MYF—Learning Through Work

When our First Mennonite youth met at the church at 6:30 one morning back in June, there was excitement—and wondering—about the four-hour trek to Hungry World Farm in Tiskilwa, Illinois. This three-day excursion was the first MYF service trip in several years—and for a few of the youth, their first group trip ever. The teens and sponsors were able to stay in several apartments on the farm, so they were close at hand to the chores and experiences planned for this group of “city kids” learning about the hard work involved in growing food. Polled to share trip highlights, the youth came up with the following list—in no particular order. You should ask them about personal favorite memories.

  • Wood chopping
  • Path building
  • Blueberry patch
  • Homemade pizza
  • Bonfire, hot dog roast, homemade ice cream with baked apples
  • Gabe and the cats
  • Playing games
  • Youth making dinner
  • The prairie
  • Weeding in the garden
  • Building up leaves around the potatoes
  • Working with the earth on a beautiful day!

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On Loss and Living

Scott, our son and brother, died at age 31, on March 23, 2020. The pandemic had just begun and we were all facing an unknown future. But our future has forever been altered—unrelated to Covid 19.

What has changed over the past two and a half years?  Despite seeing our tears at church, we do not cry as frequently. We are able to appreciate time with family and friends. We treasure our small immediate family more than ever.

The Hood family hiking in North Carolina.

 What hasn’t changed? I can say for all three of us that we think of Scott multiple times in a day (and night) and miss him more deeply than we can express.  There should be four of us, but there are only three. Scott was a man of compassion—his many “best” friends can attest to this. Scott always looked out for those in need and had high respect for their dignity. Scott was intelligent and intuitive. His sensitivity toward and respect for humanity and ecology was deep. Scott made everyone laugh. Scott had lots of fun in life, and we had fun with Scott. Scott knew lots about a lot. He graduated from Kelley School of Business but was better known for his knowledge of music and all things wise. So many things remind us of Scotty. Memories bring longing to be with him, and sometimes laughter. 

Scott, Gloria, Mike, and Amy at Paso Robles when Scott lived in California.
Scott, Gloria, Mike, and Amy at Paso Robles when Scott lived in California.

Sometimes people want to know what they can talk about with someone who has a loss. We can only speak for our situation. Each of us fears saying something unintentionally not helpful for persons in grief. It’s okay to get past that and just let people know you care. We feel cared for at FMC.  We also don’t expect people to understand or make it better. We prefer that people just understand it won’t be better— or maybe it will—but not yet. We have not found a “purpose” or “meaning” for Scott’s death. Our faith has been both strengthened and challenged. We struggle with the idea of the faithful being “blessed.” However, many are faithful and suffer worse than we have suffered.  It’s hard to pray for the protection and well-being of our loved ones. We believe in prayer, but aren’t sure about outcomes. We are learning to embrace mystery and God’s wideness. We do not want people to feel sorry for us. We know that everyone fears losing a loved one too soon, and many have experienced the same.

 Scott was confident, independent and would not have wanted to be judged.  He embraced the values of peace, justice and love. We wonder what he would want us to say about his struggle. Since we don’t know, we simply try to learn from our life with Scott and honor his life with love. 

At Cincinnati Reds stadium where a brick for Scotty is placed.
At Cincinnati Reds stadium where a brick for Scotty is placed.

Thanks for caring and wondering. It’s okay to ask—and if we don’t know how to answer, we will say that. We will all leave this life at some point. Together, we can get better at bridging this world and the next. Let’s say the important things now. Tomorrow is not promised.

This is a Carrie Newcomer song that has been meaningful to us: Carrie Newcomer, All Saints Day

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Running and Growing

I have run on and off for many years, though never liking it. First, it was a college PE credit. Later in life, a friend wanted to run the Indy Mini race and wanted a training partner (I dropped out after three sessions). More recently, I have been running as a form of exercise. Even though I had already been running a little, when the pandemic hit in March of 2020, I was forced to run for exercise since most, if not all, other options were closed at that time. Interestingly, after running for an entire summer and well into the fall, I began to enjoy running for the experience, not just the health benefits.

At one point, I mentioned my new-found form of exercise to Kevin Rosner. He has encouraged me to keep running and to take on events like the Great North Run (a local fundraiser for Washington Township Schools). Once that was under my belt, Kevin turned his motivation to running the Mini—something he has done for years. I have also had encouragement along the way from fellow FMC runners Erin Rodman and Heidi Boschmann.

Kevin, Joe, and Heidi at the 2022 Indy Mini-Marathon

In the last couple of years, running has become a time to find inner silence, to think and reflect, to create intentional separation from the invasive information age that surrounds us.  It is often a spiritual experience, especially when running for extended periods along the river or canal and witnessing God’s world at work. Running has also become a self-discipline, allowing me to work toward self-improvement where the results are literally measurable in both time and distance. The simple goal is doing better, if only slightly, than the time before… knowing that I will never be one of the best—at the same time being OK with that. Chasing the gains in pace and mileage is a mental goal that drives me as I run.  However, remembering to accept the days when I fall short is just as important.

Over the last year or so, I have started encouraging others to run. My advice to those who ask is to remember there are no winners or losers, just doers. While running definitely helps with physical health, it is also great for many other reasons. Last spring, on a beautiful fresh morning, I completed my first official Mini Marathon…The event asked for social media posts with the hashtag #whyImini. On that spring day, I was joined by Heidi and Kevin. Hopefully, some day, I will be the reason why somebody else “Mini’d.”

