By Mary Stanton-Nurse
It always seems like too much, to try to recount everything about the Memorial Service at Annual Conference. A clergy friend who is relatively new to the area remarked today, “This is the first time that someone I’ve known personally has been remembered in the service.” The group gathered around him assured him that it will certainly not be the last. So this evening, I offer you a reflection on the connections I found in this service.
For me, there are still some years when I don’t know any of the people remembered personally. This year, however, we remembered: the life, work and ministries of the pastor who baptized me; the wife of a dear teacher and mentor, who attended my wedding, and whose wedding I attended; a member of my local church who was one of the reasons I chose to visit for the first time, and one of the many reasons I stayed; and I didn’t realize it until his name was read and his photo posted, but also the man who my sister and I used to pester for candy at church when we were little.
I am not alone in this kind of connection. We are all tied in relationship to one another. Rev. Jo Dene Romeijn-Stout shared during Plenary today that she was a member of the youth group at Wild Rose UMC, whose closure we marked, and Bishop Stanovsky reminded us all how none of these connections die away when churches close, or when people die. Just as Wild Rose touched the life of Jo Dene, her ministry has touched the lives of countless others. And those people have been connected through other churches, and other people. What a legacy that is.
Each and every connection ripples outward, overlapping with all the others. The clergy and their spouses remembered served scores of churches between them, maybe hundreds. They touched thousands and thousands of lives. And because our system is connectional, those people overlapped with one another. They met one another at conferences, summer camps, UMW gatherings, and on and on.
The beloved laity who were remembered may not have been in as many places as the clergy families over their lives, but they built deep and lasting relationships, provided leadership, and ministered in a multitude of ways throughout the conference. The lives they touched overlapped and intersected with the lives of those people baptized and confirmed, taught and inspired by the clergy and their partners who are also no longer with us.
Rev. Daniel Foster reminded us in his sermon that “Death is the culminating reality of life. No one escapes it…we have to eventually come to terms with it ourselves.” It is true, and inescapable.
But as we remember in this service, every year, our lives are not lived in isolation. As each of us reflect on our connections to the beloved children of God remembered this evening, we are also drawn to reflect on those threads which bind us together to one another, through time and space, across the generations.
I assure you, even if you did not have the joy in this life of knowing any of these beloved saints, you have known someone whose life was touched by their ministry. For those of us in leadership, clergy and laity, my hope is that we all may recognize how we each are connected in that same web, that we see how our stories intersect and overlap with all of those who have come before us and who will come after us.
When Rev. Foster concluded his sermon by inviting us to sing “I Was There to Hear Your Borning Cry,” I knew I was going to tear up. I always do. But tonight it was especially poignant, as I sang “I rejoiced the day you were baptized” recalling the pastor who baptized me, and “I rejoiced when you were but a child, with a faith to suit you well,” to a lay leader who indulged and rejoiced in my sister and myself. I recalled a woman who attended my wedding, and whose wedding I attended, as I sang, “when you find someone to share your time, and you join your hearts as one,” and a woman who treated me as an adult despite having known me since I was a child as I sang, “In the middle ages of your life, not to old, no longer young.”
I shared the relationships for which I could identify my closest connections. But each and every one of these beloved we recognized tonight have just as complex a web of relationship. They each blessed those in their lives with joy and faith, connection, wonder.
As Rev. Foster reminded us, this song is about God’s steadfast presence in our lives, and the promise of life to come. But I think it is also about the relationships we build throughout these earthly lives, the joy we take in one another’s milestones, and how we are bound together in that love which has its source in God.
Mary Stanton-Nurse is a lay member of Trinity United Methodist Church in Seattle, Washington. You can catch more of her thoughts at her blog online HERE.
FULL MEMBERS – RETIRED
David Lawrence Aasen
Laurie Yvonne Jones Aleona
Christie Anne Lagergren Brown
Wayne Donald Griffen
Kelvin Bruce Groseclose
Edward Toshio Iwamoto
Ronald Kent Johnson
Eugene Floyd Kester
Robert (Bob) R. Roberts
Donald Earl Steeb
Larry Michael Warren
SPOUSES OF RETIRED FULL MEMBERS
Marian Elizabeth Reisfelder Towle
SPOUSES OF DECEASED MEMBERS
Mary Jane Brooke
Elizabeth C. Buford
Marjorie Ann Murphy Caldwell
Evelyn D. Smith Carlson
Barbara J. Steeb
CERTIFIED LAY MINISTER
Beryl Eugene Curtis
LAITY IN THE LIFE OF THE CONFERENCE WHO HAVE DIED SINCE THE LAST ANNUAL CONFERENCE
Eugene (Gene) Joseph Bratt
Lanora Marie Roper Callahan
Richard Pentecost Ferguson
Robin Kerry Frisbie Galvin
Robert (Bob) William Stevens
Mary Ellen Hartle Tapp
Elizabeth Barta Widel
Garfield United Methodist Church
Wild Rose United Methodist Church
Yakima: Westpark United Methodist Church