Throughout this trip we’ve talked about going to a church funeral and a church wedding. These two events are some people’s only church experiences, but they’re not events we could plan on.
We did end up going to a memorial service last week. It was for Mindy’s mother.
We were driving to a Wednesday night church service in South Dakota when Mindy’s dad (in Indiana) called. Doctors had just discovered a cancerous mass in her mother’s stomach. It was inoperable, treatment wasn’t recommended, and her mother was likely to live only a few weeks. Mindy wanted to go home, but we wouldn’t be near a major airport for almost a month. Mindy scheduled a flight home from Denver for mid-November, when we expected to get there.
This was not news to put on Facebook, since the information was somewhat confidential. There were people we’ve met on the trip who have no connection to her family or friends at home, so Mindy felt free to ask some of those new friends for prayer.
Within a few days, the news of Marilyn Date’s illness was shared. Members of Mindy’s dad’s church, Southport Presbyterian, surrounded him with support. Her father wanted to spend as much time as possible with his wife, but he knew he’d also need breaks. He asked for several godly women from the church to sit with Marilyn’s bedside for an hour each day. Mindy’s sister drove from northern Indiana several times to be with her mom.
A week to the day after we received the news about Mom Date’s illness, while we were in North Dakota, we received other news. Mindy’s mother had died. The memorial service was scheduled for the Saturday a week away.
We had expected to drive to Montana from North Dakota, but after church that Sunday, we headed east toward Indiana.
We were grateful, over that week, for friends who responded to the news of Mindy’s mom’s death. Your prayers and loving messages filled those days with comfort and kindness and support.
The drive to Indianapolis took a few days. We spent the night before arriving there in West Lafayette, Indiana, with Mindy’s sister, Jennifer and her husband, Mike Woodard. Their kitchen was full of food that their church small group had brought. There were meals for the Woodards and food for them to bring to Mindy and Jennifer’s father and frankly, food for us, too (best of all for Mike were the really big boxes of Cap’n Crunch, a cereal he loves but usually doesn’t feel good about buying).
We arrived in Indianapolis (actually Greenwood, just south of the city) on Tuesday, looking for ways to help Mindy’s father.
Even though it was a much lesser concern in the scheme of things, we also had to discuss what to do with our trip and the blog. Thankfully, there are only fifty states and there are fifty two weeks in the year. So even though we already went to Washington D. C., we had a week to spare for this trip to Indiana.
We also had to decide whether we would have a church post for the week. We decided we would write about the memorial service and the events surrounding it.
Our first few days with Mindy’s dad included some photo sorting, lots of packing up of clothes and other incidental belongings, and meetings with the pastor of the church where Mindy grew up (and where we were married). Mindy’s dad, a retired Presbyterian pastor, had already done much of the planning for the service. I don’t know how many hours Jennifer and Dad spent planning the service and making sure details like memorial photo boards and display tables were both beautiful and according to Dad’s and Mom’s wishes.
The Senior Pastor of Southport, Rob Hock, had visited Marilyn several times at the hospital and also took time with Mindy’s father, Henry, to bring comfort and counsel and to plan the memorial service. (When Pastor Hock was called to the Southport church a few years ago, Henry -- as Pastor Emeritus -- invited him to lunch. Henry told Rob this was his last lunch invitation, since he was retired and Rob would be busy, but that he was available any time Rob wanted to get together. Rob has arranged to meet with Henry for lunch once a month since then.)
Of course, more family came into town for the service as the weekend drew near. Mindy’s two brothers from Washington state flew in with their wives. Our daughter, Paige, flew in from Washington as well. Marilyn’s brother and his wife flew in from Arizona. Henry’s sister came with one of his nieces. Jennifer and Mike were there with all five of their children, plus their son-in-law.
The Saturday memorial service was planned for 2:00 pm. The family was scheduled to greet guests during the two hours before the service, and the church provided a wonderful lunch for the whole family at 11:00 am. And the church provided a dinner for the family after the memorial service. (When their children were growing up, Mindy’s folks taught them to go to the end of the line for potlucks. Somebody usually brought fried chicken, and it was usually gone before Mindy got to the table. This time, there was more than enough fried chicken for everyone, along with other delicious food.)
Mindy’s mom, Marilyn, has been unable to attend church for years, and it’s been more than 20 years since her dad retired. Still, scores of Southport Presbyterian’s members lined up to greet Henry and to attend the service. Jennifer and Mike’s pastor and several members their small group drove down from West Lafayette for the service. Mike’s siblings and his daughter’s in-laws drove in as well.
The service itself took the form of a worship service. Pastor Rob introduced the service as a time of worship for the risen Lord Jesus Christ and as a time to honor Marilyn Date. In the service there were a number of Scripture readings and hymns. Four different people gave testimonies about Marilyn: her brother Paul spoke of Marilyn’s youth; at Henry’s request, a former associate pastor, Quentin Small, spoke of Marilyn as a helpmate; Jennifer spoke of Marilyn as a role model; and Hannah, one of Jennifer’s daughters, spoke of Marilyn as a grandmother. Then Quentin spoke again, with a more formal homily.
Memorial services in a church can have a certain tension. Is it primarily a worship service to honor God, or is it primarily a time to honor the person who has died? Once at our church in Healdsburg, a man who was a beloved, integral part of the congregation passed away. His mother was adamant that the service should honor Jesus, and that there really didn’t need to be any mention of her son in the service. The pastors reminded the mother that many of her son’s friends would come to the service expecting to honor her son -- but the mother had a point as well. If Jesus truly offers a hope of life after death, that hope is something grieving people need to hear about. Henry and Rob strove to strike a balance between the goals of honoring Jesus and Marilyn as well.
At a time of such loss -- the loss of a friend, a parent, a spouse -- most of us need the help of a community around to face such a time. Mindy and I are thankful for the comfort of Southport Presbyterian Church at this time, and even more for the church’s continuing love for her father.
Service Length: 1 hour 20 minutes
Sermon Length: 12 minutes, plus four other speakers totalling around 40 minutes
Visitor Treatment: guest book
Followup by Tuesday Morning: none
Our Rough Count: 300
Probable Ushers’ Count: 350
Snacks: none (lunch and supper for family, coffee available all afternoon)
Musicians: piano (woman), organ (man), vocals (man), vocal solo (woman)
Songs: “Christ the Lord is Risen Today”
“23rd Psalm” (solo)
“Because He Lives”
“All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name”
Miles to Church: 5
Miles from Start: 41,768
Total 2016 Miles: 41,472Church Website: http://www.southportpc.org/