest way to say it is that she not only preached good news; she was good news. When Donna was eight years old, Marjorie—she was Marjorie Johnson then--was appointed pastor of Donna's home church. She stayed six years, formative years for Donna. Then she cemented the relationship by marrying Donna's cousin and becoming part of the family.
Three years later I became engaged to Donna and went off to North Park Theological Seminary in Chicago, leaving a college freshman with a diamond on her finger. After I settled in I called the Drickeys, my prospective relatives. Marjorie was by then in charge of a Methodist Church on the near north side, and her husband Charles was an engineer with United Press International. I immediately received an invitation to worship, to dinner at the parsonage, and then to join in evangelistic visiting in the afternoon, teaming with a layman I hadn't met. I hadn't met any of them before. It was an immersion course in how to get acquainted fast.
My first face to face encounter with Marjorie is inerasable from my memory. After a long ride on the CTA I rang the parsonage bell, the door opened, and I was confronted by an enormous, grumbling German Shepherd on the other side of a screen door. Behind the dog was a smiling woman in her late thirties, with a firm hold on the dog's leash. I wasn't alarmed; this was a parsonage, after all. Like a good guest I asserted comfortably, "It's okay. It won't bite."
"Oh, yes she will," said the smiling lady, who opened the door and let me in. "Just let her smell you, then she will know you."
It was almost "knowing" in the biblical sense, my first experience of being checked out by a trained watchdog. Donna told me later that Charles's job often took him away overnight, and they had acquired the dog after their home had been broken into. Twice. Welcome to the neighborhood, Everett.
The smiling woman was the pastor, a conservative Methodist who earned her seminary degree from Asbury Theological Seminary at the beginning of her ministry. Thirty-five or so years later Asbury conferred on her the honorary degree of Doctor of Divinity. I don't know that she made much of that; it is not included in the funeral home's obituary.
Nor did she care, I learned, for the designation of "woman minister." She was a Methodist minister because God had called her to it, and was doing her part in Christ's mission to seek and save the lost. She was not making any other point. Her womanhood did not modify her call, nor did her ministry modify her womanhood. She and Charles were denied biological children, but she had an unsentimental mother's love for countless others—always disciplined, never distant. Donna had known it from childhood. I began to experience it when we moved to Chicago as very young newly-weds the next year.
As deep as that was, transcending it was her passion for the eternal well-being of human souls. She agreed with Jesus that heaven and hell are not imaginary.
After thousands of sermons, lessons, and one-on-one encounters, her last words to the church at large came in October. If these words bother you, remember that words like these didn't bother Jesus; the quotation in her message is from the story Jesus told about the rich man who died and found himself in a place of torment. Here is her message: I was sitting in my chair in the dining room at the Stockton Nursing Home in Stockton, Illinois, and my feet started to burn. I yelled, "My feet are burning up!" The Lord then gave me a message for the nation: "The entire United States needs to repent! Hell is real. If we don't receive Jesus as our Savior, we will go there. [The rich man answered] "Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment"(Luke 16:27-28)..
This note was appended to the message: "Marjorie's feet were red on the bottom. The nurses at the Stockton Nursing Home had to put cool cloths on Marjorie's feet to soothe them. When asked if she wanted pain medicine, Marjorie replied, "This is nothing compared to hell. There's no pain medicine in hell."
In 1962 Marjorie accompanied Donna to my graduation from North Park Seminary, the only family that was free to come. Charles was at work. She gave me a card and a gift of cash. The card was carefully chosen, and I cherished it. I still have it, packed away with keepsakes. It included this passage from the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Blessed art Thou, O my Lord,
Who hast opened the heart of Thy servant unto knowledge.
Direct all his works in righteousness,
and vouchsafe unto the son of Thine handmaid
the favor which Thou hast assured to all the mortal elect,
to stand in Thy presence for ever.
For apart from Thee no man's way can be perfect,
and without Thy will is nothing wrought.
It was a wonderful send-off for me into 50 + years of ministry.
The Evangelical Covenant Church.