Dennis McBride, an elder emeritus of the Alleluia Community and one of its founders, died Friday after a long illness. He was 75.
In February 1973, McBride and his wife, Harriett, were among 12 people trapped for a weekend in a west Augusta home by a 13-inch snowfall. By the end of that weekend, they had drafted and agreed on a covenant, which became the basic document of the ecumenical Christian community based in south Augusta.
McBride was born in Laredo, Texas, in 1937 and grew up on a ranch. He was a Signal Corps major stationed at Fort Gordon in 1973 when he requested an honorable discharge and abandoned his 14-year Army career to help build Alleluia.
“The military wanted to move us to Washington, to the Pentagon, and he said, ‘No, we’re going to stay here,’” his son, Dennis McBride Jr., recalled.
He served as an elder from 1977 until this year and was the community’s overall coordinator, the person who speaks for the body of elders in official matters, during most of that time. But his first job was as a maintenance man for the community’s residential property, which became known as Faith Village.
“He didn’t know how to fix all those things. He just did it,” his son said. “He persevered even when it was dark. He trusted the Lord and he just did it.”
Sarah Wilby, another of McBride’s 10 children, said he instilled confidence in her.
“From a very young age he told me, ‘Sarah, you can do anything you put your mind to.’”
But it was the Christian faith he imparted that she values most.
“He led me to a life in community, a life with Jesus. That’s probably the greatest gift he gave me.”
Although a Roman Catholic – he was a member of St. Joseph Catholic Church in Augusta – McBride strongly believed that Alleluia was called to build unity among all denominations.
“He was ecumenical to the extreme because he loved all Christians,” said Bob Garrett, who succeeded McBride as overall coordinator, “and it didn’t seem to matter to him if they were Catholic, Baptist, Methodist, Pentecostal or anything in between.”
Another elder, Kevin Murrell, who like McBride was an Army helicopter pilot and Vietnam War veteran, said McBride worked hard to bring unity out of a diversity of opinions.
“God took a cowboy and called him to be a shepherd,” Murrell said, noting that “sheep are different from cattle.”
He said McBride reminded him of the apostles Peter and Andrew, who dropped their fishnets to follow Jesus and “become fishers of men.”
“He wasn’t a fisherman. He was a cowboy,” Murrell said of McBride. “That’s certainly dropping your nets.”
McBride was also a visionary, Garrett said.
“He was, in his words, a man of the ‘blue sky,’ which meant he simply loved to visualize the impossible and then try to make it into a concrete reality.”
“He had great ideas, he had grand ideas. He was definitely a dreamer,” his son said.
At the same time, he was very down to earth, said Garrett, a fellow Texan.
“Growing up on a working ranch in southwest Texas helped him develop a way of communicating insightful wisdom in a very ‘down home’ and natural way,” he said.
“Dennis was an extraordinary example of a wise, discerning, courageous and loving person who was at the same time simple, approachable and very childlike. This was always evident to me when he would go through Faith Village in the middle of the day (or anytime, for that matter) singing at the top of his voice: ‘Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Alleluia! Al-le-lu-ia!’”