Do You Have Room?

For my next to the last blog, I am sharing my remarks from the retirement service that was held yesterday at First United Methodist Church, Des Moines. I am deeply grateful to each one of you who has prayed for and supported me during these last six years. Thank you for being difference makers.   


Thank you so much to each one of you for making time to be here this afternoon. I can’t believe I have had the privilege of being in active ministry for 41 years. Where did all that time go? I want to sing a song for you. 

Do You Have Room (Shawna Edwards)  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jR7lo9ycKBA

They journeyed far, A weary pair, They sought for shelter From the cold night air. 

Some place where she could lay her head, 

Where she could give Her Babe a quiet bed. 

Was there no room? No corner there? In all the town a spot someone could spare? 

Was there no soul Come to their aid? A stable bare was where the family stayed. 

[Chorus] Do you have room For the Savior? And do you seek Him anew? 

Have you a place for the One who lived and died for you? 

Are you as humble as a Shepherd Boy, Or as Wise as Men of Old? 

Would you have come that night? Would you have sought the light? 

Do you have room? 

[Verse] A star arose, a wondrous light; A sign from God this was the Holy Night 

And yet so few would go to see, The babe who came to rescue you and me. 

This child divine is now a King, The gift of life to all the world He brings 

And humankind He saves from doom, But on that night for Him there was no room.  

[Chorus] Do you have room For the Savior? And do you seek Him anew? 

Have you a place for the One who lived and died for you? 

Are you as humble as a Shepherd Boy, Or as Wise as Men of Old? 

Would you have come that night? Would you have sought the light? Do you have room? 

Tag: Will you come tonight? Will you Seek the Light? Do you have room?


I am deeply grateful for this opportunity to share a few reflections about my spiritual journey over the last six years here in Iowa. As many of you know, I grew up as a Mennonite and was steeped in the church since I was a baby. My mother and father taught me about Jesus, and I had wonderful Sunday school teachers and many adults who encouraged me in my faith. They formed me, and I loved it all. At the same time, I also loved sports, including field hockey, basketball, volleyball, hiking, cycling, running, and simply being outside in nature. 

I received degrees in organ performance from Wittenberg University in Springfield, Ohio, and then went on to Yale University to study organ at the Institute for Sacred Music and also work on a seminary degree at Yale Divinity School. My most formative teacher was Henri Nouwen. Even while I focused on organ performance, it was Nouwen’s deep influence as a wounded healer that convicted and steered me toward ministry.   

Henri Nouwen was a very authentic and transparent person. By his willingness to share his vulnerability, insecurities, doubts, and brokenness, Henri created a safe place where his students could wrestle with their demons as well. He placed great value on listening and connecting intimately with others. At the same time, he recognized the importance of solitude, retreats, and time apart spent with God in silence.  

Henri Nouwen never judged others and always called his students to the spiritual disciplines of prayer, relationship, and solidarity with the poor. He continually wrestled with what “success” means in ministry, and his celebrity status never changed him. In truth, it embarrassed him. 

Henri lived a simple life, spending years at L’Arche Daybreak Community in Ontario, Canada. There, he took care of a severely handicapped young man named Adam, who became a source of healing for Henri after an emotional breakdown. Most important, Henri made room for all. Nouwen came to not only understand but embrace his own brokenness so that he could become a wounded healer for others.

My own journey toward ordained ministry entailed struggle, for the Mennonite Church did not ordain women at the time. But my home church in Souderton, PA, knew me and affirmed me. I became one of the first women in the General Conference Mennonite Church to be ordained. 

The most important themes in my spiritual life have been brokenness and healing; disappointment and gratitude; death and resurrection. You can’t survive forty-one years in ministry without being broken once in a while. So many people in my life mentored, encouraged, and made room for me. Now my strong call is to make room for others to become all that God created them to be.  

