Faith Journey of LaMar & Phyllis Zieber

Phyllis Zieber

August 1, 1975 LaMar, Sarah, our nearly eight-month daughter, and I moved into our home. We had lived in Monroeville when we first got married and went to LaMar’s home church in Bellevue. Before we had moved to Norwalk, we had planned to visit some of the churches in Norwalk before we made a final decision about where we would regularly attend. We chose to attend the First Church first as we did know the Pierces and the Emmons already. Rev. Wilbur Meiser was the minister and on the following Monday, he came to visit us. I realize the proximity of our house to the church probably had something to do with the prompt visitation, however I feel that it was the hand of God that led us to become members with the next new members’ class.

La Mar and I quickly became involved with the church getting to know people with whom we have shared over forty years of fellowship. Our family grew both in number and stature, while we all grew in our relationships with the Lord through the many programs offered here at First Church – attending and teaching Sunday School, Jr. and Sr. choirs, 3 D -Diet, Disciple, and Discipleship, UMW, UMM, Bible studies, VBS, serving on various Church committees, helping with charity events, youth fellowship, youth leaders, helping with funeral dinners, community dinners. Many of you have also shared in these opportunities and have experienced the warm Christian fellowship and growth available here at First Church.

In May of 1978, La Mar accepted the part-time position as custodian of the entire church which was to last that summer. He remained at this position into the 1990s when the good Lord saw fit to open a fulltime teaching job for me at the high school. The Lord used the two of us at the high school to minister to others in different capacities – both at church and at NHS. When we both retired from teaching, the Lord called LaMar back to a similar position here at the church when Ted McClaran retired as maintenance man. As such, he also serves as an advisor to the Trustees because he knows the building so well.

Our church family is very important to our family. It has provided the foundation for our faith walk. It is here that we have grown up so to speak in the Lord. This church -you, the congregation and those leaders God has placed here -have provided a firm foundation of faith for our entire family. You have prayed for us, laughed and cried with us. You have provided food, fellowship, and your love for us. We praise and thank our heavenly Father for providing this nurturing and strong foundation We pray that we as a congregation can provide that foundation to many others for many years.

 

LaMar Zieber

Right now we are at a turning point in our church’s life. Our building needs some REAL attention – not only making it look better on the inside, but for taking care of some real issues on the outside of the building starting with the roof , windows and the tuck pointing that need to be addressed. The church is in need of funds in order that we may once again enjoy the true beauty of this historical building built in the 1890s – over 100 years ago. We want to do God’s bidding – to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world – but many who visit are turned off by the declining physical appearance of this majestic building.

As many of you know, this building provides meeting places for not only our church activities such as 1st Kids, Pathfinders, UMW, Firelands District and Conference activities, funeral and community dinners, but also several community groups including AA, Alanon, CAC, Norwalk United Fund, Red Cross (blood drives), 4H and Scouts. The fellowship hall and kitchen are used by members and nonmembers alike for reunions, parties and gatherings of all sorts. The building is busy – active and alive almost every night of the week.

The Lord has put our congregation in a unique location, one that is at the center of our lives as well as nearly at the center of our town. Because of its location and the willingness of this congregation, it is a vital part of the community. We need to fix the problems that are nickel and diming us as a congregation. We need to follow King David’s example and give a true sacrifice to God.

Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. Colossians 3: 15 & 17

Faith Journey of Ben Kenny

Good morning!  I am Ben Kenny, 8:30 keyboard noodler and 10:30 balcony dweller.  I have been asked to share my testimony.  I will try to be mercifully brief and stick to the script.

I grew up in the suburbs of Baltimore, and while I was doing that, God looked out for me by blessing me with two things.  First, parents who got me out of bed and off to church most Sunday mornings, even if it was a Presbyterian church full of Calvinists.  And second, some good and close friends who actually cared about my faith.  I recall one weekend when we were off on a youth retreat along the beach in Ocean City, Md., and the program, as well as my roommates, really got me thinking about my beliefs, to the point that the following week, I invited God and His Son into my life.  I think that because of this teenage stage of my life being such a turning point, that helped lead me to teach high schoolers here in Sunday School for something like 15 years.  And those roommates at the retreat have remained good friends of mine and supporters ever since – both involved in ministry.

