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Articles in this Issue
Editor’s Note by Carol Mullet
A Prayer in Covid Time by Mag Richer Smith & Bob Smith
Reflections by Greta Weaver
Covid Holidays by Mary Liechty
The Farm wife finds grace in her empty barn (poem) by Shari Wagner
Discovering Unexpected Gifts by Rachel Friesen
Sharing my Hobby by Dan Hess
Home Sweet Home by Kenda Resler Friend
Empowering Families in Transition by Carmela Rosner
Caring for Our Kids and Our World: FMC Goes Solar by Sam Carpenter
Exploring Community at FMC by Robin Helmuth
Sharing from Our Kitchens by Carol Mullet
MennoExpressions is published four times a year in February, May, August, and November by First Mennonite Church, Indianapolis, IN, with a special graduation insert in May.
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written consent from an editorial team member.
Editorial Team: Carl Rhine, Kenda Friend, Rachel Friesen Krall, Elizabeth Goering, Robin Helmuth, Mary Liechty, Carla Schmid, Lisa Habegger, Erwin Boschmann.
Associate Editor: Carol Mullet
Production: Elizabeth Marie Cooney, Jason Schmucker, Gaynel Bryan.
Long Term Past Editors: Erwin Boschmann (Founding Editor), Shari Wagner, Alison Schumacher.
Would I dare to submit a photo essay to MennoExpressions claiming that my hobby fits the goal of congregational caring and sharing?
Would I dare, as a non-professional photographer to exhibit my iPhone
This is what I would like to say in such an essay.
Where I was privileged to walk may become your experience too.
What captures my attention might capture yours.
What inspires me might inspire you.
Let’s try it. The organizing topic: My neighbors and me.
During the recent pandemic months when many people have been cooking and eating at home, and cooking and eating at home, and, yes, cooking and eating at home, some folks have been exploring creative ways to provide tasty meals—maybe without spending as much time in the kitchen.
The following random responses are paraphrased from haphazard questioning!
- Thursday is a highly anticipated carryout night. Children and parents take turns choosing a restaurant, which results in supporting quite the range of locations!
- Buying food in larger quantities has resulted in cooking bigger batches and freezing extra for later meals. This has allowed fewer trips for groceries and quicker preparation later.
- When cooking or buying carryout meals, plan for leftovers—lots of leftovers. Learn to love leftovers!
- A variety of soups have provided a comforting focus for meals.
- Discovering Trader Joe’s frozen mashed potatoes (and frozen sweet potatoes) has made cooking this familiar food faster and easier—but start with browned butter in the pan and use milk rather than water for the liquid!
- Adding teriyaki or soy sauce to soups, stews, or meats adds extra flavor and allows using less salt. Herbs can also reduce the need for salt.
- Deciding as a couple to start a weight control program is easier than doing it alone.
- Watching cooking shows has provided inspiration to try new foods and recipes.
- Involve children in cooking their favorites, while teaching them about healthy foods.
- A Zoom cooking party with extended family provided lots of laughs. Each household used some of the same specific ingredients, but could combine them anyway they pleased. Several new favorites resulted from this entertainment!
- Crockpots and Instantpots have simplified mealtime for some families.
- Setting the table, lighting candles and sitting down to eat together without television or phones can create a peaceful, sharing experience, or erupt into silliness with joke night.
- Children doing online school at home enjoy handy, healthy snacks like Cheerios, cheese crackers, apple slices or peanuts—perks not usually available when they were at school in person all day.
- Discovering an instant-read digital thermometer and using it to check doneness has resulted in tastier baked goodies. The magic internal temperature for most bread, cookies and brownies is 190 degrees.
- If spaghetti is on the menu, cook more than needed. Place six “nests” of extra cooked pasta on a cookie sheet, cover with wax paper and freeze overnight. Place in a Ziplock bag and store in the freezer –ready to reheat and add sauce for the next pasta night.
- Romantically dubbed “French Picnics,” these meals involved a small group gathering at a distance in a backyard with each couple bringing their own chairs, bread, cheese, munchies and beverage for safe sharing and creative fellowship. Parkas, heated blankets and a firepit may be required to carry this into the next season.
