Tag Archives: remembering

Some Reflections on the the Great Plains Annual Conference

For United Methodists, Annual Conference rolls around every year. It is “non-negotiable” if you are clergy you are required to show up. If you are a lay member, it is expected you show up, but not required. Annual Conference in the best of all worlds part revival, part business session and part family reunion. I both love it and dislike it (the loathe and hate words being too strong.)

I’m an extrovert, so having a chance to catch up with folks I only see once a year it wonderful and exciting. Mostly I enjoy the worship if done well, some of the business and the visiting. I do dislike, no I actually loathe the horrible chairs that are uncomfortable and actually are a pain in the “back” and backside!

Four years ago, three annual conferences (Nebraska, Kansas East and Kansas West) became one conference. I won’t go into the myriad of reasons, but suddenly finding venues large enough to hold that many clergy and laity became more difficult. No longer can we have chairs around tables, which makes it easier to do the work of the conference, now we are in long rows with uncomfortable chairs hooked together. We juggle our laptops or tablets or workbooks on our laps and heaven help anyone who needs to get to a microphone quickly or let alone the bathroom!

The sessions planning committee works hard in those large arenas to make the stage worshipfull and beautiful for our various services. There is nothing easy about trying to get that many people together and have all the various functions go smoothly. I miss the smaller conferences partly because of the ease of knowing most everyone and for the ability to make space more intimate. I, also, was one who voted for the one conference, because I had served a three point charge and I am well aware of the toll on the leader trying to do three of everything. That is not good use of resources, not of time, not of finances and certainly not of human beings.

This year’s conference was our new bishop, Ruben Saenz, Jr.’s first with us. I have been a pastor a long time, but had few bishops. Bishop Scott Jones was my bishop for twelve years, Bishop Fritz Mutti was my bishop for twelve years before that, Bishop Ken Hicks was my bishop for eights years before that and I begin my ministry under the leadership of Bishop Ben Oliphint. Each bishop brings their unique and unrepeatable spirit and their gifts to the area in which they serve. 

Bishop Saenz led with humor, humility, honesty and  a good deal of laughter. He noted again and again that the United Methodist Church is in a time of discernment, and honestly a time of difficulty. There is much about the future that is uncertain, but what is certain, Bishop Saenz stated again and again, is that “Jesus is the foundation and it will be alright.” 

When things got tense, or there were strong feelings running deep, Bishop Saenz’s would stop and lead us in prayer. To some that might some manipulative or shallow, but for me it never felt that way. The times of prayers felt genuine and deep. The prayers were not directed to one viewpoint or another, just that we might discern God’s path for us and to love one another.

Anyone can go to the conference website to see the pictures and videos and updates. My take away said are pretty basic, we are in changing times. Pastor’s and lay leaders need ot be discerning where God is leading using Jesus’ prayer, “not will by thine” and “let your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” The people of God need each other. 

Personally, I am delighted to return as senior pastor at First UMC, downtown Wichita and to begin work with my new associate Rebecca Goltry Mohr. As part of the Transition into Ministry program, I am honored that First will be a teaching/mentoring congregation and that I have the honor to be a mentoring senior pastor. 

During the opening worship service, we were given small silk flowers to remember those members of the annual conference, both lay and clergy who had died in the prior year. During holy communion we were invited to drop those flowers into a bowl in honor and rememberance. Then someone created this with those flowers:


Stunningly beautiful, during ordination we were reminded we are surround by such a great cloud of witnesses. We were commissioning and ordaining our new leaders and being blessed and reminded to continue to run the race set before us. Pastor Rebecca’s was commissioned as a provisional elder during that service.


The theme for this years conference is a good one: Know God, Proclaim Christ, Serve Others, Seek Justice. May it be so. 