Jumping ahead six years, I was out of college and grad school at The Ohio State University, and about to start a new job in a small town 100 miles north of Columbus that I had never heard of, called Norwalk.  I interviewed for a job on a Thursday in late August, and I sensed that the interview was going well when about five questions in, they asked “Can you start Monday?”  I tore back to Baltimore in my ’66 VW Beetle, loaded all my earthly belongings into the car – imagine fitting everything you own in a VW today – , and headed back to Ohio over the weekend.  Not knowing a soul in this town, I moved into a third floor apartment on 107 E. Main St., where the landlady informed me a nice young teacher had just moved in on the first floor.  The nice young teacher was Linda, we began hanging out at romantic spots like Connie’s Laundromat, and the following May we were married.

I include this in my testimony because I believe it is one of the most powerful examples of God’s work in my life.  And the miracles have continued with two kids and four grandchildren (and counting…)

We attended a couple other churches in town before settling here at First United Methodist, where we have attended since the Bill Grant era, around 1993.  Just as God brought me to Norwalk and to Linda, I believe He brought us to this church.  And if I could pass on one lesson from my time here, it would be that you truly get more out of an experience, a project, or a voluntary task than you put into it.  I think LaMar hit on this point last week.  Every task has brought a treasure, every bit of business a blessing.  While I believe the purpose of the praise band, “Give ‘em Heaven”, for example, is to bring people closer to God, I have to admit that it has been an absolute joy hanging out up there with Dale, Barb, Carol, Jen, Roxanne, Deb, and Tera, not to mention the great and treasured times with Tom and Jesse Phillips, Jake Gilson, Alex Roberts, Sarah Christophel, Doc on the Drums, and others including my son William.

As another example, we were also able to turn a difficult experience – Linda’s bout with breast cancer about 14 years ago – into a positive by getting involved with our Relay for Life team, the Methodist Marchers, sponsored, supported, and prayed for generously by you, the members of this church.

I would add that when, like Linda and me, you are not from these parts, you work in other towns, and your kids have moved on, a church home and your church family can have added meaning and importance.  It truly feels like home here.

So to conclude, with apologies to David Letterman, here are my Top Ten quick reasons that draw us to Norwalk First United Methodist Church, week after week.

10.  We very rarely have to fight off squatters in our balcony seats, although we sometimes concede the first row to the Harris triplets, and we’re fine with that.  It’s like reserved seating on Sunday mornings!  Your pew is just waiting for you.

9.    As I said, I had the honor of teaching and learning from dozens of high school kids over the years teaching Sunday School.  They kept me young and on my toes. They are an amazing asset to the church.

8.    Eating awesome food – I mean we’re talking Methodists here! – after Unity services, at community meals on third Mondays, and every Wednesday when First Kids is in session.  This church is blessed with some amazing and sharing cooks, dishwashers, and clean-up crews!

7.    Speaking of First Kids, it’s great just picking up on the energy in the room when those kids are in it.  Wednesday evening is a special time in this church.

6.   This building, the architecture – this place is special.  And we have reached a time when it needs special care, some T.L.C; our stewardship, in order to reach some financial goals and afford some badly needed improvements. 

5.  The music: Our choir, Chantal at the piano, the bells, Carol Phillips directing, and Carol Schubert on the organ.  The choir was one of the blessings that stood out and drew us to this church.   

4.  This was a wonderful place for our kids as they grew up.  Our son, William, especially, made good friends here, friends he still sees on a regular basis.  Now we love bringing the grandchildren, and we offer a blanket apology for the random noises, past and future, emanating from the vicinity of our balcony seats. 

3.  At Church Council meetings, I am humbled by all the good things going on, the many missions of this church, and the good people leading the charge.  This church has always provided us with spiritual leaders who faithfully serve and set the bar for many of us.  And a full description of everything that goes on here or because of this church and our partners would be too long to list here.