- Give thanks for having a kitchen and food to cook.
When thinking about the theme of “Sharing and Caring,” I immediately thought back to the Sunday morning I agreed to speak at First Mennonite Church. This was in 2014. As I re-read thru my notes, I came to realize so many of the ways in which we can experience community at FMC now are still the same as they have always been. There are some expressions of community which may take a slightly different form or format now. This is partly due to the contagion we are in and partly due to the many changes in technology since 2014. We can still be community to and for each other in many ways. We are probably our own biggest limiting factor.
I invite you to reflect on what I wrote and said in 2014 and consider ways you can be community to someone at FMC, your neighborhood, your work, your school or another group. I hope you will be surprised at how “present” you can be with someone, even if not physically adjacent to each other.
Finally, read the addendum to this talk, as it has been updated to reflect the community who has been there for me, again, during the illness and recent death of my father.
First (Recognized) Personal Experience of Church Community
It was October 16th, 1976. This was a Saturday. A neighbor man picked me up and drove me to my parents’ home. As we approached the house, I could see the driveway was filled with cars. Other cars were parked in the lawn and many were in the neighbors’ drives. As I walked into the house, I was met by my disconsolate father who simply hugged and embraced me and just wanted me to hug him. My mother was nearby and once Dad released me from his arms, she was readily available to also receive and give a prolonged embrace. She had tears in her eyes and it was obvious she, too, had been crying for some time.
As we stood in the dining room, I realized there were many other people present, some around the dining room table, some in the nearby kitchen and at least another dozen or more in the adjacent living room. Most were sitting, sometimes two or three to a chair. The couches were overflowing. Some there were my former youth group members or church friends of my parents and others were from our church or neighborhood. As I walked into the room, a space just appeared for me on one of the couches. Those who were already on that couch simply scooched together even tighter. I sat and wept intermittently while feeling the arms and hands of others reaching out to let me know they were there for me.
The afternoon before, my middle brother had been killed in a car accident while he was driving home after school on a Friday. The rest of the events aren’t really relevant for today’s purposes. However, these circumstances brought about the first time I recall sensing community from the church. I was only 19 or 20 at that time, and even though I had only attended this church for about 2 years before going off to college, the people from that congregation made certain that my family and I were not alone that first day, or in the days, weeks and months following the tragic event in our lives. The people from that church gave us food for our bodies; they gave us words of consolation and hope for our broken spirits. They also gave us their presence and assurances of their continued presence. I am convinced beyond any doubt of how important and powerful being the recipient of church community was for me at that time, and how important it has been in my years since then.
Second Personal Experience of Church Community
Roll time forward approximately 10 years. It is now 1986. By then, Deb and I had been married about 7years and had been living in Indianapolis where we had been attending First Mennonite Church. We had just had our first child. Sometime, during all of this, someone from the church organized a baby shower. A baby shower for us? Why us? Well, it was simply the custom. If someone in the church was having their first baby, then, the church hosted a baby shower. But, why a shower for us, I still asked myself?
We had only been here about 5 years. We were here for medical school and I was in residency. We could be as transient as many previous students or residents or as many of the students to come. Yes, we knew a lot of people, but many only by name or face. But a baby shower was held. The rooms off of the kitchen were packed. Some of the people Deb barely knew. Gifts were opened and passed around. Stories were told. Suggestions and ideas abounded. There were lots and lots of people here, or so I am told. This shower happened in the days when couples’ showers were not as frequent, so it was given mostly by women primarily for the mothers of new babies. So, though I don’t remember being there, I do recall loading up our car after the shower with what seemed like a never-ending supply of diapers, blankets, books, powders, booties, hats, clothes and more clothes for our new little girl. I remember Deb and I saying to each other, “Wow” and “Wow” and “Wow” over and over and over again. The generosity of time, of spirit, of gifts, of money, of inclusion spilled over. I clearly remember a strange, warm feeling of community from the people of this church. Somehow, we felt like we belonged here.
