Name: Phyllis Garris
Parish: St. Andrew Church
Family: Husband Larry
Why you want to know Phyllis: With volunteer activities ranging from Arkansas Right to Life, Shoebox Ministry, Operation Rice Bowl, Ministerial Alliance of Marion County and Operation Christmas Child to visiting the sick and serving as a extraordinary minister of holy Communion, the Michigan native and former General Motors assembly line welder is tireless in service to others. Bolstered by study in the diocese’s School of Spiritual Direction, she’s the embodiment of Catholic conscience and social justice.
Arkansas Catholic’s theme this year is “Tools for Discipleship.” What tools do you lean on in your work?
There’s a few. One is St. Teresa of Avila’s “In the Hands of God.” The first line says, “What do you want of me, Lord?” And another one of hers is, “Christ has no body but yours.”
Another thing that I do through my spiritual direction, I make time for quiet moments because God whispers and the world is loud. I’ve learned to take the time to do that stuff.
Did you have the example of service growing up? What started it?
I was always for social justice. I lived in the Detroit area during the race riots. I was like, we need to work with this, we need to look at both sides, but I grew up in a family that tended not to believe that. My parents basically stopped going to church about the time Roe vs. Wade happened. They got tired of listening to the ‘abortion thing’ at Mass. I didn’t realize at the time that’s why they had stopped, because it just didn’t click. But it clicks real big now.
From that time to today and the immigration debate, is it disheartening to see some of the same things revisited on a different group of people?
I have difficulty understanding how we cannot welcome a stranger, like the bishop said in his first pastoral letter. I just don’t understand it, but yet even in our own churches, if you bring up that topic, it’s such a hot-button issue. Some people just don’t seem to want to help others.
I continue to pray for them. I just try to do what is right. And I try to lead by example. I don’t always succeed but I try, so people can see that I’m not just talking.
But you’re not afraid to speak up, either.
Well, like I say, stand up for what is right even if you stand alone. That’s kind of one of the things I go by. Sometimes, even at your own parish, you are the one standing alone. I mean, at a church what are they spending more money on? On the building? Or helping other people? I can only speak for myself, but that’s the way I look at it. Why are we spending all this money, let’s say on a kitchen renovation at the parish, yet somebody comes for food at the church, we don’t have it? That doesn’t make sense to me.
What has your work serving others done for your own faith?
Oh, it has made it much stronger. Just to see the eyes of people when you help them, that stranger who’s so thankful and knowing you’re doing what Christ has called you to do. He’s the one who is guiding me, it’s for his own glory, it’s not me. I’m doing this for him and for the others that I see that need help.
What would you like to inspire others to do?
See Christ in everyone; treat people the way you would want to be treated. And don’t dwell on something that happened 50 years ago. Live today so we can make a better tomorrow, for everyone. We’re all children of God, regardless.
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