2.  A Pastor who brings us new insight into God’s word and God’s plan for us, with sermons that offer a glimpse of glory, and who instills God’s goodness and hope in us, week after week.

1. Finally, a place where each person in the congregation can travel our own unique journey of faith, yet come together as one to worship our Lord and God, build each other up, and claim a victorious future.  I thank every one of you for your part in helping make this a true community – a true home! 

Faith Journey of Carol Phillips

I must say that I have always known the church as a special place to come to.  Starting at infancy, I rarely missed a Sunday at church.  You see, my father was a Methodist minister and my mother was a daughter of a Methodist minister.  My 2 older brothers and I were always at Sunday school.  It was expected of us but I don’t ever remember being upset about having to participate.  It wasn’t until my early adulthood that I realized how deeply I was influenced by the church community.

My father became very ill with a disease that was diagnosed as nephritis.  It probably stemmed from a strep infection he got when he was serving in WWII.  The symptoms showed up when he was the minister in a Methodist church in Brookfield Ohio.  Even though I was 3 years old, I do remember one particular day when I witnessed the generosity of a church community.    I saw a gesture of love and kindness that hearts for Christ give.  A gentleman from the church came to our home and delivered a  lounging  chair for my Daddy to rest in.  Dad would have horrible headaches and it was the hope of the congregation that this piece of furniture would provide some comfort to him.  Who would have known that I too would be a recipient of a generous church community?

After my Daddy died, my Mom moved to an area not far from Medina where she would be closer to her brother.  Those were difficult years for my family but we never missed attending church.  I recall attending the Christmas Eve service with its warm candle lights.  After the service a small box in the shape of a church, filled with hard candy was given to all the children.  Church became a place that elicited peace.

My Mom remarried to a wonderful man who also lost a spouse and  had 3 children.  Our family of 4 became a family of 8…we were the first Brady Bunch.  We moved back to Brookfield.  My Mom and new Dad,( I never like to refer to him as my step-father) took us to church every week.  We  attended a Lutheran Church in Warren.  Mom played the organ for the Sunday Services and we made multiple trips each week to attend catechism classes and choir rehearsals.  Easter Sunday was exciting because we’d get up at 4am to be at the Sunrise Service where the children’s choir traditionally sang.  Of course we stayed all morning for the other 2 services.  I realized that sometimes, being a part of the church meant a sacrifice of personal time.

When I became a high school student, my family returned to the church in Brookfield where I once belonged as child and more importantly my school friends attended.  I joined MYF .  I loved being a part of this group.  Unfortunately, I don’t remember too many times that my “biblical” growth was improved but I sure had a lot of fun!  From these years, I found meaning in enjoying the fellowship of other people.   During my senior year in high school, I attended a Jesus Revival.  Many youth would meet at a football field where speakers and singers would come to “preach”.  One particular time, Phil Kaeggy, who still is playing his guitar and singing in various religious circuits, was the speaker.  I think this was the very first time that I truly understood the “gift” I had received through Christ.  Perhaps this is when faith started to become MY FAITH and not the faith of my parent’s.  I was beginning to find meaning in the words of scripture.    I accepted Christ as my Savior and committed my life to following Him.

I graduated from college with an ele. education degree.  An opportunity to teach in Durham, North Carolina was offered to me.  I really didn’t want to go so far away from my family and friends but I was excited for a teaching position.  I knew that even though I was frightened to leave, my experience from the past 4 years in college told me to trust God’s leading.   I knew I needed to find a faith community, which I did right away, and it wasn’t long after attending Cary United Methodist Church  opportunities of ways to become involved in the church was presented to me.   I found out how important it was to serve even when I doubted my abilities. I learned to trust God to lead me.   God blessed those experiences.  Consequently I found a “new” family.  Serving has proven time and time again to be an opportunity to know Christ.

