Mrs. Toles was a forgiving person. She was a Christian and a church-goer. And, though the members of our church didn’t realize it at the time, as a black woman in the South, in a predominately white congregation, she was a role-model during the difficult days of segregation.
My husband and I got to know Mrs. Toles on our drives together to and from church. She shared bits and pieces of her life-story with us. Once, while passing by the Governor’s mansion in the middle of our large city, Mrs. Toles pointed to the building and said, very softly: “A governor owned my daddy.” My heart melted.
She told us about a young man who once came to her for an apartment she had for rent. During the interview, he collapsed on the floor in an epileptic seizure. For Mrs. Toles, a Christian Scientist, it was natural for her to pray in an emergency. So she prayed for him. The response was immediate. He very quickly quieted, and then he sat up and was fine. In fact, he was completely healed. The young man rented the apartment and they remained friends for years. He called her “Grandma”. And, in gratitude for his healing, he joined our church.
Our church was a traditional, white clapboard building with a steeple. The interior was lovely, but it had one jarring element – a balcony installed for the blacks who attended services. Every Sunday and for every meeting, Mr. and Mrs. Toles were shown the stairs to the balcony. In general, the members didn’t question the practice of segregation; it was just the way it was in the church at that time. However, Mr. Toles did object to this treatment and went up the street to the Baptist church where blacks were allowed to sit with everyone else.
Mrs. Toles stayed. We asked her why she never gave up and went to church with her husband. “Because,” as she put it, “it was only in the Church of Christ, Scientist, that my Pastor preached.” She loved her Pastor.
Mary Baker Eddy, founder of the Christian Science denomination, designated the Holy Bible and Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures, as the impersonal Pastor of all the Churches of Christ, Scientist. Mrs. Toles didn’t care where she sat, as long as she could hear her Pastor – the reading of those two books – that roused her to a deeper understanding of God. Her Pastor taught her how to pray. Her Pastor taught her how to heal. She felt the power of the spirit of God as Love embracing the entire congregation from her balcony perch.
Our home city eventually became integrated and the church members began to recognize the quality of this Christian woman. She was never bitter. No one ever heard her complain. No one ever heard her criticize. To me, she was a follower of Jesus’ teaching and example of healing forgiveness. (See Luke 23:34)
So, whenever I’ve been tempted to be critical or complain about “dust-ups” in my church, I think of Mrs. Toles. Whenever a church member wants to talk to me about church problems, I tell them about Mrs. Toles.
She loved her Pastor. She lived the true meaning of Church.
The Church is that institution, which affords proof of its utility and is found elevating the race,
rousing the dormant understanding from material beliefs to the apprehension of spiritual ideas
and the demonstration of divine Science, thereby casting out devils, or error, and healing the sick.
MARY BAKER EDDY