In Memory of Elliott Galloway

Today, I was honored to give the homily at the memorial service for Elliott Galloway, founder of the Galloway School, where I attended from 1974-1988. I consider him a mentor and a profound influence on my life; I also am fortunate to have come to know him as a friend and as a colleague in ministry. Below are my reflections from today's service, held at the Log Cabin Community Sunday School in Smyrna, GA. There are three forces that have most profoundly laid the foundation for who I am. My family, of course, with that mixture of nature and nurture; my church, where I learned what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ in the context of community; and my school, whose founder and visionary we remember here today.

One of my earliest memories in life is of my first day at the Galloway School at age four, sitting on the floor of Mrs. Yarnes’ class as we went around the circle and introduced ourselves. It was the first room on the right in Early Learning’s East Wing. I also remember this sense of a presence, an almost mythical figure from those days, a man with a gray suit and a cup of hot water, a Mr. Galloway.

We bonded early: until I was six, I went by my middle name, Elliott. Two l’s and two t’s. It’s amazing how the subtlety of spelling or the sharing of a common name can translate to a deeper connection.

In short, I am a product of the Galloway School. I am an alumnus. My sister is a graduate as well. My mother subbed in the music program. My aunt, Angelyn Chandler, taught in the art department. My father served on the Board and headed up the first construction expansion in the late 80’s. The Galloway School has been a family affair.

There is much to the life of Elliott Galloway, of course: teacher, athlete, mentor, pastor, friend, neighbor, commander, husband, parent, grandparent. But it is his influence and legacy on the Galloway School through which I knew him best. As I reflected on different aspects of my experience, it continued to strike me how clearly I could see the connection between Galloway the School and Galloway the man. As I came to know him through the years, I came to see more and more not only of Elliott the educator, but Elliott the disciple, the minister, the theologian. And it is primarily through these lenses – the lens of my faith and of the Galloway School – that I see what we do here today. Many of you knew him in ways that I do not and cannot speak of well. But as we gather here today, in the context of faith and community, as we cry and laugh, as we mourn and celebrate, it is my hope that we might see just a little bit of the divine light that shined through Elliott.

There is so much about that place, that community, that school, that vision of education and my experience of it, which I could share this morning: the focus on the individual gifts and needs of each student which points to the image of God within each one of us; the creative sense of experimentation and innovation which speaks of our need to leave room for the moving of the Spirit in all that we do; the desire to shape the student as a whole person, with intellectual, emotional, physical, and spiritual needs which evidences the reality that our lives are not segmented, but that with all that we have and all that we are, we celebrate and give witness to that divine spark that lies within.

There is, in fact, too much to speak of. But this morning, I would focus on three aspects of this legacy of Elliott Galloway and his lifelong commitment to education not only through the Galloway School, but through his commitments and gifts to so many other places, especially in his ministry of education: Westminster, Holy Innocents’, Paideia, and even here at Log Cabin. For me, I see these three glimpses as:

  • Education as a movement
  • Education as a way of discipleship
  • Education as a lifelong enterprise

First, education as a movement.

When I moved back to Atlanta after a decade away, I would periodically run into fellow alumni of Galloway. As pastor of Oglethorpe Presbyterian Church, I would meet parents of our Preschoolers who had attended. Some of them I knew from my time there, others I recognized, others I didn’t know at all, so separated by age we were. But with each one of them, there would always be this special bond. And the more I reflected on it, the more I thought of it in this way: to be a part of Galloway was not to be linked to an institution, it was to be part of a movement. There was something different about us. We didn’t or wouldn’t quite fit the mold at other schools. We had to explain to our friends that we didn’t know what grade we were in. We had to be patient with college admissions officers trying to understand our transcripts with their foreign language of excellent, satisfactory, unsatisfactory. And for many of us, this outsider status often stuck with us and shaped us in marvelous ways. We still don’t quite fit the world’s expectations, and that, at its heart, is a blessing.

