She was the daughter of a steamboat captain in an age when the steamboat was more a novelty as much as it was a necessity. She grew up in a river town in the middle class lifestyle of a steamboat captain. Her father, who was her hero, was gone for long stretches of time steering his steamboat up and down the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers. This lifestyle of the wanderer who gathered at the river would also become a marker for her own life.
Audrey was the first Unitarian Universalist minister I would know well. She had worked as an environmentalist advocate and teacher before she accepted the call of the ministry. She specifically accepted a call to Savannah, a river town. Her call on the outside looked a little peculiar. She was not a people person. She was more comfortable alone. So she did not visit the sick or new prospects. Once she met a parishioner in her condo parking lot and they realized they lived in the same complex. She made it clear to the parishioner that under no circumstances would she be having lunches with her. The parishioner was bemused since the subject was not brought up. She was one of those folks who liked people better in the abstract but not so much in the reality.
She married a man very much her senior. He and Audrey met on a Sierra Club outing in 1966 and were married by the Rev. Berkeley Blake on a mountain top in Ojai, CA. He would live on the West Coast while she worked on the East Coast. This would be their relationship for fourteen years. It was a relationship much like her father and mother’s. In fact her mother would live with her husband on the West Coast while she was away.
She was a minister who obviously struggled with preaching as she reported spending inordinate amounts of time in preparation of her sermons. The time was, as far as one could see, not spent in the struggle of the Garden of Gethsemane but in the struggle of a perfectionist. This would make one think she was a great preacher. But to most this was not the case. Her sermons often rambled to nowhere in particular. Sometimes in the rambling a profound point would be made but more often this was not the case.
But what she seemed best at was presence at the breaches of society. She loved humanity in the abstract but advocated for humanity and the world by being present. She was the only lead woman minister in the city. She attended and helped start a women’s ministerial support group. She advocated for causes such as HIV\AIDS services, poverty programs and the like. Her greatest accomplishment was in 1990; her presence and efforts helped to form the Interracial Interfaith Community of Savannah. It was a group that offered conferences that brought the community together to speak about racism in all its verities. It was indeed in its make-up interracial and interfaith a thing regretfully not seen much in the world. Her presence in the community brought recognition and a good reputation for caring for the congregation.
Under her pastorate the congregation grew slowly. It also reclaimed the historic Unitarian Universalist Church that had been lost as the abolitionist church disbanded before the Civil War. But she also attracted social activists to whom the old timers had a hard time adjusting. This would later cause a conflict within the church.
Audrey returned to their home place in Santa Paula upon her retirement in 2004.It was here many years before that she had been an environmentalist advocating for the Santa Clara River. It was under siege and she and others plead the case for the river and won. Once back she discovered again this land she lived in was under attack by ‘progress’. She spoke to the local commissioners, stating how the Sierra Club wanted to make the Santa Clara River accessible to all. She said,” Life right here is deeply restorative. We need to reflect how we are one species among many to be awed how we are a part of something so much larger than ourselves that this watershed and floodplain eons in the making will survive us, that we are part of this timelessness. We human beings need this and it is right here.”
In these words you can hear the Steamboat Capitan and the Old Woman of the River speak. Her words and her life as all others before her and after her continue rolling in the river of life.