Column/Heartfelt tribute to a man who smiles means it

Published 12:00 am Sunday, June 17, 2007

Every now and then you meet a person who exudes so much personality you can’t help but like them from the start. Generally, I’ve found, these are people who see the “glass half full” around them and don’t have a pessimistic bone in their body. They tend to smile a lot, laugh a lot (even when the joke is not funny) and have an alarming amount of charisma. They also tend to be “doers” rather than “watchers” and inspire those around them through their unabashed love for life and their fellow man.

Unfortunately, people of this nature are a rare find in today’s pessimistic “what have you done for me lately society,” but if you come across somebody who has this rare DNA profile, you recognize it from the start.

George Sedberry, who spoke his final sermon as senior pastor at Church Street United Methodist Church last Sunday, is just such a person. George and his wife Melanie are moving to Robertsdale where George has been appointed to pastor a church there and lead the congregation in building a new church facility. It will be a new and exciting challenge for him, but one where his unique DNA will be put to good use.

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I can see him now, smiling from ear-to-ear infecting those around him with positive energy as they tackle the enormous task of constructing a key component of what will make Robertsdale what it is for many years to come; a city, much like Selma, where caring people live, work and depend on each other to build a caring community.

Following his final sermon, George and Melanie were feted with a fine lunch lovingly created by his church family. Afterwards, a line began forming for people who wanted to offer their blessings to George and Melanie. Young and old alike shared hugs and shed tears as they expressed their well wishes.

There was also plenty of laughter to go with the tears as John Sherrer, who “MC’d” the luncheon, commented on George’s ever-present smile saying he and another church member were talking one day and the unnamed member said he always hoped he wouldn’t die while George was pastor because he didn’t want anyone smiling at his funeral. It was a good natured poke in the ribs that made George’s smile extend even further than it usually is.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that two of the well wishers in the crowd were what might be considered George’s friendly competition. Ron Stone, who pastors First Presbyterian Church, and Polk Van Zandt, who pastors St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, described George as someone who carried the torch for the downtown churches but was also a good friend who offered a sympathetic ear to his fellow pastors.

“We don’t always have lay people we can talk to so it gets to be pretty lonely and sometimes all we have is each other,” said Stone afterwards. “We all have similar issues that are just indicative of being pastors and it’s good to have each other to commiserate with. George was a pastor to pastors and is certainly a good friend. If Polk and I were to say who the best pastor to us was, it would be George.”

Calling him a “sparkplug” to the downtown clergy, Stone also said George was instrumental in starting a monthly clergy meeting and helped initiate the annual holy week services celebrated during Easter.

A few days later, noted author and long-time Selmian Kathryn Tucker Wyndham, who is a member of the Church Street congregation, echoed Stone’s comments about George’s contribution to the church community and also noted his love for people.

“What a unifying influence he was on the downtown churches and how important it was that we all combine our efforts to work toward the same goal which is restoring the morality of the city,” she said. “George got along well with all sorts of people and loved and accepted them for the way they were. You couldn’t help but love George. He’s not full of gloom and doom and always found something positive and he always shared his affection. I’d watch him after church and he would give hugs to people who really needed to be hugged. It is so refreshing to find a very happy Christian and he is happy and he spreads that happiness.”

After the line of well-wishers diminished last Sunday, George took the mic and poured out his feelings for his church family – and the community.

“When I hear negative statements being made (about Selma) they’re talking to the wrong person,” he said in a focused tone. “Selma has gotten a far worse rap than you ever should have. We all understand the history, but you are such a great people and you’ve come a long way. I will always be your biggest ambassador.”

Whether you’re Methodist, Baptist, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Catholic or any other multitude of faiths and have lived in Selma for any length of time, you know what George was talking about.

Especially when it was spoken by a man who has a true love for his community and one who leaves Selma a better place than it was when he arrived.

Dennis Palmer is publisher of The Selma Times-Journal. He can be reached at 410-1712 or by email: .