Of course, there are many different ways to think about brokenness. I could talk all day about my broken body: like falling on ice and breaking my left elbow while out for an early morning run in Michigan during a winter cabinet meeting. I was a district superintendent at the time. There have also been a couple of broken wrists, a few broken fingers, and a broken toe, which happened in our hotel room right before my daughter Talitha and I left the room to run from the top of the Grand Canyon in Arizona down to the bottom. There we stayed overnight and ran, walked, and crawled back up the next day! That was definitely not all fun, and it was only by the grace of God and massive doses of Advil and determination that I made it.

Stuff happens, right, especially when you love being outdoors, as I do. I have always been a risk-taker. Yes, I’ve had my share of broken bones, and it all came together on February 16 of this year when I slipped on black ice while running near the episcopal residence in Clive and ended up with a serious concussion. My brain was literally scrambled. I still experience side effects, especially when the workdays are very long.

Spending six months on medical leave this year and pretty much living in isolation was not only devastating, but it was also depressing at times. I was convinced that I had let down the 158,000 United Methodists in 708 congregations in 99 counties across Iowa. Each one of you has been critical to my recovery. Each one of you. Do you have any idea of the hundreds of cards and expressions of love that I received?  

What I learned over the course of my ministry is that I embrace all of the various caucus groups in our conference and denomination. I understand that we don’t all see eye to eye around various theological issues. And I’m not bothered by the variety of beliefs held by United Methodists because that’s the glory of the big tent that is United Methodism. 

John Wesley himself reminds us of our call to be of one heart with each other in the midst of our differences when he wrote in his sermon Catholic Spirit, “Is your heart right as my heart is with yours? If so, give me your hand.”   

What I have cared most deeply about as an episcopal leader is reaching out with the good news of Jesus Christ to every corner of our beloved state. What compels me greatly is identifying needs and acting on them. And what keeps me up at night is a worry that I am not doing enough.  

I can’t tell you how many times over the past months I have asked myself, “Am I ever going to heal? Can I still do this?” Thank you for your patience and your grace. In the midst of tragedy, sorrow, and lament, God is not done with me or you and continues to invite us to make room for all of our brothers and sisters in this one world we share.

To be a wounded healer is:

  • To embrace the pain of the world
  • To admit our own human weakness
  • To joyfully acknowledge that every human being is worthy and precious
  • To ask how God can possibly use us despite the challenges we encounter 
  • And to use our wounds to bring glory to God and healing to our world

Can you make room for others to hear the gospel story and respond with joy and hope and love? Can you do it? Can you make room for the least, the last, and the lost? Will you seek to find a place for those you do not like or who are not like you? Will you dare to fling wide the doors of The United Methodist Church so that everyone can enter and be transformed? 

Will you risk giving up your misconceptions about others? Will you make room to humble yourself? Will you risk giving your heart to Jesus? Will you seek and find the light and then share it with all? Will you make room to apologize to those you have hurt or even demonized? Will you acknowledge the times that you fail and accept the healing that God offers? Do you have room in your heart this afternoon to live for Christ?  

I suspect some of you have seen the movie Schindler’s List, which was first released in 1994. Businessman Oskar Schindler (played by Liam Neeson) arrives in Krakow, Poland, in 1939, ready to make his fortune from World War II, which has just started. After joining the Nazi party, primarily for political expediency, Schindler staffs his factory with Jewish workers for similarly pragmatic reasons. When the SS, the elite guard of the Nazi Reich, begins exterminating Jews in the Krakow ghetto, Schindler arranges to have his workers protected to keep his factory in operation. He soon realizes, however, that in so doing, he is also saving innocent lives.

On the very day Schindler runs out of money, Germany surrenders to the allies. He assembles his workers and guards on the factory floor to announce the good news. Schindler tells the Jews that they should not thank him but instead thank themselves for surviving. He then counsels the German guards not to carry out their orders to kill the workers so that they may go home honorably as men, and not murderers. The guards prepare to leave as their hesitant Commander finally joins them. Oskar Schindler knows that he is viewed as a Nazi war criminal by the approaching Russians and must flee. 

Before they depart, Schindler is stopped by the workers and is presented with a letter of thanks, which they all signed, and a gold ring in which is inscribed a saying from the Jewish Talmud; “Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire.” Oskar Schindler then confides that he could have done more and begins to weep uncontrollably.

(Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KGngVfAN6B0)

Like Oskar Schindler, I, too, lament that I could have done more as a pastor, a district superintendent, and a bishop. I lament that I didn’t do enough. That’s my nature. I am not perfect, but I did the best I knew how. I have had the great honor of working with many District Superintendents, conference staff, laity, and clergy to fulfill our mission to Be#UMC. Our mission is not yet fulfilled, but we keep on keeping on, and my heart is filled with gratitude because of each one of you.   

And so, my dear brothers and sisters in Christ, do you have room this day?

  • Do you have room to reach out to others with the good news of Jesus Christ?
  • Do you have room to be gracious to all of God’s precious ones, whether you are like them or not, or whether you like them or not?
  • Do you have room to honor these words from Hebrews? “Don’t neglect to open up your homes to guests, because by doing this some have been hosts to angels without knowing it.” (Hebrews 13:2)
  • Do you have room to share your lunch?
  • Do you have room to truly listen and embrace those who may not think like you?
  • Do you have room to imagine what it is like to be broken?
  • Do you have room to let go of your misconceptions about others?
  • Do you have room to welcome a stranger into your household?

All I ever wanted to do with my life was to love Jesus and try the best I could to embody that love, encourage others to claim their call, and devote their life to service, whatever that might look like. Do you have any idea how beautiful you are? Do you have any idea how much you give of yourself to bring in God’s reign on this earth, all because you love Jesus? Do you have any idea how much you are changing the world for the good? If you are feeling God’s call on your life, talk to someone: a pastor, a friend, a Sunday school teacher. Take the initiative because the church needs you, our world needs you, and Jesus needs you.   

Serving as the episcopal leader of Iowa has been the greatest privilege of my life. The way others have shown love to me over these past six years has been overwhelming. Thank you for making room for me in Iowa. Thank you for praying for me, encouraging me, lifting me up, accepting me, challenging me, and loving me, even when I failed. Thank you for being difference-makers. 

Finally, a few thank you’s

  • Thank you to Rev. Martha Ward, chair of the Iowa Episcopacy Committee, for her faithful support and counsel over these last six years.
  • Thank you to those who served as Assistant to the Bishop and made sure I stayed on the straight and narrow during my time in Iowa – Bob Burkhart, Bill Poland, Harlan Gillespie, and, most recently, Bishop Lanette Plambeck.
  • Thank you to the clergy and laity of the Dakotas Annual Conference for welcoming me into their midst during 2021 and the first several months of 2022.
  • Thank you to Bishop Deb Kiesey for covering for me after my fall and concussion on February 16 of this year.
  • Thank you to Waukee United Methodist Church and Pastor John Louk for welcoming Gary and me and Aabiskar Sharma, the young woman we are sponsoring at Morningside University. This is the congregation where Aabiskar was baptized and became a Christian. Waukee UMC is where we have called home, even when haven’t been able to be active. 
  • Most of all, thank you to my husband Gary, who is my best supporter, most careful proofreader, and finest critic, and without whom, I would be so much less than I am today.          
  • And a huge welcome to Bishop Kennetha Bigham-Tsai and her family. I have known and been a colleague and friend of Bishop Kennetha for many years in Michigan. It is a great joy to have her become the new episcopal leader of Iowa.
  • As I move into retirement, my simple prayer is that we will commit ourselves to make room for all, so that every single one of God’s precious children can become who they were created to be. May you always have room for our Savior, room for one another, and room for all people in this one precious world of ours. God bless you. I love you all, each and every one. 

Prayer

Do you have room For the Savior? And do you seek Him anew? 

Have you a place for the One who lived and died for you? 

Are you as humble as a Shepherd Boy, Or as Wise as Those of Old? 

Would you have come that night? Would you have sought the light? Do you have room?

Connection is What Counts

Last week I wrote about our nephew’s wedding in Philadelphia. It was a wonderful celebration of reconnection with relatives whom we have rarely seen since living in Iowa for the past six years. After Jack and Danielle were whisked away on their honeymoon, many of our family took the Amtrak train from Philly to New York City on Sunday for another five days of delightful sightseeing and conversation. Walking through Central Park and window shopping on 5th Avenue reminded me of times spent as a child occasionally accompanying my father on business trips to the Big Apple.   