The experiences I just related are just two of the many experiences of community I have felt over the years. One was prior to being at First Mennonite. One was here at FMC. One was during a time of terrible angst and pain. One was during a time of great joy, anticipation and celebration. Community happens at both ends of the spectrum and at many intervals in between.
Let’s take a look at community at First Mennonite Church in Indianapolis in a bit more detail. But, first, let me provide you with some confessions and a little background.
Those of you who know me or even are around me occasionally know that I can be irreverent at times. I openly confess this to you. I am the oldest of five children. All of my siblings are brothers. My parents were missionaries. My dad was a teacher, a Bible Institute Director and a pastor. So, not only was I a Missionary’s Kid, but also a Teacher’s Kid and a Preacher’s Kid. How many more “Kid” does one need after one’s name in order to qualify for the prototypical ‘rebellious’ child or irreverent teen / adult? After all, perfect behavior was expected of me all along my growing up years. So, try to cut me some slack. Regardless, I confess, I am irreverent at times. It is this very acknowledgment and awareness of my irreverence and many other faults which makes standing before you today and preparing to stand before you today such a humbling and, yet, meaningful experience.
I also confess, that I haven’t and don’t always put forth a spirit of community. Sometimes, this is to individuals; sometimes, to groups of persons. I don’t believe this is intentional most of the time. It is usually due to my own tendencies toward introversion, or lack of awareness of those around me or simply not having honed some skills in showing and providing community. However, I am still learning and growing in these areas. I have the desire to show more facets of community to others. Again, it is the very acknowledgement and awareness of my many faults in this area which makes standing before you such a humbling and, yet, meaningful experience.
On a related note, it was Shannon who approached Deb and me by email about speaking today. I did indeed say, “Deb and me”. You will note it was both of us she approached. It wasn’t one or the other, it was both of us. What many of you don’t know is that, in Deb, I have been blessed beyond my imagination with a person who has grown into being the primary source of community in our household. She is our source of community not just for her family, but with my family, with our friends, with our children, with our small group, and so many others. This may be thru texting or emailing, sending birthday cards, get well cards, taking a meal, making phone calls, taking time to go visit, doing someone’s nails, wrapping a care package, etc. She has been the primary communicator, planner and organizer for nearly all of our family events. She thrives on helping others feel like they can find community. She has lived by reaching out to others early and often and helped to provide a sense of community for them. For this and much more, I am so grateful to Deb and her witness of community to me during our 35+ years of marriage (now, 41+). So, I have honored her request to not speak from the front of the church this morning. It was the least I could do.
Opportunities to be Community at First Mennonite Indianapolis
These opportunities abound in a variety of manners and a little creativity can make this list expand a lot.
- hold baby showers
- have a used clothing and toy gifts/sales
- celebrate births
- staff a volunteer nursery
- have child dedications
- let youth provide babysitting
- be Sunday school teachers
- staff Bible memory program
- staff Christmas program
- plan Easter egg hunt
- lead children’s time during worship
- support adopting parentshelping with fundraising projects
- be sponsors
- hold and attend fundraisers
- be formal / informal mentors
- support the parents
- encourage worship participation
- offer tutoring
- facilitate camp experiences
- offer job shadowing opportunities
- support conference trip
- support service opportunities
- help with higher education expenses
- provide career counseling
- help when struggling with school difficulties, gender identity, bullying, or other issues
- help on church workdays
- pack, load or unload during moves
- provide cleaning services
- drive to doctor appointments
- sit with/during chemo/therapy
- pray for those on prayer card
- attend men’s breakfast
- attend women’s bible study
- help with parenting skills
- sing in the choir
- share teaching techniques
- give music lessons
- nurture abilities with arts and crafts
- share physical or occupational therapy advice or techniques
- support parents who have children with special needs
- support children who have parents with special needs
- support children who are in the muck of divorcing or divorced parents
- mentor medical students/residents/graduate students
- learn about specific physical needs (automatic doors, nut free environment)
- learn about specific social needs (autism spectrum, Down’s syndrome)
- learn about specific neuro-psychologic needs (loneliness, depression, schizophrenia, bi-polar disorders)
- share skills in areas of networking, social media platforms, general IT/IS, electrical, telecommunications, roofing, plumbing, woodworking, vegetable and flower gardening, painting, cooking, tree trimming, etc, etc.