I stayed in North Carolina for 3 years but I missed being near my family so I began the process of applying for teaching positions back in Ohio.  My Aunt Ruth was a kindergarten teacher at Berlin Elementary School and she put in a good word for me with the principal, many of you know her, Mrs. Naomi Federkiel.  (hum….a connection to this church)  I was offered a 1st grade teaching position.  My Aunt secretly hoped that I would meet the handsome and talented Tom Phillips at Towne and Country Theater, so to help this process along, she took me to see a show at the theater.  It was Music Man with Rand Laycock starring in the role of Harold Hill.

My Aunt’s hopes came true … Tom and I did meet … we dated … and then the most wonderful blessing came by becoming Tom’s wife!

In 1982 we walked into this church and were warmly welcomed.  Walt Chishom was the minister then and he was quick to invite Tom and I to become involved in the ministries of this church.  We taught a young adult class.  Earl Harper and Mike Hahn attended this class and they became good friends through this experience.  I was asked to help start up a hand bell choir with the bells that were just donated!  (Great timing right, new bells, I walk in!)  God knew.

And so our journey at Norwalk First United Methodist began.  I’ve always have been so thankful that my 3 boys experienced this wonderful church family.  They had great friends who also attended with them, and as Ben Kenny spoke last week, these friendships are continuing into their adult life.  The basis for a Christ centered life was established through the activities and teachings they experienced here.  This is a tremendous legacy to give to our youth and children.      I am so grateful for this.  I’m also grateful for the opportunity to be involved in the music ministry of this church.  There have been numerous choir and bell choir members present and past who have touched me in ways that challenged me and enabled me to grow in faith.  Being involved in the Bible Studies has been an amazing opportunity to learn about Christ and how I can live in His image.  I’ve enjoyed chaperoning the youth to ALIVE music festivals, car washes, BIBLE School, Red Bird Mission Trip, learning to play the bass guitar for the Praise Band (did I say I’m learning?), potlucks, the community dinners, Children Christmas PRODUCTIONS,  (La Mar and Jerry Emmons built our “stage” for us years ago and we still use it).  All these opportunities have shown me the effects of this faith community when people  graciously share their skills.

BUT perhaps the most wonderful   gift that comes from this church is the way we embrace and love one another.    When Tom was diagnosed with cancer, the very first action I took was to call Sarah Christophel who was the office manager at that time.  I asked her to put Tom on the prayer chain.  We needed prayer for healing, for discernment, for peace, for strength….those prayers were continuous!  This community embraced Tom’s fight and made it their fight.  I can’t tell you how helpful it was to know people were always praying for us.  People were constantly showing their concern and doing amazing acts of kindness for us.  God used you to help us.  You laid on hands, you called us, send cards, helped us pay for airplane tickets to Boston, you fed us.  I remember one particular day; I was feeling rather sorry for myself that I had to rake all the leaves in the backyard.  Tom didn’t have the energy to even hold a rake and our boys were no longer living at home.  As I was beginning to shed tears, a riding lawn mower came down the driveway and a huge crew of rakers appeared.  This is one of those examples of God’s grace and how He inspires us to help one another.

When Tom died, you continued to embrace our family and hold our hands and love us.  Tom loved the quote, “Share the gospel every day and if you have to, use words.”  It is how THIS precious church works.

So, why do I support this church with my gifts?  Well, to briefly recap, my faith journey has told me that we are a family and have been entrusted with a responsibility to our community, to our children and grandchildren. This home is a place that shows generosity.  It is a place that gives us peace.  It is a place that teaches God’s word.

We get the most out of our faith journey by sacrificing our time and resources.  We also need to use our talents and skills.  (We all have them.) Even when we doubt ourselves and our abilities, we have to trust God that He will enable us.   He gave us all great abilities and He always gives us opportunities to use them.

What is the amazing outcome of this involvement and sacrifice? 

You are blessed.

You grow in your knowledge of Christ.

You experience fellowship and love.

I love this church.  It has been a gift to you and me.    It is a place where we embrace and love one another. 

Faith Journey of Dawn Freeman

I came to understand what Christ did for me when I was 12 years old and I watched the movie Jesus of Nazareth. I understood then that Jesus died for my sins. But it wasn’t until I was a junior in college that I accepted Christ as my savior.

