Summary: Funeral sermon for Alfred Bailey, long-term chair of the church Building and Grounds Committee, civic activist, and Martin Luther King Memorial founder. His unfinished tasks and his missed appointments are completed by a God who gave him many assignments
It’s tough to be on time. And it’s tough to get things finished. In fact, those two items are closely connected. It’s tough to be on time precisely because it is so tough to get things finished. And if you are involved in a great many things, chances are you will never complete them all, nor will you keep all your appointments. It’s just too complicated.
It’s tough to be on time, and it’s tough to get things finished, when your life is full of good things to do. It is just reality when you are involved in many things.
Al Bailey was involved in many things. His associations were wide and deep. Fraternity, civic association, this church, the King memorial, family, the D. C. Baptist Convention, Tuskegee Airmen, Howard University – on and on. Al was involved. And – you know already where I am going with this – Al could never get a job completely done. Nor could Al ever get to an appointment on time.
But, brothers and sisters, you and I may think of those as faults in Al. But in them there is good news. In those so-called faults there is the Gospel. Hear it from that ancient struggler Job, whose words are a mixture of complaint and faith, and who says of his God, “He will complete what he appoints for me; and many such things are in his mind.” God had many things in mind for Al, and Al strove to do them all. In the process, Al drove us all a little bit crazy; but today let’s understand what it was all about. It was about waiting for the moment when God would complete what God had appointed. The things Al could not complete, the appointments he could not keep, God will complete. Job again: “[God] will complete what he appoints for me; and many such things are in his mind.”
This church building is a monument to incompleteness. That started long before Al ever got here. According to the original drawings, what was actually built is not like what was planned. They never finished it. But when Al Bailey got involved in this church’s physical facility, monuments to incompleteness multiplied mightily.
The first was the men’s restroom on this floor. When I arrived in 1984 it was mostly a junk storage space, with one tiny little cubicle inside. Al determined that it should have much more capacity than that. And so he tiled, he installed plumbing, he made that room useful. Except that one privacy wall hung loose for months; one basin was not connected to the water for a couple of years; and the hole in the door where a lock had been removed became the source of so much embarrassment that Al’s wife Chastine finally stood up in business meeting and demanded that her husband take care of it. I remember her saying, “There are some things we just don’t need to see.” Al’s incomplete task; it did get done after that.
I could mention the dropped ceiling in the basement; a great idea, but for years some of the framework just hung there, without the panels in it. Melody, I think you and Charles attended our Marriage Enrichment group under that unfinished ceiling. Did you know Al had taken that on, but didn’t finish it until much later?
And then there was the gaping hole in the social hall floor. A plumbing leak had developed, and Al with Guy Robinson and some others dug through the concrete to get down and repair it. Fine; except that it was hard to find tile of the same color and size, and so for months we ate church dinners gathered around a hole in the floor. Al’s incomplete task.
I think my personal favorite has to be the safe. Who remembers the safe? I know Joe Hairston does, because he and Al bought it at auction, and loaded it on to Joe’s truck. They brought it here on a snowy day, when its tremendous weight got it stuck in the mud outside, but they managed to wrestle it through the back door and down the corridor. It was to go into the office annex; but right in the doorway their dolly broke down. That safe sat in that office door, neither in nor out, for the Biblical forty days and forty nights, with my having to explain to everybody every Sunday why we couldn’t use that door unless we climbed over hundreds of pounds of steel and concrete. Al’s project, incomplete.
But we came to see that Al was not being lazy. Al was not forgetful. It was just that Al took on so many tasks, large tasks, important tasks, that he could not complete them all. Others had to come along and finish what Al had started. But do you hear the good news in that? Don’t focus on what was not finished. Focus instead on what was started. Don’t spend energy grumbling about what Al did not complete; instead be thankful for what Al began, when others would stand around and do nothing. And if Al took on more than he could really handle, if Al’s appetite for work was so large that he could not really deal with it, then praise God! Praise God, for without a man like Al to get things started, this church would be a far less useful space than it is today. Without a man like Al to give birth to the idea, the restoration of the Smithville Colored School would not have happened. Without someone like Al to sit with his buddies around the table and dream the dream for a Martin Luther King Memorial, who knows when or whether it would have become a reality? Al even set out to raise some of that incredible hundred million dollar price tag for the King monument; he called me one day and said, “I am coming to see you at the Baptist Foundation office.” He wouldn’t say why. But I had read the newspapers, and voiced my suspicions. “Oh,” he said, “I know you don’t have the whole thing. Just one million is all I ask.” Sorry, Al; not possible out of Baptist pockets! But I thought, “Al, you will never complete this project; it’s too big for you.”