Reverend Marilyn Andrews, 74, sings from her pulpit during the Sunday service at Wesley Chapel A.M.E Church as she has done for more than seven years. Andrews, who has devoted her time to the ministry for the past 34 years, plans to officially retire in October. Daily Record photos by Denise Cathey
Reverend Andrews makes ‘A joyful noise’
Marilyn Andrews – Reverend Andrews, if you want to get formal with her – is the minister of San Marcos’ Wesley Chapel also known as the African Methodist Episcopal or AME.
An Alabama native by birth and early schooling, Reverend Andrews made her way to Texas in a roundabout way. Actually she made her way to the ministry in a roundabout way, but more about that later.
After she graduated from high school in Mobile in 1961 – before integration became the law – she went to Atlanta, Georgia to become a nurse. Andrews enrolled in the nursing program at Grady Memorial Hospital School of Nursing. She explained that segregation was still the law, but it was understood that Grady was an excellent school of nursing and if she managed to graduate, she would be a great nurse. As a teaching hospital, residents and interns came over from Emory University.
“Working with them, we got to do a lot of things,” she said. “In our regular program, we were not taught to draw blood. I was working with one of the interns one day and he was preparing to draw blood. He turned to me and asked if I wanted to learn to draw blood. And I said, sure, and that’s how we learned a lot about nursing.”
Randy Williams and Roy Coleman play the keyboard for the hymns of worship during the service.
In 1964, she graduated from Grady.
“I was in Atlanta during the civil rights movement,” she explained, “but the school would not allow the black students to get involved.”
While nurse/student, Andrews did not get involved in the marches and other activities of the Civil Rights movement, but it was something that affected her strongly, as one will discover by attending her church on Fredericksburg Street.
The normal service there exceeds two hours. That time is filled with music, recitations, prayer, music, worship activity by the young people, pastoral prayer, music, call to worship, music, prayer, music, music, and more activities, all of which are highlighted by music.
Amazingly the choir is miniscule, around four people, but that does not detract. They “make a joyful noise” with two pianos, drums, and voices full of praise. Of course, the congregation is invited to join in from time to time.
I’m getting a bit ahead of the real story of Marilyn Andrews nurse/minister. Grady Hospital only had a charter for one school, but, according to Andrews, “the white students went to school down the street to Georgia State for their academic courses and Black students were bused to Spellman College for their academic work. And my class was the first class to get college credits for their academic studies.”
Reverend Marilyn Andrews rests her hands upon the well-worn bible at the pulpit from which she preaches each week.
Before Andrews’ class, instructors came to Grady and taught the students in a large gymnasium. While they took courses such as microbiology, they got no college credits. Her class was, as mentioned earlier, the first class to get credit for their academic work.
Time and circumstances would prove the Spellman credits to be extremely valuable.
“I got engaged to my husband while still at Grady Hospital,” she said, switching the conversation to her family, to provide clarity for the moves to follow and to explain her presence in Texas.
“I graduated in September 1964, and was married in November. We remained in Atlanta for three years and I continued to work for Grady Hospital. My husband was then transferred to Houston.
“My father was in the military at Brookley Air Force Base in Mobile. When it was closed my family moved to Kelly Air Force Base in San Antonio. So, I left Houston and moved to San Antonio.
“It was about that time that the VA Hospital opened in San Antonio and I was one of the nurses that was a part of that. There was a sizable group of us who worked at the hospital before it opened. That was 1973, when I joined the staff at the VA hospital. I retired in 2003.”
Thirty years of caring for others, walking hospital halls, and carrying out doctors’ orders has taken nothing from Reverend Andrews own enthusiasm nor her ability to energize a congregation of worshipers as they praise the Lord and sing gospels as a means of expressing their faith. One can recognize the presence of The Holy Spirit in Wesley Chapel.
Perhaps a short review of her sermon of Aug. 5, 2018 would be helpful. The topic was a lesson on unity. We are one; we all have value, regardless of gender, skin color, language or place of origin. Let there be peace among us. Let us love one another as Christ instructed. “Love your God with all your heart and all your soul and with all your mind,” Matthew 22:37. And, “Love your neighbor as yourself,” Matthew 22:39. There was plenty of audience participation. Toward the end of her message, she revealed a beautiful voice as she sang some of the words of an old gospel to illustrate her point.
