Years ago, I was a part of Lenten Study Group that was scheduled to meet for three weeks. But the group continued to meet for more than 10 years. We read books, went on retreats, dined in one another’s homes, shared secrets, shed tears and plotted together on big projects to make the world a better place. The group’s vibrancy sustained me through many significant life chapters and challenged me to know God from a new perspective.
So when two women from that group died in September, the void I felt in my life was palpable. One woman was Jarene Stanford, who served as the first female chairwoman of the church board. In those days the church board had about 200 members. It must have taken courage for her to occupy a space that many thought was only for men. In the early years of the church, only men served on the board. And now, here was a woman as its chair! Not only that but she made tough decisions about budget and personnel that were not received positively by all. She always believed we could push a little harder and become a better church. And at her funeral, the Heartland Men’s chorus sang “Everything Possible.”
The other was Carol Nichols. Carol would do anything to serve. Long before she chaired the Elders and the Personnel committee, she dug the first latrines at Tall Oaks Camp and Conference Center. She believed in hard work. Get your hands dirty. When the AIDS crises hit, she became a “buddy” to a man who was blind due to AIDS and who had been abandoned by his family. She embraced him as a dear friend and enjoyed spending time with him over lunch or at a concert. Watching her I learned more about God’s radical hospitality than I ever learned from any Bible study.
There were moments when I disagreed with both of these fine female leaders. But always I deeply respected and admired their devoted and bold service to God through the church. There could be no better endorsement of why it matters to be a part of a church. Without this congregation, I could not have known the power of so great a love.
Grace and peace,