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Alabama conference honors "faithful" Sunday school teacher

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A UMNS photo courtesy of the Alabama-West Florida Conference

Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster honors Marie Gray for teaching Sunday school for more than 70 years.

June 24, 2006

A UMNS Feature
By Kathy L. Gilbert*

She seems a little too frail to be called a giant but that’s exactly what “Mrs. Gray” has been for many children over the past 70-plus years.

Marie Gray has been teaching first-and second-graders John 3:16, the Lord’s Prayer and the 10 Commandments since she was 16. She was honored for her faithful service to Coden (Ala.) United Methodist Church during the Alabama-West Florida Annual (regional) Conference June 4-7.

“I’m 92 going on 93,” she says. “I think they said I was 93 (at annual conference), they also said I taught for 75 years, it is really more like 70.”

Determined to set the record straight, she adds, “They said something about I did it continuously--now that’s not right either.

“I had two sons and I stayed out when my sons were born—then, too, I went to college. ‘Course I picked it up as soon as I got home. So I think 70 years would be about right.”

One thing that didn’t keep her from teaching Sunday school was Hurricane Katrina. Even though the storm wiped out the Sunday school building, Gray was able to teach her “little ones” on the kitchen floor of the fellowship hall soon after the storm passed.

“You know we had this terrible hurricane—Katrina-- that came through and tore up our Sunday school building. It just demolished it and flooded the whole church,” she says.

She came back from her son’s house where she had gone during the hurricane to see what Katrina had done her church. “I guess it was the next day or so that I went down there and saw it. I cried my heart out when I couldn’t see my Sunday school class. All my little stuff had floated away,” she says.

LINK: Click to open full size version of image
A UMNS photo by Mike DuBose

A section of wall framing rests atop a crib in the Sunday school building at Coden (Ala.) United Methodist Church following Hurricane Katrina.

The sanctuary and fellowship hall were flooded but left standing, says the Rev. Linwood Lewis, pastor of Coden United Methodist Church. The congregation was back in the sanctuary in about three weeks and a group of volunteers from North Carolina cleaned out the fellowship hall so Gray and others could hold Sunday school.

Gray worried about her “sweet little ones” having to sit on a cold kitchen floor so she brought in blankets. She still grieves over the loss of most of the “little chairs” she had been using for years. “I was able to save about seven of them,” she says.

Since the hurricane, the church had turned the unused parsonage into the new Sunday school building.

“She is delighted with her Sunday school room now, it is the biggest of the bunch,” says Lewis, laughing.

After being hit by numerous hurricanes over the years, the congregation has voted to move the church to higher ground, away from the beach.

“I want the move with my head but not with my heart,” Gray says. “I’ve been there so many years.”

Special honor

Gray says she was overwhelmed when Bishop Larry M. Goodpaster honored her at annual conference.

“My son got me down there to Christ United Methodist Church. I was so overwhelmed; I didn’t know what I was doing.”

She says she thinks her pastor was behind everything. “I didn’t want all that praise because my way of praising the Lord is teaching.”

Despite her modesty, Lewis points out that Gray plays a big role in everyone’s lives. “If she is not at church on Sunday, everybody gets worried,” he says.

The whole congregation is thrilled she was honored at annual conference, he continues. “The bishop wanted to know what we did to keep Mrs. Gray teaching and I assured him she has a room.

“Although I doubt she hears but about 10 percent of what I say on Sunday, she is there and that’s the main thing,” he says.

Generations of inspiration

“Our little church is more of a family church,” Gray says. “I taught some of the fathers and mothers and now I’m teaching their children. I don’t know how many generations I’ve taught--three or four I guess.”

Gray was an elementary school teacher for 37 years in Bayou La Batre.

“The Lord has had his hand on me for a long time,” she says, when asked what inspires her to teach the children. “I did a lot of things that were not pleasing to the Lord, but I asked his forgiveness. He was always there to forgive me.”

Gray likes to get to church early on Sunday morning so she has time to kneel and pray at the altar for her young charges.

“I love to do that,” she says. “I feel like if I can go to church and pray for all my problems and pray for all my children, I will be alright.”

*Gilbert is a United Methodist News Service news writer based in Nashville, Tenn.

News media contact: Kathy L. Gilbert, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or


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