Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
We have lost, as all churches do, a steady stream of saints who mean so much to so many here in this church. I have fond memories of them and can remember ways in which their lives influenced mine. Yet, since last Thursday, April 29, 2021, I have been blessed with memories of a joyful saint who greatly influenced my life, Julia Parks Barkley. Julia was the choir director in the years of my youth and taught me lessons, which profoundly affected my life in the church. For those who did not know her well read, here, lessons that are worth learning from her life. For those who did know her, welcome your memories of this special Lady of the Church, as you read mine.
Julia taught me reverence for God and all things of the church. She spent hours with us each week teaching us music for worship, the liturgical calendar, and how the hymns of our church were put together and should be sung. She taught us how to dress for and to act in the sanctuary, planting deep within us the idea of being in a holy place. To this day I carry awe for that blessed room in which we meet God. I know to expect to experience God’s presence there, largely because of the reverence she instilled in me.
Julia taught me (as did my daddy) the importance of church attendance in my life. By her presence week after week, her inviting us into choir practice, and our immediate attendance at and singing for Sunday night church service, I learned the rhythm of weekly worship. Perhaps even more importantly, she taught me how important I was to the church. This was an important lesson for a teenage kid. She made sure that I never felt less than at home at FUMC-NA. She gave me at least one place that I felt counted on me to be there and to share my talents.
Julia taught me the joy of worship, as she directed some 50-60 youth spilling from the choir loft, onto the chancel, and down to the floor, we sang from our toes whatever music we had prepared. She also taught inclusion. From those who were incredibly musically talented to those whose best effort produced a “joyful noise”, she welcomed each singer as eagerly as any other.
She also expected excellence born of practice and hard work. She presented us with sophisticated, sometimes classical music and we sang it until we got it right. She taught humble service. She got us to put on some amazing programs: yet, I never remember her preening in the limelight.
Julia and Jimmy (her husband) always took us on trips, the ultimate purpose of which was to visit Disney World or the like. She always arranged performances along the way. In those days we stayed in the homes of Methodists who fed us and kept us overnight. Julia had high expectations for our behavior. At those homes we were to make our beds and write a thank you note to be signed by each child. I do not have a single memory of her losing her temper or showing frustration toward any child. Don’t get me wrong; she did have that “Mama face” that warned when you were too close to the line. She was firm but kind, always; even those who misbehaved in other situations behaved for her.
Julia’s life spoke these lessons more by example than lecture. Her legacy is evident throughout the United Methodist Church and beyond: her children, grandchildren and her soul children. We would all do well to learn these lessons, live them, and then to pass them on to those who follow us in the life of the church.
In loving memory,