We started out on Monday walking the High Line Trail. This is a High Line-Elevated New York City Park Rail Trail that offers spectacular views of the city. Because our group included our 7-year-old grandson, River, as well as those in their 80’s, we took our time and looked out for each other. The street art and wall murals were most creative and delightful.     

Visiting One World Trade Center, with its spectacular 360 views, reminded me that I was, indeed, no longer in the cornfields of Iowa but rather in one of the grandest cities of our world. Our son, Garth, was kind enough to circle the building in which he works in Manhattan! I have always found it difficult to tolerate big cities because I easily become overwhelmed with the noise, traffic, smells, pollution, and sheer number of people. One of my favorite moments in NYC was walking with Garth and his fiancée Lillie through Prospect Park in Brooklyn with their dog Atari. Never have I seen hundreds of dogs in one park having the time of their life playing with each other! 

A highlight of the Big Apple for our extended family was the opportunity to see three Broadway shows. Monday was the Christmas Spectacular starring the Radio City Rockettes. What fun!  

Tuesday was Disney: The Lion King, which debuted on Broadway twenty-five years ago and has been seen by 110 million audience members across the world. Beginning with dancers costumed as birds and zebras twirling around a magical enchanting forest, the show is about a young lion cub named Simba, who idolizes his father, King Mufasa, and is eager for his own royal destiny.  

For many years, especially since a 1994 version of the movie and a recent remake, The Lion King has taught children lessons about the circle of life (the most popular song in the show), following your dreams, and learning from mistakes. Hakuna Matata! 

On Wednesday, we saw The Music Man, which originally opened in 1957.  It ran for 1,375 performances and won the 1958 Tony Award for Best Musical while Robert Preston won Best Lead Actor in a Musical as con man Harold Hill, who arrives in River City, Iowa, in the summer of 1912.  

The movie version was released in 1962, and I distinctly remember my enchantment with the movie when I saw it for the first time as a child. Of course, living in Pennsylvania at the time, I had no idea that sixty years later, I myself would be living in Iowa, the home of The Music Man’s “River City,” which was based upon Mason City, Iowa.  

After these fabulous experiences, our extended family took the train back to Philadelphia last Thursday and rented a 15-passenger van to take us to my home territory in Montgomery County in southeastern PA. I lived my early life on the outskirts of Souderton, a small town of 7,100 people. This is the home in which I grew up since the sixth grade, and relatives and family members still live in the area. 

I was thrilled with the opportunity to see my old haunts and know that, even with the Philadelphia suburbs creeping outward and Souderton only being 25 miles away from Philly, there is still a small-town Pennsylvania Dutch feel of connection. Here’s what I noticed: 

  • Many people drive in from “the country” to Philly for work.  
  • It’s still common to see “Old Mennonites” wearing their prayer caps and plain dresses. 
  • Much of the area still consists of hilly, narrow roads, but there are also new, widened roads to accommodate an increasing population. 
  • I couldn’t resist pulling into the driveway of our old house, built in 1965, when I was in 6th grade. 
  • As far as I could tell, the turkey farm is still across from our house, but there is also a new paved walking trail along the road. 
  • Whenever we return to PA, we visit Asher’s Chocolate Company in Souderton, which has been in existence since 1892.    
  • We also visited Landis Grocery Store in nearby Telford, which has all the Pennsylvania Dutch foods, baked goods, and candy that we crave. 

Most of all, I was delighted to be with my two brothers and my sister, Jenny, whose birthday is Nov. 26, one day after mine. I’m especially grateful to Jenny, who arranged for our four families and others to gather.    

The greatest gift of human life is connection with one another. On Thanksgiving Day, we remembered the legacy of our wonderful parents and vowed to remain connected with God and one another as disciples of Jesus Christ.      

Connection: a wedding; exploring New York City; enjoying musicals; buying chocolate; telling stories; reminiscing; romping with a dog; joyfully accepting our responsibility to live out our faith and make a difference in our world. That’s what counts. Thanks be to God!   