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Memorial Day thoughts

My sister and I visit the cemeteries each year on Memorial Day Weekend. Well, not the weekend, but on Monday. We do this because everyone who decorated the graves before us are all gone. This tradition has become more deeply meaningful for both of us. We do not just visit my mother and stepfathers grave and my grandparents graves, we have begun to visit my great grandparents graves and other extended family members that no one remembers or perhaps other relatives live too far away. I wrote about this tradition two years in a blog I called Remembering.

I have seen some news articles and some social media posts about how people have forgotten the “real” meaning of Memorial day and have been saying things like “Happy Memorial Day!” I also know that while for some people the main purpose of Memorial Day is to remember the service men and women who have died in wars across our countries history, that is not the only meaning for this day. As I said in my former post, some of us were raised that this was a weekend to remember those who have gone before us. It is a time to decorate graves and tell stories and also in my family tradition, to have cookouts and family time.

I don’t think any of those things are unimportant or wrong. I took American flags to both my stepfather’s grave and my grandfather’s mausoleum. I had a wonderful party on Sunday evening. In worship on Sunday morning at First, we focused on memorial and legacy gifts and Ascension Sunday.

 I am sitting here on Monday evening, experiencing a “good” tired feeling. It has been a full three days. I have celebrated a neighbors birthday, worshipped on Sunday, had 40+ people over for a wonderful evening and then visited four different cemeteries. I also made hospital calls and been grateful for so many things. 

My sister and I have decided to remember those family members that no one else seems to remember. Mostly it is unmarried or married without children couples and babies and small children. We even placed pinwheels and flowers on the graves of some small children who were not related. 

Our great grandparents were visited 


My great grandmother held Tammy and I as infants before she died. We visited our favorite great aunt (she was awesome and fun)


Then we headed to Great Plain and visited Aunt Leola (who was not our favorite and liked to pinch us hard!) and even though there is no gravestone, we visited baby Stella, who died at two.


Then just a little ways away, we visited baby Clyde McClure. If I remember my family history, his mom ( my grandmother’s sisters) HAD to get married and this little baby did not live. His parents are buried elsewhere, but we remember him today.


Finally at the Calvary cemetery we visited Maudie. I have visited this grave since I was a little girl. At one point, there were still decorating it, but that has been a very long time. This little lamb stone speaks of the love the family had for this precious child:


The little poem at the end says “Sweet Maudie unto earth,  a little while was given. She plumed her wins for flight, and soared away to heaven.”

Finally beginning last year, we sought out a very small cemetery that my grandparents visited only once. It was part of my grandfather’s German Lutheran heritage.
 What we both remembered was one small baby grave that had only the last name Wiske , but no first name. Last year we went searching for Baby Wiske and we found the grave, but had to pull back the grass to see the name. It happened again, we had to pull back the grass. 


But while there we remember Remick’s, remembering family reunions of long ago and  decorated the grave of my grandfather’s brother and wife.


Finally we visited a marker in a Wichita cemetery remembering my mother. We had visited her grave and my stepfather’s grave in Garden Plain


She had married again late in life and had just a few short years which were a gift for both her and her husband Jerry.


Here is what I believe, we only have a short time to love nad laught and share. Whatever the number of hours or days or years, each moment matters. I know sometimes that it is uncomfortable for folks when people don’t “remember” or “memorialize” in a preferred method. I think having dinners, going to the lake, making memories is not bad or sinful or wrong. I also think mourning and remembering and honoring is not bad either. 

I find the moments I take to walk cemeteries and “recount the tales” and wonder about the stories I don’t know to be sacred and holy. I also find hosting family and friends for a party is also sacred and holy. Time is a gift and choosing to spend part of it with those we love is precious.

So tonight, I am grateful, for family, for friends, for memories and for time enough to pay attention.

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All Saints Day

Each year, I am profoundly moved by All Saints Day. Perhaps some of it has to do with the fact I have been a pastor more than three decades. The list of “saints” whom I have buried, or have loved and lost gets longer each year. Time is precious because I realize it is not a given or is not promised.

