Remembering the faithful Bishop Alex D. Dickson, Jr.
By Prioleau Alexander
Bishop Alex Dickson.
Every now and then, when a person dies, you don’t cry at their funeral because you know where they are, and how happy they are. Bone and heart deep, you know there is no question.
Christianity teaches, of course, all believers are saved and bound for an eternity of indescribable joy in the presence of Christ … but most of us wonder, can that truly apply to me? Is my faith deep enough? Have I run the race I was meant to run? Have I loved the Lord with all my might and all my soul?
Bishop Alex Dockery Dickson, Jr. didn’t have those questions; his faith was too deep for such issues to ever cross his mind. And those of us who knew and loved him would chuckle if asked, “Did he run the race he was meant to run?” If there’s ever been a man destined to hear the words “Well done, good and faithful servant,” it would be him.
Bishop Alex (pronounced L-ik with a soft Southern drawl) was indeed a man in full, and exuded all that is best in a Southern gentleman. He drew up hunting ducks in the Mississippi Delta and had a taste for wild game his entire life. Born near Alligator, Mississippi, he was no doubt tough, and man who could handle himself in a tight spot — but it’s hard to imagine Alex ever finding himself in a cross situation. He was too kind and gregarious to raise the ire of another man.
When our Lord gave the Great Commission to “go and make disciples of all nations,” he might as well have spoken it directly into Alex’s ear. That’s what he did — all day, every day, preaching the Gospel through his words, thoughts and actions. Not in overbearing way — Alex wanted first to befriend you, listen to you, learn and understand your story… then when the time was right, he’d inquire about your relationship with the Lord.
Raised as a believer in the lap of his grandmother, Alex was many things, but “future priest” certainly wasn’t in his plans. Before reaching that point he’d been a sailor who served on a destroyer at the battle of Okinawa … a varsity track and football athlete at college … a dairy and cotton farmer … a father, and husband to his wife Charnelle … and a tireless provider who rose each morning at 3:45 to milk the cows. There was little time to attend church, much less ponder the mysteries of the faith.
The turning point in his life was when his son, Alex, was horribly injured when hit by a car. He was in coma, and the prognosis was grim. To the amazement of the doctors, the boy was eventually healed, with no residual effects. Alex knew it was a gift from God, and became involved in his church. When the priest was called away, he stepped in to help keep the church going. Eventually, he found himself at seminary at Sewanee, where he studied under the man who would become his lifelong friend, Bishop Fitz Allison.
Alex told many people the happiest times of his life were his decades as a parish priest in Mississippi. Many of those in his various flocks were farmers, and he knew the time demands such a profession demanded. Rather than putter around the parish office doing the easier work, he took the Gospel to them, out in the fields. He referred to it as the time he was “riding the turn rows and preaching the Gospel.”
Appropriately, the title of his autobiography is Riding the Turn Rows and Preaching the Gospel. It is a story filled with such twists, turns, and demonstrations of faith that it might seem impossible to have occurred — but it did. The story of a man who lived a good and important life. A man in full.
The tragedies that Alex endured in his life would break most people’s faith. His son Alex died of lung cancer, never having smoked cigarettes. Shortly thereafter, his wife Charnelle died of brain cancer. It rocked him, and sent him into a time he described as “the dark night of the soul,” but he persevered. Though he was engulfed in pain and sadness, he did not give up on the Lord.
Another tragedy Alex witnessed was the collapse of the once Biblically-based Episcopal Church. He and his friends Fitz Allison and Bill Wantland waged a long and painful struggle to lead the denomination to repentance and a return to biblical truth, but the power of the tide was too much. The progressives had been patient and cunning, and slowly infiltrated the leadership of the Episcopal Church, then launched the coup. Yes, the conservatives have now left communion with the Episcopal church and declared ourselves Anglican, but readers should know Bishop Alex and his friends were fighting tooth and claw 30 years ago.
The Lord blessed Alex later in life by arranging an encounter with his second wife, Jane (Graham Carter). Theirs was a life and a relationship blessed from beginning with love and a shared faith in Christ. Alex often said he and Jane asked God “for 20 years together, or something more.” They received that blessing.
Together, Alex and Jane entertained and mentored untold numbers of Christians and faith seekers at their home on the corner of Vendue and Prioleau Street, and legions more at their home at Bishop Gadsden or up in Cashiers. While Jane utilized her exquisite gifts of hospitality, Alex served as a mentor, teacher and confidant. Thanks to their service, dozens and dozens of lost lambs were brought into Jesus’ flock.
As a bishop, of course, he was asked dozens of “impossible to answer” questions about the mysteries of the faith. Instead of answering, “We see through a glass darkly,” he’d answer with his trademark sense of humor: Do you believe in Jesus? (Yes). Do you believe He’s good? (Yes). Do you think He’s smarter than you? Then let’s just leave that to him to figure out.
When Alex felt called to sell his beach house in Pawley’s Island, he made peace with the difficult decision by saying, “I am a pilgrim for Christ. I have no home.”
Today, he’s home. I’ve never been more certain about something in my life.
For those wishing to learn more about this amazing man, his autobiography is available on Amazon. Memorials may be given to G3 Ministry (led by his stepson), The Rev. Graham Schuyler, 76 Westfield Drive, Pawleys Island, SC 29585.