I have been coming to this church since I was born. I was baptized here. I was married here. All of my children were baptized here. Except when I was in college and living in Cleveland, I have attended this church only. I am a Methodist. When I was a kid, I came to Sunday school here. I sat in the 3rd row back on my left with my mom, Donna Ballard, my Grama, Grace Sayles, my Boompa, Mel Sayles,  my dad, Dave Ballard  who sang in the choir, and my siblings. My Uncle, Danny Ballard, also sang tenor in the choir.  I would lay down on my mom’s lap and look at that big stained glass dome while my mom stroked my hair. I would look at the stained glass image of Jesus with the lamb and imagine that He was holding me like that.

I grew up hearing this choir sing The Hallelujah Chorus, and learned to sing hymns like “Holy, Holy, Holy” with the rest of the congregation. I was confirmed in this church and attended Sunday school.  I sang in the children’s choir. One time, Mrs. Laycock, who was the children’s choir director asked if I would like to sing a song for everyone at practice, I did, and I sang “Comet, it makes your teeth so green….”.

This space is a big part of the reason I am who I am today. Just as this space is a big part of the way my children are who they are today. But it’s not really this space, the building, or the stained glass images, or the Sunday school classrooms, or the church pews, or the baptismal that has made me or my family who we are today, it is the people who attend. The church.

You have helped me through some of the most difficult years of my life. The first time being, when my Boompa died when I was 12. I remember your kindness then. And again when I was an awkward teenager and you told me I was pretty and that someday some boy would be so lucky to have me. And again when I went off to college and you supported me with prayers, financial support, and gifts. And again when my Granma died and you told me how much Granma meant to you and how much I meant to my Granma.  And when I got married to Michael and you taught me about Agape Love and you welcomed my husband and me into marriage here. My dad walked me down that aisle and gave me away with a kiss. And when I had Abigail and you prayed for me when she was premature and you sent me cards and visited us in the NICU. Then again with every birth, you came to my home, and fixed us supper and sat with me when I was on bed rest so that they wouldn’t be born too early. You held those babies, and rocked them, you read to them, you brought them gifts. You loved us.

You became my friend as we raised our kids together.  You held them in the nursery, taught them in Sunday school, Logos, and Youth Group. You cooked food for them, and you played with them, and you showed them the love of Jesus with each smile and hug. You helped them to make me little planters for mother’s day.  You went with them to Winter Jam, Alive, Youth Missions Trips, Yak, and Point Fest. You financially, prayerfully, and personally supported them to attend CCYM trips, and DYC events. You wrote letters of recommendation for jobs for them. You welcomed us into The United Methodists Women and Men’s group and the Bible studies. You supported us when my dad died suddenly and sent my mom, my siblings, and I cards and loved us through the grief. You sang to me, “It is Well with my Soul” while I cried sitting in the balcony the first Sunday after he died.

You prayed and supported my husband and I when he had quadruple bypass surgery. You came to visit us at the Cleveland Clinic while he was in ICU. You went with him to his cardiac rehab and encouraged him. You’ve invited us to your graduation, retirement, birthday, and wedding parties. You came to our graduation parties and helped me with getting ready for them. You have helped us through the ups and downs of marriage and taught us that love is a choice, not always a feeling.

You were here for us when my mom died two years ago, giving hugs, praying, and reminding us all how special she was. You were here when my in-laws died, you came to their memorial service and my mom and dad’s memorial service in this church and supported us with your love.  You called me to meet for tea or to go for a walk. You understand when I am busy with kid stuff and you forgive me when I am not as gracious, kind, or sympathetic as I could be. You prayed over Simon when he went into the Coastguard and sent him letters.

From 1960 and throughout today and the days ahead, you have been my church. You have shown me God’s love in countless ways and on countless occasions. Yes, I am blessed by this building and the stained glass, and the comfy pews, and the abundant parking, and the nice class rooms, the wonderful music and acoustics. But you have been the real blessings, because you taught me all about unconditional love. I look forward to sharing the rest of the seasons of my life with you. They say it takes a village to raise a family. Thank you for being my village.

Dawn Freeman