There is something deeply Christian about this to me, something that jibes with Paul’s notion that the world is a place where we feel this twinge of exile as we go about our daily lives; and yet, within the community of faith, there should be this other sense of being at home. As a pastor, I am often struck by how out of tune even the church itself can be with this notion. In many ways, we have learned how to build institutions. But the power of the church lays not in its ability to create committees and by-laws and build buildings; instead, its power lays in its possible vulnerability as a movement, one which always seems just a little out of step with the way of the world, one which needs and provides a healthy dose of perspective and reflection. Education should be a movement.

Second, education as a way of discipleship.

One of Elliott’s strongest educational principles was the desire to lead children to learn. There was an infectious curiosity about the world and the way it works, a space and a freedom given to students to learn at their own pace and to be drawn, rather than pushed, to learn. I came to know this early on. In Mrs. K’s class (which was roughly fourth grade, I think), we would set up a contract at the beginning of each week for the work we would do. It was all based on a point-system. The more work we did, the more points we got. There may have been some kind of reward attached to the points, but the fact that I don’t remember seems to point to the reality that this isn’t what mattered. There was a minimum level of expectation, but anything beyond that was up to us. There was no push or even expectation to excel; instead, there was this invitation to go beyond and this hope to thrive.

This is, at its core, is the meaning of discipleship. As Jesus wandered the Galilee, meeting fishermen and tax collectors, his was not a cajoling, it was an invitation. When Philip speaks to Nathaniel about Jesus, and when Nathaniel asks dubiously, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip resists the temptation to launch into a sermon about the fulfillment of prophecy and messianic expectation. Instead, he offers this simple invitation: “Come and see.” In other words, check it out for yourself.

Being a disciple of Jesus Christ shouldn’t grow from a yearning for reward, that if we live a good enough life then we’ll get to go to heaven. Instead, it is about responding to that invitation and learning to live into it as a claim on our lives. And it is there, not in the reward, but in the journey and in our response, that we find our hope, our meaning, our joy. Education should be a way of discipleship.

Finally, education as a lifelong enterprise.

When I graduated from high school, that was not the end of my relationship with Elliott or with the Galloway School by a long-shot. Back in Atlanta on breaks, I would visit with Elliott and the teachers. They were all curious to know what I was learning and, more importantly what questions I was now asking. When I finished college, I worked part-time at Galloway for a year as a Spanish teacher. It was when I went off to Seminary that I first began to realize the impact that Elliott and his vision of education as ministry had had on my life. We would sit from time to time in his little Emeritus nook off the courtyard and discuss his time at Union, his conversations with Paul Tillich, and the pressing theological issues and conversations of the day. When Elizabeth and I got married, we knew that Elliott needed to be a part of that celebration. When we relocated to Palestine, in the Middle East, Elliott was one of those most interested in what we were doing and what we were experiencing. When I returned to Atlanta three years ago, Elliott came to my installation as pastor of Oglethorpe Presbyterian Church. That connection between big Elliott, with his cup of hot water, and little Elliott, tucked away in his cubby on the East Wing, grew stronger through the years. And Elliott was not alone in his attention. My sister and I both found our lives intertwining with teachers and staff through the years, all of them with a keen interest in what we were doing.

And in this lesson, perhaps, is the most clearest word that can speak to us today and what it is that we do in this moment. God’s presence in our lives does not have a magic beginning or ending point. There is no matriculation date to speak of. God does not sever relationship with us, because we are God’s precious children. There is nothing, in the words of Paul, not life, nor death, that can separate us from the love of God.

On this day, as we celebrate Elliott’s life and mourn his passing, as we live with all that it means for us now and for the days to come, let us be surrounded by this sense of comfort, this knowledge that God loves us even, and especially now, and that God loves Elliott even, and especially, now.

May that knowledge move us, invite us, and shape us our whole life long.