- help with disaster relief
- help with church building maintenance
- prepare or deliver Meal Train food
- make visits to hospitals, homes, retirement residences
- mentor students/residents/graduate students
- be in a pastoral support group
- be on playground duty
- welcome others during fellowship time
- invite someone to your small group
- go Christmas caroling
- be present to those who grieve loss of jobs, physical or mental abilities,
- moves, departures, illness, death
- welcome new members
- share new job skills
- fast for a cause
- provide job leads
There is no shortage of ideas. Pick just one or three!
October 11, 2020 following the death of my dad on September 26th, an excerpt of what I wrote:
Thank you for your words, cards, emails, calls to Dad, texts or calls to Mom, presence at the memorial service or viewing the service on line as well as other ways you have been of support to me during the illness and death of Dad. I have been floored by the sheer number of persons who made contact, over 80 and counting! For someone like me who is not on any social media, that is a large outpouring. And I am grateful and feel blessed.
So, yes, being community is real and is important and is still very possible today and now, when we need it more than we once thought. May you find ways to receive community and give community to one another.
After spotting the late-July request from Family Promise of Greater Indianapolis (FPGI) about the need for more congregations to support their new Apartment Shelter Project, I knew I wanted to engage with this ministry. FPGI does a phenomenal job of supporting and sheltering families as they transition from homelessness to finding a permanent home. Then, as part of the After-Care program, case managers journey beside the families for up to two years to help sustain their housing.
Like everyone else, Family Promise has been greatly affected by the global pandemic and had to pivot quickly from coordinating shelter at hosting congregations to placing families in apartments that the nonprofit leases. After housing families temporarily in hotels in the spring of 2020, FPGI began the mammoth task of locating and setting up eight to ten apartments for families in their shelter program. In July, due to the concerning effects of the pandemic, the City of Indianapolis awarded Family Promise a major grant to lease ten additional apartments in order to help ten more families. What an exciting blessing! At the same time, it required FPGI to depend even more on volunteers and additional staff to make that happen.
As First Mennonite Church has been a host congregation for over 25 years, I was trusting our congregation would join me in supporting this Apartment Shelter Project. And since my own family has served this organization in many behind-the-scene ways over the years, I was hoping they would be willing to volunteer to move donations and set up an apartment. Neither my church family nor my individual family disappointed me! My son Jonah said later about the experience, “It felt good to help, because everyone deserves a place to live.”
Due to coronavirus concerns, and with FMC leadership’s approval, I created a protocol plan so our congregation could donate and drop off needed items safely at our church building. Mike Chapuran, FPGI Executive Director, quickly placed First Mennonite Church on a furnishings team with two other congregations (The Promise United Methodist Church and St. Elizabeth Seton Catholic Church). He provided a long list of housewares and supplies needed to outfit a two-bedroom apartment and sent a Signup Genius (SG) structure that we customized for our furnishings team. The list of supplies included typical needs like sheets, blankets, towels, and pots & pans. But it also included items that people may not think about a family needing like wastebaskets, toilet bowl brush & plunger, first aid kit, extension cord, closet organizers, a pack n’ play and basic tool kit. (Through Mike’s efforts, Mustard Seed of Central Indiana partnered with FPGI to provide basic furniture for each apartment.)
The furnishings team coordinators then advertised the need with the signup link to our three congregations simultaneously. We were all astounded and excited when within only five days of publishing the link, various members of our congregations had volunteered to provide almost all of the 220-plus items. During late August and early September, FMC scheduled three drop-off time periods; plus a few folks dropped off items at my house. I so appreciated how Alicia Amazan, Deb Helmuth and Melanie Schmucker, our FMC hosting coordinators, volunteered to assist in collecting donations. (One of the side benefits of organizing this project was that I could see many FMC faces in person!)
