When asked if she could have a life motto, Frankie Williams quickly answered, “I am ‘too blessed to be stressed.’” Frankie will turn 94 on March 11, and she has seen change – in the world, in the church, in her town, and in her parish.
I had the pleasure of sitting in “her pew” with her at St. Mark’s to hear about her life.
Frankie and her family joined St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Bridgeport, a parish and community of color, in 1954. Two years later she was confirmed. Frankie moved her family to Bridgeport from Stratford in the 1970s and has lived in the same house – just three blocks away from St. Mark’s – since.
“When I became an Episcopalian and thought about raising my children in the church, I just felt that they needed a community with people of color.” When Frankie and her family first joined St. Mark’s, the altar’s was still east-facing, she remembers “very vividly” switching to the Book of Common Prayer 1979, and all the transitions that came with it. These changes she said at first bothered her, then added, “but, change is just the way life is.”
Frankie has witnessed a lot of change in her personal life, too. Frankie grew up in the South. “I had been protected as a kid, but I was walking into a world where you never know what will happen.” Her high-school beau, who later became her husband, was one of the first enlisted into the Marines after the U.S. Military opened up enlistment to Black men in 1942.
The assassinations of Martin Luther King, Jr. and President John F. Kennedy, she said, was a big change in the climate of the country. Wondering why would someone do that to a president is a question with which she still wrestles.
I asked her how the community of Bridgeport has changed. “When I first got here it was a very mixed area, but the White population was just starting to move out of this area,” she said.“Over the years more people of color moved in, especially from Central and South America, and the West Indies.” Even the bank Frankie worked in for most of her adult life in Bridgeport has been torn down. You wouldn’t have known is was there except through memories,” she said.
The Episcopal Church and St. Mark’s is no exception to change. Besides the altar direction, Frankie witnessed the emergence of women (including herself) in places of power in the church. She was the first woman to serve on the vestry, serve as treasurer (a position she still holds and is trying to pass off, a comment she made with a smile), and she welcomed one of the first female priests to Connecticut, the Rev. Sandra Wilson.
And, her body has seen changes. She has had bones replaced, overcame diphtheria, and within the last year has started to use a cane. “I’m the luckiest person in the world. I never expected to live this long,” she said.
At the end of our conversation, I asked her what keeps her spiritually grounded through her changing life. “I started reading the Daily Office on my own,” she said, “the Bible stories are so similar to our lives today. Whenever I go to God, I always come out feeling better.”
Through the changes she has seen in the last 93 years, (and the life which brought her five grand kids, 10 great-grand kids, and three great-great-grand kids), Frankie lives her motto, which she reminded me when she left. “We are too blessed to be stressed.”