‘She exuded God’s love’: Sharon Yeager remembered at Saint Stephen’s memorial service

Published 1:21 pm Thursday, June 23, 2022

By ALEC ETHEREDGE | Managing Editor

VESTAVIA HILLS – It was her space. Simple enough, Saint Stephen’s Episcopal Church was her favorite place to gather, worship and be around those she loved.

So, it was only fitting that one day short of a week after tragedy struck the church, Sharon Yeager’s family and friends gathered at Saint Stephen’s to celebrate her life.

“This was actually her space, she just invited the clergy into it,” Saint Stephen’s Rev. Katherine Harper said with a smile during Yeager’s memorial service on Wednesday, June 22.

Yeager was one of three people killed by a gunman inside the church during a pot luck dinner on Thursday, June 16, which happened just hours after she had set the altar for that coming Sunday’s church service.

But she didn’t die in vain.

Instead, the Pelham resident who drove to Cahaba Heights multiple times a week left behind a legacy of kindness, faith in the Lord and love for everyone she crossed paths with.

And on June 22, she led people back to her favorite place, leaving perhaps her most impactful messages through the words of Harper.

“The Lord is Sharon’s shepherd, guiding her soul. And yet, we are left grieving today,” Harper said. “And so, we’re in an uncomfortable space. Thought this may be a familiar place for you, this was Sharon’s church home. Sharon showed herself to be fastidious, deeply loving of her family, so proud of each of you. She faithfully drove from Pelham here. She came from one neighborhood to another, and yet, she loved this place so much that it was worth the drive.”

And it was that love for the church that kept Sharon from being alone on such a tragic day.

“The tragedies of Thursday night have taught us lots of things, and maybe the things you have learned are the same or different from what I have learned,” Harper said. “But I know that Sharon was never alone. She was surrounded by her friends, and then she met with the angels. I know it’s still a scary space and a hurting, hard space to be in, and yet, we are together. We are bound together in the love of God, to show our love for God and one another. Sharon taught that to her family, she taught that to her friends, and she lived it faithfully each day through volunteering, through travel and through paying attention to the beautiful things of our world.”

After a reading of Psalm 23, Harper said she could almost hear Yeager’s voice saying the words, “The Lord is my shepherd” and professing that faith.

Yeager spent multiple days a week at Saint Stephen’s professing that faith and helping anyway she could.

“She was always quick to say, ‘How can I help?’” Harper said. “When flowers needed to be delivered, when people needed phone calls, she was passionate about caring for others’ spiritual, social and emotional wellbeing. She exuded love—God’s love.”

Each week, Yeager would check in with Harper to see how she could help the church get ready for events or Sunday’s worship services.

“She was quick to say, ‘Katherine, I need that list from you, you didn’t send me that list. I would like the directions,’” Harper said. “She would check in every week with me, and to be honest, my weeks will not feel quite right without Sharon checking in to say, ‘How many people do we need to prepare for this weekend? How many chalices do you need? Here are the people who are going to be helping.’”

Yeager was always quick to see the good, the light at the end of the tunnel, the signs of hope from the Lord.

Harper shared the perfect example of this when she talked about a picture that Yeager sent to her three months ago.

Following a bad flooding event in the area, Yeager texted Harper a photo of the sunset. Highlighted in Auburn orange and blue, her favorite team, the sky not only excited Yeager because of its beauty, but because of the hope shown after the sadness.

And on Wednesday, Harper went back and found that photo again.

“It was beautiful and hopeful. I found that picture again today, and while in one way, it’s the setting of the sun, it reminds us of hope,” Harper said through tears. “The glowing love of Christ that cannot be darkened.”

When it came time to remember Yeager, that photo served as inspiration and showed the faith by which she lived her life.

It was easy to reflect on the tragedy at the church a week earlier and say, “Lord, if you had been here.”

But in a reading from John 7:9-17, Harper reminded everyone that those who believe in Jesus will never die.

“These are sad words for me to hear today, at the first,” she said. “When we hear Martha say, ‘Lord, if you had been here,’ Jesus’s response to Martha is the response we get to hold onto as the good news today. Jesus said to Martha and Jesus says to us, ‘I am the resurrection, and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live. And everyone who lives and believes in me will never die.’ Then, he asks Martha, ‘Do you believe this?’ She says, ‘Yes Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah, the son of God, the one coming into the world.’

“Friends, I can hear Jesus asking Sharon that same question, ‘Sharon, do you believe?’ And without fumbling, I know that her response has been a resounding, ‘Yes, Lord, I believe that you are the Messiah.’ For Sharon, that brings comfort, and for us, that leaves us with the opportunity to cling to hope.”

And because of that faith, Harper said Yeager was not alone in her final minutes and she was not alone in her ascension.

“My prayer for each of us is that the light of Christ that shined in Sharon’s eyes and twinkled in her heart will continue to be professed in our words and lived out in our lives,” Harper said. “Because Jesus taught Sharon that, Jesus teaches us this, and we get to honor Sharon and praise our Lord. For the sadness that Mary and Martha felt in losing their brother, Jesus was with them and wept. Jesus knows that pain, Jesus knows our pain. Sharon was not alone when she ascended with the angels, and the Holy Spirit will not leave us empty. So let us continue praying for one another and with one another in the hope of the resurrection.”

Harper then asked for those present to look at the sunset the next chance they get and feel the comfort of God and Sharon, even if for just a moment.