The furnishing team coordinated with Mike Chapuran to arrange dates for apartments to be leased and ready for supplies. Our set-up day was scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 19. Relying on the strength and energy of my husband and sons, our family filled up our minivan with FMC donations stored at the church and headed for the apartment located at Carriage House East (near 42nd and Mitthoeffer Rd). An FPGI staff member unlocked the apartment and answered our questions. Since the apartment was on the second floor, my three guys walked up and down the stairs many times delivering items. When the other two congregations arrived, Kevin, Isaiah, and Jonah helped their volunteers bring in their donations too. Due to the coronavirus, everyone involved that day wore masks the entire time and attempted to social distance as much as possible.
Several of us worked at setting up the apartment by unpacking items, putting things away, washing all the new dishes and kitchen supplies, making beds, constructing the closet organizers, setting up the TV, putting together a high chair, a booster seat and a stroller, and hanging the shower curtain. My guys were also kept busy unwrapping packaging from new items, breaking down and carrying cardboard boxes to our van for later recycling, moving extra items that were donated to the FPGI van, and taking trash out to the dumpster. The whole project that day took roughly three and a half hours. Kevin was glad to help out, saying “It put a smile on my face knowing that kids would be running through the apartment soon and, hopefully, feel safe with their own space.”
When it was all over, we were tired, but satisfied, knowing that two days later, a family in crisis would have a simple, but safe place to stay. Thank you so much, First Mennonite Church, for your quick and generous response in supporting a family shelter and following our mission statement… “A welcoming faith community committed to making peace, seeking justice and serving as the hands, heart, and voice of Christ.”
Latest news: FPGI reported on their Facebook page that on Friday, 11/6, they were able to set up apartment shelters #17 and 18. Their last two apartments (#19 and 20) were scheduled to be set up on 11/8. It is wonderful to hear about so many congregations and groups in Central Indiana who are working together to fulfill this need for families without shelter.
Snow! The first planning meeting of the 2020 Home Sweet Home committee had to be virtual because of a snowstorm in February. One of the committee members even said, “This will be our biggest challenge of the year.” If only. Let’s take a look at how Family Promise’s main fundraiser did a major pivot during the pandemic to continue funding hope, help and home for families without shelter.
First, a bit of background on this fundraising event:
- For more than 20 years, Home Sweet Home has taken place to celebrate Family Promise volunteers and raise funds to help every child have a home.
- The 2019 event sent records with more than $100,000 in donations and 400 people in attendance.
- A dedicated committee of volunteers from half a dozen congregations puts together this event that includes a silent auction, wine pull, dessert auction and volunteer recognition, with numerous event sponsors.
- We honor the IHN Coordinator of the Year, Family Promise Volunteer of the Year, and the highest honor of the Dean Lindsey Lifetime Achievement Award.
When the world shut down, the committee continued meeting via Zoom to come up with Plan B, C and D. We settled on a “hybrid” approach of three, socially distanced sessions in person, as well as livestream for those at home. Would it work?
God is good and so many were faithful donors to make the night a success! We raised $98,500 which far surpassed our modified goal of $50,000. The testimony of three former guests reinforced how Family Promise makes a difference in helping families find homes. You can read success stories by linking here.
Take a look at photos from the night here as well as read more information on how supporters safely and creatively supported the cause.
Thanks to so many from First Mennonite and Shalom who support Family Promise!
As we approach the holidays, many of us are facing questions and thinking about how we gather with family and friends to celebrate safely in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic and election year politics. The holidays are a source of stress in ordinary years due to some of the following reason: memories of the past, too much to do in too little time, financial stress, pressure to have the “perfect” holiday, weather, poor eating and drinking choices, cultural bombardment (Christmas music in stores and decorations starting after Halloween) and pressure to do unwanted activities. Bereavement, loss, loneliness and separation from support systems can all intensify holiday stress. Covid-19 has created a sense of loss and bereavement for some among us, while feelings of loneliness and being separated from our support systems may also impact our holiday planning and spirit this year. The pandemic has also created an opportunity to prioritize what is most important, and the holidays are no different.
This is the year to reevaluate our holiday celebrations and focus on the activities that create a sense of meaning for ourselves and our family in the chaos and uncertainty of 2020. Below are some questions to consider as you plan for the upcoming holidays. Perhaps they can help you discover a sense of meaning, yet decrease some stressors of the holiday season. They are by no means an exhaustive list, but could be an opportunity to start a conversation.