The Bell of Liberty and the Joy of Celebration

Last Thursday, Gary and I got up at 4 a.m. in order to make a 6:15 a.m. flight from Des Moines to Detroit and on to Philadelphia. Gary’s nephew was getting married on Sunday, and our extended family was very excited about being together since the wedding had to be postponed for more than two years because of COVID.  

Being back in my home territory was especially wonderful, having grown up just thirty miles northwest of Philadelphia in southeast Pennsylvania. Mind you, this is also Pennsylvania Dutch country. It’s a land rich in the Mennonite heritage in which I was raised, with iconic foods such as tomato pie, butterscotch Krimpets, Tastykakes, Philly cheesesteak, hoagies, soft pretzels, Scrapple, and Pork Roll.

One of the first things we did was visit the Liberty Bell on Independence Mall. Meditating upon this iconic symbol of freedom, I was reminded of Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, “Let freedom ring. Thank God Almighty, we’re free at last!” and “No one is free until we are all free.” I started to weep, realizing how deeply grateful I am to live in the US where we are free to live, serve, live, and reach out to the huddled masses yearning to be free.

The Liberty Bell became of major importance when abolitionists adopted it as a symbol as they attempted to end slavery throughout America. Since the Liberty Bell was created to commemorate the golden anniversary of William Penn’s 1751 Charter of Privileges, the words inscribed on the bell “Proclaim freedom throughout all the land” (Leviticus 25:10) are particularly apt. The abolitionists were the ones who gave it the name “Liberty Bell,” in reference to this inscription. It was previously called simply the “State House Bell.”

It is a tradition every year on the Fourth of July, at 2 pm Eastern time, for the children of all families who are descendants of the Declaration of Independence signers to gather to symbolically tap the Liberty Bell thirteen times. At the same time, bells across the country ring thirteen times to honor the patriots from the original thirteen states. In addition, the bell is gently tapped every year in honor of Martin Luther King Day. This ceremony was initiated in 1986 at the request of Dr. King’s widow, Coretta Scott King.

I was not prepared for the deep emotions that surfaced as I simply stood in the presence of the Liberty Bell, gave thanks to God for the freedom we have in the United States, and renewed my commitment as a disciple of Jesus Christ and a United Methodist to accept the freedom and power God gives all of us to “resist evil, injustice, and oppression.”

We had the opportunity to see other sights in Philadelphia as well, including the Reading Terminal Market, which opened in 1893. As William Penn and his associates began the town of Philadelphia, they gathered fishermen, hunters, and farmers, who were selling their goods along the Delaware River. Today the Reading Terminal is considered one of the finest public markets in the US, with more than eighty merchants selling fresh produce, meats, fish, groceries, flowers, baked goods, crafts, books, clothing, and hard-to-find specialties and ethnic foods. Gary and I had a great time taking our grandsons to the Reading Terminal, where they were so awestruck they didn’t know where to even begin choosing what foods to try!   

In addition to learning more about our heritage as a nation, we also prepared for a wedding. Gary’s nephew Jack Haller was married to Danielle Fanelle on November 19. What joy it was to gather with several hundred people to celebrate Jack and Danielle’s love for each other and their desire to make a difference in the world. 

Gary co-officiated at the wedding with John Fanelle, Danielle’s uncle and a deacon in the Roman Catholic Church. What a blessing to not only have our own extended family be present but also to be graced by the hospitality of the Fanelle family. 

Eternal God, Creator and Preserver of all life,
Author of salvation, Giver of all grace:
Bless and sanctify with your Holy Spirit
Danielle and Jack, who come now to join in marriage.
Grant that they may give their vows to each other
in the strength of your steadfast love.
Enable them to grow in love and peace
with you and with one another all their days,
that they may reach out
in concern and service to the world;
through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen. 
 

This Thanksgiving, I’ve had time to reflect on the many blessings of my life, and I would encourage you to do so as well. Thanks be to God for the gift of family, the joy of celebration, and the bell of liberty.