I've been working on this post for a week. By working, I mean writing one lame opening sentence, deleting it and closing it up until the next day. I want my words to accurately express what myself and some of the people around me have been feeling recently. Since they can't, I just need to record SOMETHING of it. Over the last two weeks, in our small church in Indiana, we first worried over a nine-year-old boy who fell off the monkey bars and was badly hurt. We were given assurance a few days later that he would be fine, so we breathed a sigh of relief. Then we were punched in the gut when a favorite woman of the church fell victim to a heart attack and did not recover. We are all very sad.
Drema was a gentle woman from the hills of West Virginia who made everyone feel like family. She greeted me every Sunday with a hug and "How are you, Sweetie?" She remembered if a child had been sick recently and asked about them. Anytime a group worked to serve the church or people in need, she and her husband were the first to come, the last to leave and the hardest workers of the day. She was uncomplicated but not simple. She had little and shared everything. We all felt like we had something special with her. She leaves a loving husband and two teenaged daughters, one who is having her high school graduation next week.
I've been thinking about a phrase I read recently and it seems to describe the attitude in our church. Mary Jane Butters is seamstress, carpenter, community organizer, milkmaid, writer and farmgirl. She was raised in a devout Mormon family and her parents were in high standing in their small but tight Church community. While she doesn't practice any organized religion now, she talks with fondness about the intimate Community formed by the people of the church - by Being There for each other in good times, in bad times, in unthinkably tragic times. Today, when asked what church she attends, she says she belongs to the Church of Each Other. Without theology, she carries on the practice of Being There with her employees, her neighbors, her shareholders.
An excerpt from Mary Jane's Ideabook, Cookbook, Lifebook:
"The 'other' part of 'each other' is easier if you decide that people matter, no matter what. For behold, are we not all beggars? For me, then, it's the wheel, work, and a heart full of song - it's the church of Each Other, the church of Lend a Hand, and the church called Gathered Up. The stuff of belief in providing relief to each other is a mighty defense against the passionlessness of modern life. Anyone can attend. And anyone can join."
A mere day and a half after dear Drema's sudden death was our Sabbath, with a scheduled carry-in dinner after services in order to honor our graduating young students, Drema's daughter among them. I am the Chair of the Fellowship committee, which hosted the event. A very large portion of the church turned out in order to Be Together. There had to be some crying together, too. But also laughing together, encouraging together, helping together and certainly eating together.
When the eating part was mostly done came the real work of the event, which also happens to be some of my favorite stuff. My committee consisted of four other women, ranging in age from about 15 years older than me to about 75 years old. "How awkward," some might say, "of course you have nothing in common!" Not so. We have our work in common, and the feeling that the work is important. The people we care about bond us, too, as do the joys and sorrows of the Community. Right now our people are sorrowing and what we know to do really well is serve them from the kitchen.
Aprons were donned, hands got pruney from the dishwater and only two glasses were broken. All the church members bussed their own tables and sorted their plates, glasses and silverware in order to be helpful. Barb didn't want to take all that leftover cake home, so could she send it home with me, you know, for the kids? I didn't know where everything went in the kitchen, but Carol did. Carol knows everything about the church kitchen. We wondered if a certain dish belonged to the church or to one of it's members, but Ruby recognized it as being one of Wendy's bowls. And Sharon, bless her, who laughs at herself for managing to break a sweat when she folds socks, stood melting over the hot dishwater for an hour or more, hair sticking damply to every part of her face and neck, but did not stop until the work was done.
Look again, and I noticed Joann was washing a sinkful of dishes, too. And Darcey was in the Fellowship Hall, wiping down tables and vacuuming the floor. That's not unusual; they're always there when work needs to be done, but neither was on my committee... the work wasn't theirs to be done. No matter, they would pitch in anyway.
A month ago, Drema would have been a part of that crew. A month from now, the cast may change again. But what is evolving stays the same. There will always be people to hold your hand, bring you a casserole, wash up afterwards. The food tastes better in the church basement. The work is more meaningful when the one doing it chose it, was not assigned to it. We are more Family than family.
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