Psalm 121; Romans 12: 1-2
Doris Annette Henderson was born on Feb. 24, 1950 in Middlesboro, KY, the hospital nearest their home in Rose Hill where Rev. Thomas Henderson was pastor of the local Presbyterian Church. Rose Hill was a stone’s throw from the Cumberland Gap, a path through the Appalachians long used by Native Americans and explored by Daniel Boone some 200 years before Doris was born.
So began Doris’ early life among country churches and some of the most beautiful valleys and mountains of the land. She joined her older brother David and they both welcomed the youngest, John.
Rev. and Mrs. Henderson moved their family every three or four years. From Rose Hill to Gastonia NC, from Gastonia to Duncan’s Creek, from Duncan’s Creek to Burlington WV, from Burlington to Churchville, from Churchville to Greenbank WV.
There in a town that numbers 153 today, Doris settled down for her high school years. It was so isolated the nearest grocery store was 35 miles away and there was no TV. In fact, Greenbank was made part of the National Radio Quiet Zone in 1958 and is home to the world’s largest fully steerable radio telescope that sits in a deep valley to avoid electromagnetic interference. Nearby is the US Navy Information Operations Command where electronic intelligence is gathered for the NSA and others.
But while Cold War intelligence was being gathered, Doris was surely enjoying the hills, the wind in the trees, and mountain storms followed by rainbows.
And there was the church community with its music. In the back bedroom of her Ft. Washington house, the bedroom that belonged to her Westie, Rae, there is the old pump organ that accompanied many a gospel hymn. In her house was also a guitar, a rain stick, a pan pipe, a recorder, wind chimes and the radio on and permanently tuned to classical WETA. Doris filled her life with music and made music herself as often as she could.
And the beauty and quiet of the hills also opened Doris to a creative spirit and imaginative mind. She followed her brother David to St. Andrews Presbyterian College where we see pictures of her with long flowing hair, hippy overalls and peace symbols.
It was as hard to get good work with an Art Major or a Christian Ed Masters then as it is now so she went home to Greenback where her mother supported her dreams of being a writer. She took the work seriously and must have spent hour upon hour describing every character in the fantasy novels, creating the language that was spoken in these strange lands, and determining the hierarchy of 21 powers and the hierarchy of spirits. She drew intricate maps and keys to all the lands of her stories that had titles like “Bride of the Magus,” “Sunstar Island,” and “the Knight of the Wounded Heart.” Although these stories were never published, they point to a very active, expansive interior life and travels to far off lands from the comfort of her computer chair.
It was her aunt and uncle, Helen and Roy, from Suitland Maryland who strongly urged, possibly dragged “dynamited her” David says out of Greenbank to settle in the city. And she did it, leaving behind her Mom, her closest friend, building a new life. She found various administrative jobs and a church home at Camp Springs Presbyterian where photos indicate how active she was there. She was ordained as an Elder and helped Camp Springs go through the merger with District Heights to become Unity Presbyterian.
In every church she has been a progressive voice. Before joining Westminster she served for several years as secretary of the More Light Chapter of our Presbytery, working for full inclusion of LGBT members. As she continued to grow and stretch in her own theological development she sought a new church home and we welcomed her into membership here in 2007, 3 years after her father’s death and a year after her mother died. We all came to love and appreciate Doris, even though her honesty could at times come across like nails on a chalk board and bets were made as to who could get her to change her hairstyle.
In appearance and habits, she may have been locked in a different age, but when it came to the tough issues of today—the need for compassion, the path to justice, and boldness of vision—Doris was always at the front of pack. She led by following the way of Jesus. She had a long-standing correspondence with prisoners and even tried life as a foster parent of street-wise teen who didn’t quite know what to make of her. To her work at Giant she brought the same sense of stewardship, caring and ethical standards to customers and colleagues and on her quiet street she welcomed neighborhood children to help her plant flowers or feed the birds. She even installed solar panels on her bungalow in a costly act of caring for the earth she loved.
This is not to say that Doris lived an easy life of good works. It’s hard to remember a complaint or any hard feelings, yet in one place she wrote: Sometimes I’m so bound up in emotions—anger, hurt, fear, that the time for prayer slips by, lost in the shouting fantasies of my mind that repeat themselves with endless variations until I cry “Halt in the name of Jesus Christ.” It is a discipline, silencing the shouting voice.
She was not immune to emotional pain but through her own spiritual disciplines, Doris continued to transform her mind, even as her body was unknowingly beginning to fail her. We still cannot believe how quickly a life can be taken from us by a disease we expect to fight and treat, but as we began to face the reality that death would come sooner than later, I asked whom besides her family she might like to see and she said her church friend, Karen, and she hoped Shirli might come and serenade her. I asked what she would want her to sing and she said, Be Still My Soul, and Soon I Will Be Done with the Troubles of the World. Diane brought the cd player and filled her ICU room with the sounds of classical music. Tender mercies in the familiar gift of music.
From Rose Hill to Greenbank to Oxon Hill, Doris never stopped seeking God’s will. She was a disciple in her own unique way that did not often conform to this world. And whenever we remember her—whether in a rainbow, or a song, or just her smiling face and butterfly barrettes-- we will see ourselves and our world more honestly and compassionately and realize just how blessed we have been to know her--a true child of God with the pure heart of Christ.Type your paragraph here.