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?

14 thoughts on “Do You Have Room?

  1. Thank you Bishop Laurie. I am on Whidbey Island so could not attend your retirement service but what a great sermon and may God continue to bless you. Mary Bellon

  2. Your wise counsel has been so appreciated for so many years even since you left Grand Rapids you will be missed however always in our hearts. I have personally enjoyed all of your blogs for always and wish you only the best in your retirement. Many blessings Laurie

  3. Almost every time I am back in Michigan, someone will mention you with great love and admiration. I have thought of you and Gary so much this year. I pray these days of transition will go well and you will find the healing that you need. May God bless you well .
    Bev Gaska

    • So great to hear from you, Bev. We are looking forward to returning to Michigan in a few weeks, where we will live in the metro Detroit area and be near to our grandchildren. God bless you, Bev.

  4. You have been a great leader & inspiration for us in Ia. Your beautiful wrap-up of your ministry
    helps us go on. We will miss you. Rev. Ruth Ann Melick, retired from the Ia. Annual Conf, & transfer from the Baltimore-Wash. conf. where I received my calling. God bless and may we help heal our beloved church.

  5. Bishop Lori this is Linda VonFumetti and you will find that this message might not be perfect all the time but I wanted to let you know that I had a stroke 2 1/2 years ago and I am still learning how to live life with the brain and tree it is difficult and many of the things I used to do I can’t many things I want to do I can’t and I have found that with a brain injury there are definitely emotional issues I have become part of a group that we get together once a week and that has been very helpful I also know that sometimes I just need somebody who needs to listen and has actually seen what I’ve done so I just want you to know I’m here for you if you want to talk or if you have a question or like I do sometimes just cry I will continue to pray for you and just know that we will be able to go on by gods grace

    • Thank you so much for your response, Linda. I am grateful for your courage in your recovery from the stroke and know that God’s grace surrounds you always.

  6. Marcia and I will never forget you, your wise counsel, encouragement including walking with us as a fellow traveler. We will follow you as your 2nd half of life unfolds. We still need your wisdom. Love, David and Marcia

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