Along with millions of people in the U.S. and around the world, I paused last week to honor President George Herbert Walker Bush, or as he was affectionately referred to, 41. As our nation honored him in two memorial services, one at the Washington Cathedral and the other at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church in Houston, I remembered Bush’s inaugural speech in January,1989. He asked you and me to do our part in creating a kinder, gentler nation. As citizens of the United States, our responsibility is to make this world a better place.
George H.W. Bush was not seduced by power. Shaped by his experience of having been shot down as a Navy pilot in World War II, Bush understood his role in embodying integrity in leadership. He grew up in a family where service to others was always more important than being served. Bush did not need to be the center of attention. Rather, he engaged all sorts of people, insisted on treating everyone with respect, and relied on his Christian upbringing and faith in his decision-making.
President Bush also made it a priority to connect with people across the political spectrum. Last Tuesday, Bush received a moving tribute from onetime political rival, former Senator Bob Dole, who faced off two times against Bush for the Republican presidential nomination. Dole, age 95, frail and sitting in a wheelchair in front of Bush’s casket, indicated his desire to stand. With eyes fixed on the casket and the help of an aide, Dole struggled to stand and saluted his one-time rival and fellow World War II veteran.
Another indication of Bush’s character was a note that he wrote to President Bill Clinton after Bush was defeated in the 1992 Presidential election. The handwritten letter, left for Clinton in the Oval Office, read, in part,
“Dear Bill, When I walked into this office just now, I felt the same sense of wonder and respect that I felt four years ago. I know you will feel that, too… You will be our president when you read this note. I wish you well. I wish your family well. Your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you. Good Luck. George.”
President George H.W. Bush was shaped by his upbringing in the Episcopal Church in New England and the influence of his mother, who read the Bible at breakfast every day. Although Bush did not “wear his religion on his sleeve,” the words of Jesus in Luke 12:48 were at the center of his life, “From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded.”
I believe that Bush’s legacy will be carried on for years to come by the phrase “a thousand points of light,” which was first used by Bush in his speech accepting the nomination for president at the 1988 Republican National Convention. He compared our American volunteer organizations to “a brilliant diversity spread like stars, like a thousand points of light in a broad and peaceful sky.” In his inaugural address on January 20, 1989, Bush again referred to all of the community volunteer organizations throughout the U.S. as a thousand points of light and said, “The old ideas are new again because they are not old, they are timeless: duty, sacrifice, commitment, and a patriotism that finds its expression in taking part and pitching in.”
During his presidency, Bush handed out “Point of Light Awards” six days a week to citizens working to aid their communities through volunteer work. Today Points of Light transcends borders by mobilizing millions of volunteers around the globe to address the world’s toughest problems. As in his life, President Bush has inspired me in his death to celebrate thousands of points of light that are transforming lives every year through the ministries of United Methodist churches in Iowa. This is just a sample.
- Drakesville UMC gave a generous donation to “Shop with a Cop,” a program that provides a wonderful Christmas for underprivileged children.
- Seminary student and pastor Fredrick Killian, of Calvary UMC in Stratford knocked on the door of every single household (population 650) this fall to introduce himself, welcome each one to worship, and offer to pray over their concerns. The result? Several small groups, including Bible studies and support groups for young adults and couples.
- Iowa Falls, First UMC hosts a free meal on Wednesday night that serves up to 250 to 500 people. This includes home deliveries to 100 people.
- The Center, a ministry of John’s United Methodist Church in Davenport, supports a food pantry and clothing closet, a homeless outreach, respectful human interaction for persons in need, and Skate Church, which reaches out to at-risk youth.
- Vida Nueva UMC, led by Rev Ruben Mendoza, is training small group leaders to organize bible studies in four locations around Wright and Hancock counties.
- Boone, First UMC delivers a large plate of holiday blessings and sweets to the employees of businesses open on Christmas Eve.
- Grace UMC in Marcus experimented with a “late start” for worship after a snowy Sunday morning. They had a great turnout and no accidents on the way to worship!
- After their Healthy Church Initiative consultation, Dike UMC refined their signage and outdoor welcome sign before the anticipated rush of guests for Christmas activities.
- While Rev. Liz Tucker is in semi-retirement down south, she provides weekly sermons by video at Whitfield and Riverside UMC’s in Sioux City, while the laity lead the rest of the service.
- Spirit Lake UMC partnered with the high school football team to launch the “Then Feed Just One” meal-packing ministry.
- The youth of First UMC of Nevadaparticipated in the Polar Plunge, raising money and awareness for Special Olympics.
- Bertram UMC funds and regularly hands out gift cards for gas and groceries to people in need. They also have a funeral assistance fund that is used to help out with funerals for anyone in the community.
- Christ Community UMC in Marion hosted an annual 5k run/walk last month that raised $7,000.00 to support the Marion Senior Living Community. They also have a community garden that provides produce to those in need.
- Altoona UMC had its annual Turkey Mission Dinner in November and raised $150,000. All of the proceeds will support local and global missions.
- The Mabaan South Sudanese congregation in Des Moines raised up 13 lay servants last year, as they continue to grow into a beloved community and reach out to more diverse people in other regions.
- Manchester UMC is raising funds to build a duplex that will be used to house people broken down by life and needing a second chance. The congregation will provide mentors to help them regain their lives spiritually, financially, and physically.
- Manning UMC is in ministry with persons who struggle with addictions through a Friday evening recovery service and Bible study, with an average of forty in attendance.
The points of light in Iowa United Methodist churches shine on! They are a brilliant diversity, spread like stars that reach way beyond a thousand because we, too, are committed to a kinder, gentler church, nation, and world. In your death, as in your life, you continue to make a difference, President Bush. Thank you.