An Easter Sunday-sized congregation gathered for her funeral last Saturday at the Wynnton United Methodist Church in Columbus. I drove 100 miles to attend. Dodie MacElhannon was a servant of the Lord who loved the church, God’s world and God’s people. That’s why I had to sit in a folding chair on the back wall of the sanctuary, the only seats left available.
One does not expect to see a church full of people on the first Saturday afternoon in the college football season for the funeral of an 84-year-old person. When people tell me they hope the sanctuary will be full for their funeral service, I suggest they die young or tragically — two circumstances that usually fill the sanctuary. Otherwise, the crowds are smaller.
Dodie was not a bank president, an officeholder, a noted philanthropist or a famous entertainer. She was a wife and a mother who had, at age 84, probably outlived some of her contemporaries already. But the sanctuary was full because this vivacious disciple of Christ loved everybody. The three persons who spoke to us that day said what we knew from firsthand experience: Dodie MacElhannon accepted people where they were.
As far as I know, this remarkable follower of Christ had no official training in how to love and accept people except for the example set by her parents and her childhood Methodist church in Bulloch County. She learned how to love through the mentoring of family, Sunday school teachers and a rural social network.
When my wife and I — both Hoosiers — married and came to Georgia some 42 years ago (a move necessitated by my being drafted and assigned to Fort Benning) we began searching for a church to attend. Within a few weeks of our arrival in Columbus, we walked into the fellowship hall of the Wynnton United Methodist Church for a mid-week meal and worship service amidst strangers.
I can’t tell you what was on the menu or what the preacher said that night. But I clearly remember being greeted at the front door by Dodie MacElhannon and her husband, Rocky. They welcomed these two out-of-place Yankees like we were long-lost family and helped us become part of that family.
Over the decades, I saw Dodie extend that same love and acceptance to countless people in numerous settings both as a leader in her church and as a member of the Columbus community. Her calling was to love people like Jesus loved people.
A woman at that service told me that, although she had only known Dodie for a few months through a bridge club, she found her new friend so “adorable” that she felt compelled to attend. So did the rest of us, and that’s why the sanctuary was full on a beautiful Saturday afternoon with a touch of fall in the air. Dodie MacElhannon’s love for people was infectious.
Creede Hinshaw, of Macon, is a retired Methodist minister.