St. Francis Episcopal Church in Rutherfordton, NC

The Life Journey of Josephine Conn

Roscoe & Josephine ConnJosephine was raised in Rutherfordton with four older brothers. She attended an all-black school as school integration had not yet reached this part of the country. She walked to school because the school bus only picked up children who lived more than one mile away.  She says that there was no heat, just an old pot-bellied stove for which they children took turns bringing in coal. There was no indoor plumbing and they had to clean their own classrooms.

Sundays were a real experience for Josephine. She says that for her it seemed like she went to church all day long.  Her grandmother would take her to St. Gabriel’s for Sunday School and then take her to St. John’s AME Zion for a second Sunday School, followed by the church service.  Then in the afternoon she was taken back to St. John’s for “Christian and Devil” youth group.  Josephine says that even though she spent a lot of time at church, her faith was not especially prominent in her life as she was growing up and she “attended church because she was made to.”

When her parents had to work on Sundays there were a number of different people that Josephine would stay with and go to church.  One was a couple that were her fourth and sixth grade teachers.  She says they “had good stuff to play with” and were “fun to be around.”

Her best memories of growing up were the summers when she and her grandmother would travel about the country.  Sometimes they would ride the train to Chicago and stay with an uncle while visiting the museums, zoos and other interesting places.  Other times they would visit family members in Washington, DC; Pennsylvania and New York City.  She remembers climbing to the top of the Statue of Liberty, all the way to the head, when she was five years old.

After graduating from high school, Josephine moved to New York to attend X-ray technician school.  She decided she didn’t enjoy that kind of work and dropped out of school and worked at a number of different places in New York, including Bloomingdale’s and at a box factory.  During this time she met “a stupid guy”, married him and moved to Shelby, NC.  While there she gave birth to her two daughters, Majola and Debbie.  She and her first husband divorced, and leaving the girls to live with her parents, she went back to New York to work.  This was probably the most difficult time of her life, working in New York and being separated from her children. She would send much of her paycheck to her parents each week to help support the girls.  Life was not all dull and uninteresting during this time as one place she worked was at a mental institution, which was really a private hospital for celebrities.  It was during this time that she met Roscoe, but not at the hospital.  She was passing by a barber shop, and glancing in, she saw Roscoe, the barber. She immediately decided she liked the looks of this guy!  The rest is history.

After their first boy, Roscoe Junior, was born, she and Roscoe started looking for a church.  They ended up joining a Lutheran Church while in New York.  After the birth of their second son, John, and when the boys were school age, the family moved back to North Carolina.

When they first moved back to Rutherfordton, Josephine attended the Lutheran Church, but was not really involved for the first three or four years.  “Then the church became my life,” she said.  She started out just belonging to the women’s group, but then she started going to the conventions as a delegate.  She was frequently the only black participant at these conventions.  It was after one of these that she asked “How come no one from our church is on any of the committees?”  The next thing she knew she was on the North Carolina Synod Committee for Multicultural Ministry.  After serving on the committee for several years she was asked to chair the committee for a year. She also served on the Committee for Justice and Social Change for several years.  She then served on the Synod council for three different three-year terms.  At the same time she was doing all this, she was in the choir, serving on the Altar Guild and on the Evangelism Committee at her local church.  She did “anything that no one else would do.” 

Josephine said that after 28 years of preachers coming and then being shipped out every three years or so, the last preacher was there for eleven years. During this time she and Roscoe  became quite attached to him.  Then when the church pushed him out, they and a number of other people left the church.  The pastor told Josephine to find a new church.  They had been to St. Gabriel’s during some of the times that they were away from the Lutheran church, but were not happy there.  So when they left the Lutheran church they came to St. Francis.  In fact, the pastor from the Lutheran Church also came to St. Francis until he left the area.

Fr. Murphy was the rector of St. Francis at the time. The Conns already knew him as he had preached at the Lutheran Church for some special events.  They came to St. Francis just in time for Fr. Murphy’s last service.  They already knew a lot of people from St. Francis, so they thought everything would be fine, “But then…”  They stopped attending St. Francis until Fr. Edwards talked them into coming back.  At this point Josephine said, “I am not going to get close to another preacher.”

Josephine likes to travel, but doesn’t get much opportunity to, since Roscoe doesn’t like to travel.  Walking into Josephine’s house you cannot miss that she collects angels, but it is especially evident at Christmas time when every ornament on her tree is an angel of one sort or another.  She also has an interesting doll collection, which includes several dolls that she made herself after taking a doll-making class that Karen Murphy taught.

Josephine and Roscoe are stalwart member of the St. Francis choir. When asked what was her favorite hymn, she responded with “How much space in the story do you have?”  Some of her favorites are: Eternal Father Strong To Save, God of Our Fathers, A Mighty Fortress Is Our God, Amazing Grace and Precious Lord Take My Hand.

Josephine hardly reads anything other than religious books.  The family has always had an Advent wreath at home and say prayers around it. They also have special devotions at home during Lent.  She has been collecting different Bibles, although she hasn’t had time to read them all.  Her latest acquisition is a Jewish Bible.  She also admits to a fascination with books of prayers.

St. Francis is blessed to have Josephine and her family as members of our church.

Interviewer and writer Susan Keith

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