- What is most important to you during this holiday season?
- What enhances the meaning of the holidays for you?
- What takes away from the meaning of the holidays for you?
- What holiday tradition or activity is most important to you?
- Are there traditions and activities you are doing just because you always have—or your family always has?
- What is your greatest fear about this holiday season?
- What is a new holiday activity or tradition you would like to try this year?
- What are your expectations of yourself this year?
- What do you see as others’ expectations of you during the holiday season?
- What is something that you could do for yourself to cope with the challenges of the holidays this year?
Communicating changes to holiday traditions and routines is a critical component of navigating this process. Try to build in as much flexibility and creativity as possible and look for opportunities for forgiveness, healing and reconnection this holiday season. Perhaps, the unexpected gift of 2020 is rediscovering the “holy” in Holiday.
Give me sisters and brothers with crockpots full
and running over. A bed piled high with coats
and diaper bags. Leaves to extend the kitchen table.
Thick catalogs to booster seat the kids.
A percolator perking thirty cups as we pass
plates of monster cookies and whoopee pies.
Albums with ancestors solid as their barns.
Battered Rook cards we use to shoot the moon
and dominoes branching in every direction.
Paper snowflakes till strings of hearts
replace them. The old piano we can’t afford
to tune, that gives us our pitch when we sing
“Praise God from Whom All Blessings Flow,”
the version with echoing alleluias and amens.
Silence washing over us as we wave to the last
car pulling out, side by side like newlyweds.
from The Farm Wife’s Almanac (Cascadia Publishing House)
The farm wife finds grace in her empty barn
Inside the house, dust is dust,
but here it looks holy, suspended
in slanted light that slips between
boards. Jacob’s ladder could be
rungs to a loft where barn swallows
brush the dark with the curve
of their wings. Every joint is pegged
tight as Noah’s ark, but there’s room
for everyone—nesting sparrows
and mice that scatter from burlap sacks.
When I slide the big door back,
sunlight rushes in to fill the empty bin
where Jesus could be reaching up
to touch black and white faces
gazing down. I like to picture him
swaddled by the breath of cows.
from The Farm Wife’s Almanac (Cascadia Publishing House)
This photo was given to me recently, during a change of many seasons– weather, leadership, health, awareness, lives nearing the end and lives just beginning. When I look at this bright-eyed little girl– me, not yet 2 years old– I am immediately struck by the joy and optimism she radiates. She only knows what she has seen. She believes the best in others and that the world is a safe and happy place. But more than that, this child has within her the ability to learn and love and see this imperfect world we live in and make it better. As adults, we may no longer wake up with the cheery innocence of a child, nor should we. But I believe that this little girl’s energy and light still lives within each of us. My hope is that during these seasons of change we can each find a glimpse of the light and hope we held in our hearts as children and take a step toward a brighter world.
Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have…Hebrews 13:16
Caring and Sharing—these basic concepts have long been ringing through our church history and highlighted in Sunday School teachings. If we look at our FMC priorities for the church year, they can be encompassed in the circles of caring for all people and the earth, while sharing honestly with each other and those in need.
This issue of MennoExpressions finds us struggling with ever deeper issues surrounding the Covid-19 pandemic. We have not worshipped together in person inside our church building since March. We long to gather with friends and family, especially for the coming holidays, but know the dangers. Still, we believe there are ways to reach out and show love to our church family, our neighbors, and a troubled world.
A special vote of thanks to our technical team and our talented writers who took the time to share their thoughts with all of us, and highlight honest yet encouraging ways that we see caring and sharing bringing comfort and hope despite this dark night of pain and grief. As Mag Richer Smith encouraged us, we continue to voice gratitude, even in days of lament.
To follow are articles sharing accomplishments as we explore new options or consider practical ways to plan for the holidays or put food on our tables. Pause to consider the gift of a different viewpoint through poetry, prayers, and photographs. We trust you will discover inspiration and ponder possibilities for caring and sharing to enrich your life.