A couple of weeks ago, I was stunned by the sudden death of a colleague. A. Mark Conard has been a part of the annual conference I have served since I began ministry. Mark had a droll funny sense of humor, a depth of knowledge of United Methodist history and doctrine and loved the church with a passion unsurpassed by many. I served on the General/Jursidictional Conference delegation with home 3 times. He was an early adapter of social media and on Sunday, October 16, he posted on my Facebook wall about the sermon I had preached. I wasn’t even out of worship yet! Two days later he died.


In the service celebrating his life, all I stated above and more was shared. I still can not quite comprehend that he is gone. I will miss him, his smile, his posts, his sense of humor and his ability to lower the tension in a room by just the right words. 

Another friend, Ben Murray, took his life over Labor Day weekend. Ben was an amazing chef. It was from Ben I learned that good food is not expensive food, necessarily. Good food, was food that used the best ingredients available, cooked to bring out the essential nature of those ingredients. It was Ben, who invited me to “guest chef” at his restaurant, me, with no culinary training. It was Ben, who when a disc exploded in my back, drove to my home and as I lay flat on my back in a twin bed in the dining room, cooked me a four course dinner, beginning with a lobster entree and a lovely steak entree. 

I believe Mark and Ben, like many others I have loved and appreciated, are part of what the book of Hebrews calls the great cloud of witnesses. His memory, their memories are a blessing. I believe that, I truly do.

The problem, of course, is that I miss them. I miss those who have meant so much to me. I miss my grandmother Nana, and grandfather Big Bob, my step-father Pep, my mom. I miss my friends and mentors through the years: Charlie Harrison, Jack Porter, Porrteus Latimer, George Gardner. Bill Shuyler, Les Hankins, Forrest Robinson, Paul Matthaei, and a host of others with whom I have life and laughter. I miss them.

“I sing a song of the saints of God, patient and brave and true. Who toiled and fought and lived and died for the Lord they loved and knew. And one was a doctor and one was a queen and one was a shepherdess on the green, they were all of them saints of God and I mean, God helping to be one too….They lived not only in ages past, there are hundreds of thousands still. The world is bright with the joyous saints who love to do Jesus’ will. You can meet them in school, or in lanes, or at sea, in church, or in trains or in shops, or at teas; for the saints of God are just folk like me, and I mean to be one too.”  Lyrics by Lesbia Scott

I sing a song of the saints of God. On this All Saints Day, I am truly grateful for those who have gone before me, for those I have loved and laughed with and for their unique and unrepeatable spirits. Their lives have not been forgotten and their lights continue to shine through all of us who have known them and who continue to live out the values they held dear. I sing not only their song, I pray that I might be one, a saint, too.

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Remembering

When I was little and living with my grandparents, Memorial Day was a time to go and “decorate” the graves of family. In fact, my grandmother often called it “Decoration Day.”  I didn’t know the focus was on those who had served and died. My grandfather was a World War I veteran and Memorial Day was a day to remember family, not the war he served or any wars.  I am not sure why, my grandfather was a very patriotic man, but perhaps the horror of his experience was not something he wanted to revisit.

We took the pilgrimage to Garden Plain, Kansas to the Calvary Cemetery (the old records call it the Calvary Methodist Cemetery) which is directly south of the Saint Anthony Cemetery. The two cemeteries are actually on the same plot of land which when I was young was divided by a fence. The land was deeded for the cemeteries to Garden Plain by my great-grandfather Wiley Doyle. So each Memorial Day we would go to the Calvary Methodist Cemetery and brought plastic, yes, plastic flowers for my great grandparents, baby Stella (my grandmother’s sister who died at the age of 2) and couple of brothers.  Later, another sister, Leola would be added to the line of family members.

We went, taking the same plastic flowers each year, and then we would wander around. My grandparents would talk about the “people” buried there. Shared stories, and my sister and I would always end up near a small tombstone with a lamb on the top. My grandmother would explain the little girl died very young. I didn’t get a picture this year…the rain has been non-stop, but unlike Stella, she had a tombstone.  It looks something like this one.

