Monday, July 09, 2007


We celebrated a birthday at Mount Vernon Place yesterday. Howard Martin turned 99 years old. Howard joined Mount Vernon Place in the 1940s when he came to Washington from Norfolk, Virginia. A lifelong Methodist, it did not take him long to find the bustling community alive and well at Mount Vernon Place. He'll be quick to tell you all about the church and how it grew in the 1940s and 50s under the leadership of Dr. John Rustin. And, Howard has played a crucial role in the church since he joined. He is part of the reason why MVPUMC hosted the Geriatric Daycare Center, a day facility for older adults in DC who suffer with Alzheimer's, Dementia, arthritis and loneliness, many of whom are at or below the poverty level. He is one of the reasons why the church has long supported ministries for the poor and suffering in Washington. And, he is one of the reasons that the doors of Mount Vernon Place are still open today - he has not once given up on his church even though he has watched the membership go from over 4500 people in 1960 to less than 100 individuals today. In fact, when his children tried to get him to move to Texas, he said there was no way he was going to leave his church. His church is his life - his family - an integral part of his story.

I have been blessed to share a few hours with Howard every Wednesday. He is part of our weekly Bible study, and he and another member, Lois, drive in from Northern Virginia to downtown Washington each Wednesday morning for Bible study. And, it is this place where I have grown to love and appreciate Howard the most.
It was at Bible study that Howard brought me a book on how to be a better orator. He told me, "You can be the best preacher in the city if you will just reach this book." He then said, "When Abraham Lincoln gave the Gettysburg Address he did not say 'Four score and seven years ago' as fast as he could. Instead, he said, 'Fooooouuuurrrr Scccoooorreee and Seeevvveeennn Yeeeaaarrrssss Agggoooo.' You get the point? And while I have not read the book, Howard tells me that he can understand me better now - that I have learned to slow down so he can hear me.
It was at Bible study where I learned the concerns of Howard's heart. We close Bible study each week asking each person what they want us to pray for. Howard's request is almost always the same, "I just want God to help me be a better person." He'll then be quick to point out the places where God has blessed him through the years - with three sons, good health, lots of friends, a great church, and plenty of security. If he ever asks for a prayer for himself, it is for God to watch over him when he drives - that God will keep him from getting a ticket or an accident because he wants to keep his driver's licence. And, Lois, a 93 year old, is the one who keeps him awake when he is driving!
Howard's licence plate reads, "RUALERT." While we have laughed that the people following him need to be alert behind this 99 year old man who is driving his car, I also believe that RUALERT could stand for something else.
Howard is always alert to God's presence in his life. He knows that every perfect gift comes from God above. He realizes that all he has belongs to God, and that he is a steward of it - his time, his health, his body, his resources. He understands that the greatest joy on this earth is helping another person. He is alert to all of this goodness and grace.
Perhaps we could all learn a lesson from Howard. RUALERT?

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