Funeral Fire for Ike McPherson

Ike McPherson’s funeral was historic and memorable.  It began in one large church and ended four hours later in another smaller one.  Over 600 people, packed in the largest black church downtown, Emanuel AME Church on Calhoun Street, intently listened to the litany of scriptures being solemnly read by clergyman Ron Sadderfield when he was interrupted.  What could be so important to interrupt a funeral!?  Had we filled it too full for code?? A police woman approached the side of the altar. Fire!  Incredulous, we would have to evacuate. Stunned, an audible gasp broke the silent response as we looked round and saw fire fighters making their way to the balcony and steeple behind us.

 As St. Philip’s sexton, it was just the sort of electrical detail Ike would have been on top of.  We reconvened in St. John’s Reformed Episcopal Church a few steps away on Anson Street, the church he was raised in, after a few minutes in the heat of Calhoun Street, coffin, flowers, and all.

Ike was beloved by each person at St. Philip’s where he worked for the last 15 years without ever missing a day until he went into hospital.  Each person felt they were his particular favorite person.  As aptly said in one of the many eulogies, he could walk with kings nor lose the common touch.  All men counted with him but none too much.  He was there every week day and for Saturday weddings, and Sunday mornings, too, providing not only smooth operating of all of St. Philip’s many buildings, but of the people, as well.  We felt he was Jesus to us with flesh on, delighting in each one of us with our particular quirks and foibles, making us feel known and appreciated.  He could get the most glum to laugh at ourselves and not take life too seriously.  Ike connected with everyone living or working in the Market-

St. Philip’s neighborhood, providing the flash of humor and familiarity that made you feel that sense of community, that whether we were rich or poor, black or white, man, woman, or child, we each belonged to each other. His magic twinkle was that simple saying lived out, reverberating throughout the city: the joy of the Lord is my strength.

 No job was beneath him.  He could assess the situation and quietly address the need, keeping his head when all about were losing theirs.  He could trust himself to get the job done without drawing attention to himself, making allowances for the doubting of others.  Langdon Hartsock’s sister, Sarah, in her bridal gown, perplexed as  how she was going to get across the standing and pouring  rain to the chapel for her wedding where all were waiting, was swept up into the arms of Ike who carried her.  She was here for her mother’s burial the day after Ike’s and had not heard of his death.  She and her husband were looking for him in particular.  Grief upon grief was theirs upon hearing.

I asked a lady sitting next to me how St John’s Reformed Episcopal Church on Anson Street chose the wonderful Ron Sadderfield for their minister.  “We voted.”  “But why a white man for a black congregation,” I persisted?  “We didn’t notice,” was the pointed reply!  I invite you to visit Ike’s church, especially if you missed his funeral, and you will see where he got that exhilarating Spirit, which the whole neighborhood of St. Philip’s on Church Street and all of Charleston will forever miss.  We must each work a little harder to love each other to replace the loss of Ike McPherson.  –Laura Wichmann Hipp


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