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.