Sunday morning worship, return to “home” church.
Familiar faces in the audience. Quick hugs before worship begins.
Faces on the stage have changed.
Worship style is a little different.
Contemporary Christian songs. The first song brings back bittersweet memories of Jennifer’s funeral: “You Are Holy”. Josh requested this song, and we used a recording by the camp staff where she had worked at the beginning and end of the funeral. Larry and I were not familiar with the song, but it soon became one we listened to.
“How Great Thou Art”, one of the old familiar songs from our traditional hymn book. This is one of those songs that everyone seems to love. “I hear the rolling thunder, thy power throughout the universe displayed. Then sings my soul . . . ” Words that just HAVE to be sung. Our a cappella singing soars with four-part harmony.
At the end of the service my dear friend, Joan, is called to the stage to be honored for her 25 years service in this church. Her job has changed through the years, but she always is meeting the needs of the poor, the sick, the bereaved, hungry, the lonely. Truly she has been the hands and feet of Jesus in unique places and ways. The elders join her on the stage for a prayer of blessing. Many familiar faces here, but I notice more gray hair and think, when did some of these men younger than I get older? (You can barely see Joan on the front row.)
We celebrate Joan’s service with a reception of goodies, crowds, and mementos that remind us of so many joyful moments. Friends from years gone by return for this day to show Joan our appreciation. As Joan floats through the room, she says, “This is like a funeral before you die!”
Was this a unique event? In many ways, yes. Ministers with long-term service are often honored with such celebrations, most often at their retirement or perhaps when they leave a church. In our church tradition, not many years ago it was most unusual to pay a woman to work in a role of leadership.
1980. Wednesday night. A semi-circle of brown metal folding chairs filled every week by women for Bible study and prayer. As Joan taught practical lessons from the Bible she revealed her heart for service. I was hungry for this fellowship with Christian women. We were new to Nashville, and it takes time to grow friendships. Women’s projects grew our friendships. Images flash in my memory of taking meals to families during times of crisis, organizing a clothing closet that seemed to grow fatter every month, sending cards to shut-ins, planning showers and teas for important moments. Joan was a great Bible teacher, but she “walked her talk“ better than anyone I know.
I found a description in My Utmost for His Highest that fits Joan so well, “All of God’s people are ordinary people who have been made extraordinary by the purpose He has given them” (October 25). I’ve known Joan since 1979, and I’ve witnessed God’s work in her life, “bending, molding, and doing exactly as He chooses.” The only way this could happen is that Joan let God have His way in her life.
I didn’t ask Joan if I could write about her in this post because she might have said “no”. She really prefers to work in the background, with less attention to herself. Not that she is bashful or shy. Not Joan! She’s been known to dress up in “old lady” clothes and met a group of girlfriends at a restaurant. She loves to pull practical jokes. And if you ask church leaders and staff members if she keeps her opinions to herself, they would not hesitate to tell you she shares her opinion frequently.
But the thing I love about Joan is her Mary/Martha mixture. She is usually in the kitchen at church events, likely preparing the food for the whole crowd. Food preparation is one of her gifts and unlike Martha, you will not find her complaining about being stuck in the kitchen. And the food she prepares? Always delicious. Last fall I spoke at a luncheon at Woodmont in which she prepared all the food. And for me and my crazy food allergies?
She cooked chicken separately from the casserole she made for everyone else.
I count it joy that I could be present at Joan’s celebration. Also counting these blessings:
3797. so many friends to honor Joan
3798. her 25 years of service
3799. the body of saints who worship at Woodmont
3800. Joan’s gifts of feeding others, sharing their joys and concerns, her compassion for those in need, her common sense in giving money, food, life’s necessitie to the poor ands