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An Artist, an Educator, and A Rainbow

by the Rev. Pamela Leach

“You have to come meet Howard Marlin,” Stan Bartz told me shortly after I began my pastoral ministry here in 2008. He was battling cancer and unable to attend church, but that’s not why this widower of over 20 years wanted to meet with the pastor. Howard had asked to meet me because something in my bio caught his attention. You see, I shared something in common with his beloved Nella - we were both alumna of the same small college in Pennsylvania. Howard needed no more than that to accept me as his pastor. And though our acquaintance stood only at one brief year, my life was enriched for knowing him.

In our visits, he shared stories about himself and Nella as well as showing me his wonderful artwork. Howard was a very talented graphic artist whose work you still see every time the pen and ink drawing of FPC appears. And, he was not alone in giving of his talents to the church. After moving to Tyler for Howard’s work, his wife Nella prepared to go back into the classroom. Before the schools could snatch up that talented teacher, her pastor, the Rev. John Anderson, had a conversation with her. He told Nella she should indeed be teaching, but in the church rather than the schoolroom. Nella answered that call and became FPC’s Christian Educator.

After Howard died, his neighbors contacted me about the church-related items from his home. At John Anderson’s request, Howard had kept the concept drawing for our current church building safely in his wide architectural drawers for nearly 60 years. From among old bulletins and newsletters, I pulled several pieces of his church artwork along with the pen and ink sketch of the church and left the rest of the box to go through on the proverbial rainy day. A decade later,  with the mess in my office at a critical point, I sorted through Howard’s box. There I found a treasure - a transcript of one of John Anderson’s sermons with a hand-written note from him to Nella Marlin. The sermon titled “The Gospel of the Rainbow” explored the promise of the rainbow for the life of faith. 

As we prepare to celebrate our sesquicentennial, looking both to our past and our future, his words from October 17, 1948, strike me as significant, “For our joy, there is a background of sorrow...The rainbow is etched on a dark cloud all the way, and in that is a symbolic representation of what life really is” - joy and sorrow, happiness and tears, hope splashed against a gray sky. Just as Howard grieved his wife but found joy in the connection to her through his new pastor, we look back in this season joining our past to our future in a ribbon of hope, seeing the rainbow of God’s promise throughout our years and claiming with the Rev. John Anderson that “there will always shine the rainbow of promise - through it the bright sign of our hopeful future.”