Mary Lib Lowery: Reflecting the love and light of Christ

By Rev. Dave Allen Grady

By the time I gained the privilege of knowing her, Mary “Lib” Lowery was the diaconal minister for children’s ministry at my home church, First United Methodist Church in downtown Birmingham, AL. When we joined the church I was in youth group. I never got the opportunity to be in a children’s program she directed. But I was amazed by her. Every Sunday, as she was making her way from the education building to the sanctuary, she would get mobbed by the children for the singular purpose of exchanging a hug. From time to time, you even saw a middle schooler hover around the periphery. When they’d make eye contact, they would share a brief embrace, too. The fact that this liturgy happened each and every week—sometimes making her almost late for the opening procession—mesmerized me. What was it about her? No one else on staff had people almost inhibiting their forward movement minutes before worship began. It was her gracious, loving demeanor. It was reflected not only in the time she gave to recognize each child but the way she taught Sunday School, the way she patiently led the children’s choir, and how she went about leading a life of ministry imbued with a deep wisdom.

When I was in college at the University of Alabama, she made a habit of driving to Tuscaloosa and taking each of the “Birmingham First Church” students to lunch. It was a check-in from home. It was during one of those visits that I learned she was an Alabama alumna and that her husband had been director of the Alabama Wesley Foundation. On a subsequent visit, I learned about her life in ministry that took her to Florida before returning to Camp Sumatanga and the North Alabama Conference’s Council on Ministries. I was impressed by the scope of ways someone could be in ministry. This was new to me. It was also over a lunch visit—to The City Cafe, of course—that I first began talking with her about a call to ministry. With the same graceful, wise way she led children’s ministry there was a fruitful place for me to ask questions about a life in service to the church. She was a great conversation partner and a dear friend. She exposed me to books like Westerhoff’s Will Our Children Have Faith as well as encouraged me to listen to Bernstein’s Mass for the first time.

All too soon, she retired. I remembered protesting her decision. I told her, “we need you.” The truth was, I needed her. She was the first woman I had experienced in a pastoral role. She was such a wise and loving presence. Little did I know that, soon, cancer would attack her body, sapping her physical strength but never robbing her of her gracious spirit.

Scripture tells of the change to Moses’ countenance after having been in God’s presence. I have no idea what Moses’ face looked like. But I have definitely been in the presence of one whose countenance reflected the love and light of Christ. I am under no illusion that I am the only one who could lift Mary Lib up as a woman who inspired them—I know many who make the same claim as I. But for all of us who knew her and loved her, our lives are better. Whenever the neverending to-do list of ministry wears on me, I remember the image of her patiently and graciously greeting the children, even if it did make her late for church.

 

whm.gradyRev. Dave Allen Grady was raised in rural Alabama by Southern Baptist parents but had United Methodist grandparents.  In college at The University of Alabama he spent much time with the Episcopal Campus Ministry but by time he graduated, he was in leadership with the Bama Wesley Foundation. He earned a certificate in Christian Education and a Master of Divinity degree from The Candler School of Theology. Grady is the pastor of Druid Hills United Methodist Church in Atlanta, Georgia.

 

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5 thoughts on “Mary Lib Lowery: Reflecting the love and light of Christ

  1. Wow. It’s not everyday that I get stopped in my Facebook tracks by Mary Lib! Thank you SO much for this. I was Dir. of Youth Ministry at FUMC from summer of 72 to summer of 74 (I was “Tommy” Wilson then), and when I left, Mary Lib was hired and took my office and, of course, I was thrilled for her, the church and Fletcher Thorington, knowing what a powerful spiritual presence they had just brought under the roof. We were already fast friends from working together at Sumatanga for three summers, during which my own mother died of cancer (in Sept. of 73) and she had been a stalwart friend and magnificent example through my trials. You know, of course, that she suffered greatly from both physical and emotional pains throughout her life, which I’m sure tempered and burnished her magnificence to it’s rosy glow, and she must surely be enjoying a very fine heavenly accommodation, finally reunited with her beloved Shirley (such a strange name for a man!). The last time I saw Mary Lib was when she joined my lover (of, now, 27 years), Richard, and me for lunch at the Tutwiler in 1992, but her face, heart and embracing voice are always on instant recall. Thank you for posting this. I’ve been struggling over a blog post of my own on the magnificence of God’s gifts, and this more than spurs me to get it done today. (inpraiseofangels.wordpress.com). Sincerely, George Thomas Wilson.
    PS, were you in my youth group? If so, please accept my apology for not remembering. It was, I suppose, 40 years ago!

  2. Wonderful, honey! Sorry, but I couldn’t resist testifying to a Mary Lib Honey special. What a faith-filled, saintly woman clergy of God! My dad was best friends with her Shirley. I was willed to them at birth. Now my teenage girls (only the oldest ever knee her) are named for her and carry her spirit: Mary Rose & Sarah Lib. She influenced me greatly and was surely singing with the saints at my ordination as Elder (North AL) last June! ThxB2God for our Saint Mary Lib!

    • Melissa, it’s good to see you here! We were blessed with special times and special people at First Church, and in the Chancel and Sunday Evening choirs. I can still hear Mary Lib and Elizabeth Selman playing duets, and the many Christmas Eve services we shared. I am so happy for you! With your sweet spirit, I know Mary Lib is smiling on you. Who better to have on our side, interceding for us and cheering us on than Saint Mary Lib!

  3. I, too, was blessed to know and experience the amazing force that was Mary Lib Lowery. As member of First Church and the Chancel choir, I quickly realized the “God-with-us” that lived in this incredible woman. Testament to her influence: she made a trip with a group to Europe, and without fail, everywhere on their travels some person not of their group would call out “Hey Mary Lib!”, much to their amazement. It happened so frequently a joke arose that she appeared on the balcony with the Pope at the Vatican, and someone in the crowd asked “Who is that on the balcony?” The reply came “I don’t know who the guy in the white dress is, but he’s standing next to Mary Lib Lowery!” Such was her impact on all who were graced with sharing this walk with her.

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