On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for all peoples a feast of rich food… In reading these words from Isaiah and thinking about our friend Sam, I couldn’t help but think about all the food that Sam has provided to this congregation and others over the years. Sunday morning breakfast, Thursday morning Men’s Prayer Breakfast, cooking for MACOA, smoking butts in the parking lot, ordering and picking up food at the Food Bank for our food boxes that we give away on Wednesdays and for Rice and Beans—Sam and food are almost synonymous around here. But associating Sam with food is barely scratching the surface of who Sam is and why he is so important to so many at Ascension.
Sam was a man of few words. But he knew your name. I can’t tell you the number of people who have shared “Sam stories” with me this past week about how when they came to Ascension, Sam was the first person to know and remember their name. They would come to church their first Sunday and the next time they came back, Sam would call them by name and welcome them back to the church. It seems such a little thing, remembering someone’s name, but that small act was a big piece of the hospitality that was Sam Dolman. Sam did more than simply greet you, he remembered you. You mattered to Sam and that is easily one of the reasons that Sam mattered to so many of you.
Sam knew our names and he knew about those in need. Reggie Hamner tells the story of how Sam would call him up and tell him he had found a kid who needed to go to the University of Alabama but couldn’t afford too. Somehow they would figure out how to get the kid a scholarship and thus a change at life. Sam drove for New Beginnings, the tutoring program here on Wednesday nights, and in so doing touched the lives of innumerable children over the years. Not to mention the number of children and youth in our own congregation who loved Sam and whom Sam loved.
Sam’s offering to this world was his love. He didn’t say a lot, but through his actions he demonstrated a love and concern for others that reflects the love God calls us too: the love that Jesus showed his disciples. Jesus says a lot of things, but it is his selfless actions that demonstrate his love. Before his death and resurrection, he tells his disciples that he will go to “prepare a place for [them]” and that they “know the place where [he] is going.” Thomas protests that they don’t know and Jesus assures him, that he is “the way, and the truth, and the life.” We get caught up on this passage and say that you have to believe in Jesus to go to Heaven. Maybe. But I think more likely that our salvation reflects our understanding of how we live in accordance with what Jesus taught as the way, the truth, and the life.
For Jesus, being the way, the truth, and the life is the path to transformation. It is recognizing that people are more important than rules and love is more powerful than words. We have a tendency to default to the principles and structures that govern our common life—not that that is a bad thing, but at times it is the easy thing. It is the excuse we give to not challenge the wrongs we see in this world because, at the least, they are within the confines of the rules. But Jesus knows that preferencing rules over relationships limits our potential for transformation. For Jesus, the way, the truth, and the life is not about living according to the rules but about our intentional awareness of one another; of our struggles and joys, of our needs and concerns, of our names.
Sam understood what it meant to be the way, the truth, and the life. He knew what it meant to value people over purpose. He worked hard to be in in relationship with others; to extend hospitality; to identify need and work to meet that need. Sam created community and he connected community. He was able to draw in others to cook and to serve—not just within the parish but out to the world as well. He went to the Food Bank and packed food boxes for those in need. He got a group of guys together to cook on Saturday mornings for MACOAs freezer so they might have extra food for any in need. He drove Ascensionaires on their field trips and kids to tutoring, and he knew us—he took the time to learn our names and to joke around with us as well as showing concern when we were in need. That is what it means to be the way, the truth, and the life—to create community as a way of partnering with God and one another to do God’s work in the world. It’s not hard, it is simply living an intentional life. That was Sam’s gift and in offering that gift to Ascension, he offered us a way of knowing Jesus simply by being in relationship with us.
The legacy of Sam Dolman is not simply his love of the Crimson Tide, though that is a significant part of who he is, it is how he made us feel—welcomed, important, and a part of this community. Regardless of who you were, young or old, new or cradle Episcopalian, Sam made you feel valued and included. He worked hard to provide a feast for us on this earth, I can only imagine that he is feasting in heaven at an Alabama tailgate party, having been greeted by name when he arrived at the Pearly Gates. Well done good and faithful servant. Now, can I get a Roll Tide?!?!?!
A homily on the occasion of Sam Dolman’s funeral
Tuesday, November 5, 2019
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer