Before there was social media, there was Rev. Sam Storey. The longtime senior associate minister of Marietta's First United Methodist Church had a pre-Facebook knack for keeping up with his flock's milestones and occasional missteps.
"You better hope Big Sam doesn't find out," my husband warned when I was once pondering a Sunday activity that would divert us from church. I scrapped those other plans.
Rev. Storey, whose funeral was Sunday, died March 2 at 74 after battling heart disease for years. The cause of death seemed a particularly cruel irony; he had the warmest heart and a genuine love for others.
His ministry transcended the sanctuary, and he was a regular figure at Marietta High School games and civic events. He visited patients in the hospital and he visited inmates in custody. He was a gifted preacher and teacher who could make you laugh or cry during sermons or Sunday School lessons. He taught us to be more grateful and more forgiving.
Years ago, when a member of our church temporarily relocated to West Paces Ferry Road in Buckhead, Rev. Storey visited time and again. He officiated at the wedding of now Cobb State Court Judge Allison Barnes Salter and attorney John Salter at the Governor's Mansion in October 2001, when Allison's dad, Roy Barnes, was governor.
"As we come from the Blue Ridge mountains of Rabun to the shores of Cumberland Island, from the roses of Thomasville to the gardens and horseback riding of Barnsley, from Hickory Flat Road in Holly Springs to Biscayne Drive off Peachtree, from the mansion on West Paces Ferry to beautiful Brookwood Drive in Mableton, we all come to celebrate the life, work, and ministry of Gov. Roy Barnes," he prayed.
It was an emotional event, coming in the last days of Barnes' term, and the governor paused a few times to compose himself during his remarks. Afterward Rev. Storey comforted his congregant, patting him on the shoulder and saying softly, "Good job."
A Thomaston native and graduate of the University of Georgia and Emory's Candler School of Theology, Rev. Storey was ordained in 1969 and that year came to Marietta First as youth minister. He was pastor of Clayton First United Methodist, Mountain Park United Methodist and Gainesville First United Methodist Church before returning to Marietta First in 1990, serving until his health forced him to take medical disability in 2007. (His full obit is here).
As often as he was able to in recent years, Rev. Storey taught our Sunday School class, and led the prayer at our class Christmas parties. In closing he would recite the final verse of "O Little Town of Bethlehem," the words newly meaningful when spoken: "O holy Child of Bethlehem, descend to us, we pray. Cast out our sin and enter in, be born in us today. We hear the Christmas angels, the great glad tidings tell. O come to us, abide with us, our Lord Emmanuel."
Our faith teaches us that life on earth is but a preamble to life everlasting, and that we'll see each other again after our time here is done. For now I will mourn with Carolyn, Rev. Storey's wife of nearly 48 years, his son Sam Jr. and wife Kristi, daughter Betsy and husband Robert Kelley, and grandchildren Ellie, Harber and Frances Storey and Mary Margaret and Elizabeth Kelley.
The last time I saw my pastor was after church in January. He always liked an update, so I mentioned I was heading up to Washington to cover the inauguration. He already knew, of course (I'm telling you, the man knew everything about everybody) and warned me to be careful. After he gave me a hug he put a hand on my shoulder and, as it turns out, said goodbye.
"You take care," he said. Take care."