Isabel’s Graceful and Persuasive Presence

Weekly Reflection, Friday, August 27

By: The Rev. Dr. John Miller

St. Mary’s is set to celebrate Isabel’s birth centennial. Let the festivities begin! Our beloved Isabel Coale Souder Correll is an icon for our parish community. She has exemplified God’s graciousness, radiating love and faith, friendship and hospitality for decades, thereby putting her distinctive stamp on the character of our church.

Even before she and Holt arrived at St. Mary’s with their children, Ann, Basil, and Marshall, after he became rector in 1962, Isabel had been a part of this parish. She had worshipped here, and served as treasurer, in her youth during World War II. On the day of her marriage to Holt in 1947, she and he had knelt at our altar railing to receive Holy Communion prior to their wedding at St. James’s. So, Isabel has spent most of her remarkable life at St. Mary’s. In many ways, we are who we are because of her presence among us.

I got to know Isabel when I was in seminary. I had accepted Holt’s call as youth minister, and then as assistant rector after my ordination, and they were my wonderful advocates. I began and ended my day with visits to the rectory, the parson’s residence. At those times, Holt and I would go over our agenda, and Isabel would treat us to a delicious lunch or tea. Her sparkling presence made those occasions more like parties than simple refreshment. Our family even lived at the rectory one August when the Souders vacationed in Maine. Those experiences prepared me for my future as a rector, because in those days, the rectory was the office and daily hub of St. Mary’s activities.

When Holt retired, I was elected rector of St. Mary’s in 1984. Isabel and Holt were the first to call me “parson.” To my mind, that title belonged to Holt, so their recognition of my new ministry was both humbling and uplifting. Isabel served on the vestry in my first years and continued as an altar guild expert and needle-pointer, producing floral beauty and gorgeous kneelers, as well as coats of arms for my vestments. She and Holt were always generously supportive, giving me advice when I needed it and plenty of space to develop my own leadership style.

By the end of the 1980s, St. Mary’s had grown significantly. We were attracting more members than we could seat for services. We made the bold decision to construct new buildings and expand the churchyard. Isabel and Holt were cheerleaders for these innovations. While Holt preached a sermon that endorsed the shift from small to large church model, Isabel had the insight that Little St. Mary’s would remain our “physical logo.” In simple Carpenter’s Gothic design, we tell the world that we are a mission church, accessible to everyone.

As the building project commenced, Isabel had another brilliant idea. She said, “Let’s build berms around the new churchyard, and plant daffodils and daylilies to make everything beautiful!” And so we did. Isabel oversaw the planting of thousands of bulbs. The result was colorful, comforting, and symbolic of the renewal of hope. Isabel’s dream created a floral embrace of the churchyard where our faithful departed rest in God’s peace.

Thank you, Isabel, for your graceful, persuasive presence throughout your life. Your loving guidance and support have been, and always will be, blessings to us all.