I was vividly reminded of the African-American, Hispanic, Filipino, Native American, Hawaiian, New Yorkers, Californians and Texas soldiers I commanded over my 27 year career as an infantry officer of the U.S. Army and how they melded into one as they formed a single unit with many different skills, capabilities, attitudes and behaviors. And, while it might have embarrassed them a bit to be told they loved one another, there was the unspoken recognition that it was true.
Author’s note: A recent phone conversation with a former lieutenant ended with “I love you, man.”
Maybe it takes 42 years to recognize the emotion and have the courage to say it out loud. When Reverend Marilyn Andrews sermonizes and sings what love means, it becomes clear and the reluctance to speak it disappears.
Our conversation led to a discussion of how the slaves practiced religion. She immediately corrected a supposition of mine that slaves did not have churches. “They certainly had churches. They would go off into the woods — find an arbor and gather to pray and worship together. That was their church."
I surmised that Reverend Andrews was a student of religion among the African-American community. I asked about the origin and meaning of the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) church.
“Richard Allen was a slave who bought his freedom and freedom for his brother,” she began. “Allen was saved by a sermon he heard at a Methodist Church and became a preacher. The Methodists allowed Allen to preach — but at inconvenient times such as 5 a.m. According to history, his congregations consisted of black people and white people. That was not acceptable to the white community.
“Even though the actual church seating was segregated, the elders wanted to move the Black patrons to another section of the church. When told they would have to move the Black congregants, got up and, as a group, left the church.
“As a result of the white church’s action, the black segment formed the Free African Society and it became a source of essential education and training for former slaves and others who needed to make a living. And the church Allen formed wanted to include the Episcopal law and retain the Methodist structure — the accepted method. And to distinguish themselves from the Methodist Episcopal Church, they added African.
“I believe it was Bishop Asbury who ordained Allen. And a Bishop has to be ordained by another Bishop. Any church has 20 Episcopal districts. Six are in the United States and 14 are overseas. We have churches in India, Cuba, North America, Central America, Africa, all parts of Africa, and Canada. So, we have churches all over.”
Reverend Marilyn Andrews walks down the aisle clapping her hands to the music at the head of the processional during the Sunday church service..
But when did Andrews decide to go into theology?
“The school in Atlanta was a diploma school. I had received a diploma in 1964, but in 1981, I went back to school at Incarnate Word in San Antonio where, I discovered they had an accelerated program where I could get a bachelor’s degree in nursing. So, I did that.”
“As mentioned earlier, my nursing school in Atlanta gave us college credits, so I took credit for all those and got a bachelor's degree in nursing from Incarnate Word.”
She also has a bachelor's degree in theology from St. Mary’s in San Antonio.
“I was also teaching at the American Bible College and Seminary in San Antonio and in 1995, they gave me an honorary doctorate in theology. I never use that as a part of my credentials.”
Reverend Andrews related that she also lectured at the University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio. In addition, she presented at the Mental Health conference and she also was teaching theology and in 1986, she was ordained as an itinerant deacon. Two more years of study and she was ordained as an itinerant elder. That’s a year’s appointment and at the annual conference, the Bishop will make the new assignments for the year.
“The longest I’ve stayed at a church was 17 years. That was at St. Joseph’s in San Antonio.”
At this point, I questioned her math. Thirty years at the VA hospital; 17 years at St. Joseph. Guessing at her age: it doesn’t compute. I challenged her tenures, her age and her math.
“Oh, I was bi-vocational,” she quickly informed me. “I was full-time ministry in 2003 after I retired.”
I’m trying to evaluate her age against her energy, her intellectual acuteness, and her physical adroitness. She confessed to me, I’m not in the habit of hearing confession, but at this point, I listened.
“I’m 74,” she said, “and, at 75 we must retire. Now, I’m not retiring from ministry. I’m retiring from ‘active pastoral ministry.’ You don’t retire from ministry,” she said with a deep throated laugh that filled her little office.
I can see the Reverend Marilyn Andrews energizing a congregation of AME parishioners with her cogent lesson from the scriptures and her beautiful voice making a joyful noise for several years in the future. Retirement is for others. She has overcome, and she will continue to do so until “The Lord calls her home.”