a column dedicated to the folks in the pews
Written by Dale Buchanan
On a recent Wednesday, my friend Gayle and I had lunch with Ruth. I thought I knew this delightful Southern lady. The truth is my knowledge of this spunky, charming Christian woman was skimpy at best. When I first came to Big Red Church, Ruth was the moderator. I was impressed. I loved the confident way she handled herself with the congregation. I found the hint of her Southern heritage in her accent delectable. I was, however, most impacted by her hats and affectionately refer to her as the hat lady. These beautiful hats are sometimes handcrafted and decorated to coordinate with the outfits that this seamstress extraordinaire creates from the fabric she loves. While some women might hang out in bars, Ruth says she prefers to “hang out” in fabric stores.
Born in rural Georgia on a farm six miles from the nearest town, Ruth was the oldest of four siblings—two girls and two boys. At a very young age she noticed that at harvest time she and her sisters worked in the kitchen for no pay, while her brothers working in the fields were paid for their labor. This struck her as profoundly unfair and I suspect was the seed of her activism and progressive stance in all things social and religious.
In San Francisco where she was serving as a commissioned officer in the Navy, she met Rolf at a dance. Three months later they were married in a union that lasted 58 years. They were blessed with three children, seven grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren with one on the way. As so often happens, my interview became less interview and more conversational. She volunteered a touching account of Rolf’s last days when on the way to the hospital that last time it never crossed her mind that Rolf would not be coming home again.
I asked what lesson she gained from her time in the big City. Her reply was, “The world is a big place and we are all different. My perspective changed. I let my children live their own lives and I am not too concerned about the details of religion.”
We conversed about Fresno. Such a storehouse of memories! Ruth lives in the Bullard/West area, and when she moved there it was rural. Her kids could walk to school. She is an activist and often writes about politics and the things that divide us like city, county islands, and the economic islands that keep us separated. And along the way she served as a board member of the Fresno Unified School District
Coming from a different faith tradition, I found Ruth a fountain of knowledge about the function and structure of the Big Red Church. This time spent conversing together one-on-one allowed Ruth to engage in a teaching moment with an eager student. My notes positively overflow with things I did not understand about the way Congregational churches do things.
With humor, sensitivity, and a large dose of love, she expressed her vision and prayer for the future of this church which is such a vital part of her life. “Dale, I am optimistic about the optimism that is evident among us from the pews to the clergy. There is a sense of excitement that radiates through every aspect of the church and its ministries. There has always been a sense of social responsibility and the church seems to be growing exponentially. My prayer is that we as a church family find a good balance between caring for those in our midst and serving others.”
If you only know Ruth with a nod and a smile on Sunday morning, you are missing the opportunity to be acquainted with this genteel Southern lady—the hat lady!
Dale Buchanan is a member of FCCF with a passion for stories and writing. In between penning his own memoirs, he is helping us get to know our members, one pew at a time.