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When my stepfather was buried in that cemetery, each time I went, I visited. When my mother was buried there a year and a half ago, a stroll over to visit that little girl, whose name I can not read, was made. When my sister Tammy and I went to take flowers, we left a small bunch for her.  I am not sure anyone visits anymore. We also left a pin wheel for baby sister Stella who has no gravestone, and probably will not be remembered once Tammy and I no longer visit.

We also visited my grandparents in their mausoleum in a Wichita cemetery.  I am not overly fond of mausoleums, but that is what they wanted. So we went and remembered them as well. Finally in that same cemetery we went and found the graves of my great grandparents on my grandfather’s side, his sister and her husband. I am pretty sure no one had been there for a couple of decades. My great aunt had no children, my great grandfather had died in 1906 and my great grandmother in 1959.  My great aunt Emma is the one who decorated my great grand parents graves and she has been gone for more than two decades.

So why go? I didn’t know them, I didn’t know Aunt Emma’s husband and I hadn’t gone before. Last year, I mentioned to my sister that Big Bob’s (my grandfather) parents were buried there and his sister. We decided to go this year. We didn’t know it would be rainy, but we found the graves, put some flowers on their graves and some other “relatives” we found and came home.

Who remembers? Who tells the tales? Who visits and decorates and gives thanks? Probably after my sister and I are gone, no one will remember or visit or tell the tales. No one will leave a few flowers for an unmarked grave for baby Stella or at a lamb tombstone. Why go?

In my scattered life I want to know that relationships matter. Even those relationships that are no longer “living” but continue in memory are important. Perhaps the rituals are not so important now that families live so far apart and there are many alternatives to “graves”.  And yet, for me, the sacramental gift of visiting reminds that life is a gift. No one lives forever and each day offers promises and possibilities to be explored, enjoyed and pursued.  The time will come when those opportunities will be long gone.

I am grateful for those whose lives have touched mine. I am grateful for ancestors never met, but remembered because of love and laughter. This Memorial Day weekend, I have remembered, cried a bit, laughed alot and given thanks.

For the remembering and for the gift of Life and I am grateful and graced to serve.

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All Souls and being Thankful

Today, in Western Christian tradition is All Souls Day.  It is the third day of the “triduum of Hallowmass.”  Who knew that Halloween was a holy day?  The first day of the three, All Hallows Eve, October 31, was a day when early Christians believed that some how the space between this life and the next life was thinner.  They would don “masks” to keep former souls from recognizing them.  Of course in North America this became “trick or treating” through costumes and pranks and the offering of treats.

The second day was All Saints Day, November 1, which remembers all martyrs and official saints of the church both known and unknown.  The third day, All Souls Day, November 2, remembers “all the faithful departed.”  In most protestant traditions, these days are lumped together and often celebrated on the first Sunday of November.  A google search will give multiple hits on these traditions.

I, being who I am, love this history and the layers that surround these practices both from the Christian tradition and other traditions.  What I love most, is the remembering and the giving thanks.  Often in the U.S.A. graves are visited on the last weekend in May.  I always tried to avoid focusing All Saints on that weekend, because it is also the first three day weekend of the summer and consequently loses some of the religious significance that the first Sunday of November can offer.

Remembering those who have gone before is holy, sacred and spiritual work.  The act of remembering is a blessing on those who take the time to laugh, to cry and to tell the story of those who have made a difference in their lives.  After thirty plus years of ministry, the list gets longer each year for me.  The spaces around those memories grow more tender as I remember, as I grieve and as I smile through tears and give thanks that I have been so blessed by so many.

This Sunday, the church I serve will light 36 candles, will name those who have died this year, will light an extra candle for pregnancy losses and those unnamed, but are carried in the hearts of those who gather.  We will say thank you to God for lives who blessed ours and made a difference and we will shed a few tears, sing songs of faith and commit once again to being a saint who makes a difference.

Remembering I am “surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses (Hebrews 12:1) ,

I am graced to serve.

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