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Speculations From the Sidelines

Though I had made a small amount of progress since getting a seemingly mild case of COVID-19 in January 2021, this June my long-covid recovery suddenly went a million miles backwards with no explanation. Here are some reflections from a pastor sidelined by significant, chronic health issues.

  1. It takes a village to pastor a church.
  2. The church and the Church are bigger than the pastor.
  3. It’s easier to connect the dots of big picture patterns from the sidelines. It’s a space to regroup and study.
  4. Being on the sidelines means letting go of control. A LOT of control.
  5. The life of the community doesn’t pause while the pastor is on the sidelines– for better or for worse. Not being able to simply be present as a pastor is something I grieve.
  6. Blessed are the flexible for they shall not get bent out of shape.
  7. The pastor getting sidelined is an opportunity for the rest of the congregation to step up and contribute according to their many spiritual gifts.
  8. That said, a long season of absent pastors gets old after a while and can feel like just treading water. The church should not revolve around the pastor, yet they’re still an important center of gravity—helping to hold the community in a coherent orbit.
  9. Sometimes being on the sidelines just plain sucks. It’s ok to feel that sometimes.
  10. In the already murky personal/professional boundaries of pastoring, getting sidelined in this way can muddy the water even more. That’s probably easier for the congregation to navigate than the pastor.
  11. As a COVID long-hauler who used to be able to pass as able-bodied in many situations, in some respects it’s a relief to be so publicly sidelined, even if it’s difficult.
  12. On my list of “things I didn’t learn in seminary” and “what my mentors and internships couldn’t prepare me for,” this takes the cake, hands down.

It’s incredibly humbling to feel so loved and accepted as post-covid Monica, by people who didn’t have the chance to meet pre-COVID Monica. Thank you!

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Milestones: Fall/Winter 2022

Christopher (Chris) Walson passed away on July 5th. Chris’s father and stepmother, Bob and Emilie Walson, planned the memorial service at FMC on August 27.

John Jay Boyce passed away on September 10th after a brief illness. John’s wife, Jeanne, and their son Solomon and family arranged the memorial service at FMC on September 17th.

Sam Carpenter has been named to head the Hoosier Environmental Council (HEC). Sam will move to full-time work leading the group on December 1, 2022

Nathan and Alicia Kurtz welcomed their new son, Theodore (Theo) Ray Kurtz, born June 22. He joins big brother Harrison in the family.

Nolan Schloneger and Caitlyn Zegiestowsky were married on July 23rd at the Sweeney Chapel on the campus of Butler University. They are living in Broad Ripple. Caitlyn is a graphic designer working for Salesforce. Nolan is in his last year of law school and will be working for the Barnes and Thornburg law firm after graduation. Nolan is the son of Kevin and Lisa Schloneger.

David and Maria Gress Stoesz were married on October 15th. They live in Ocean Springs, Mississippi. David is a fire specialist with the US Fish and Wildlife Service on the Mississippi Sand Hill Crane Refuge. Maria has an in-your-home pet care business. David is the son of Randy and Ellen Stoesz.

Heidi Boschmann Amstutz had a milestone occasion when she completed her first full marathon, running the Indianapolis Monumental Marathon on a windy, rainy November 5th and achieving a long-time goal.

The fall work day at FMC was perhaps a milestone event as ten hardy workers braved snow and cold winds while cleaning up fallen branches and leaves.

    Milestones is a new feature to help our church family keep in touch.  We would love to feature your news. Please send it to Gaynel at the church office (email hidden; JavaScript is required) or Carol Mullet. (email hidden; JavaScript is required)

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    Chatting with Children

    Sunday School Class: Kindergarten – Grade 2
    Co-Teachers: Heidi Amstutz and Melanie Schmucker
    Enjoy their views and opinions!
    (Not all were present when we asked our questions.)

    • Olivia Amazan – K
    • Jonas Carlson – 1st
    • Ian Girard – 1st
    • Gabriel McCormick – 1st
    • Gabriel Rondinella – 1st
    • Eleanor Yoder – 1st
    • Weston Yoder – 1st
    • Vera Cornelius – 2nd
    • Isabella Rondinella – 2nd
    • Nora Schmucker – 2nd

    What is your favorite food?

    Olivia bread & butter
    Ian cupcakes
    Gabe M. cake
    Eleanor skinny popcorn
    Weston hashbrowns
    Nora Pizza

    What is your favorite pet or animal?

    Olivia cats & dogs
    Ian foxes
    Gabe M. all animals
    Eleanor cats & a crayfish named Fred
    Weston dogs
    Nora dog named Pepper

    What do you enjoy doing at recess?

    Olivia looking for bugs
    Ian tag
    Gabe M. playing with friends
    Eleanor staying inside, playing & screaming at the top of my lungs
    Weston tag
    Nora freeze tag

    What do you like to do at church?

    Olivia playing on the playground
    Ian snacks
    Gabe M. singing songs
    Eleanor piano practice with Miss Jana
    Weston playing on the playground, reading books
    Nora Sunday school

    If you had a superpower, what would it be?

    Olivia music coming out of my hands like Spiderman’s web
    Ian being fast
    Gabe M. mind powers
    Eleanor screaming without making a noise
    Weston best at karate
    Nora knowing everybody’s next move

    What do you want to do when you are older?

    Olivia be a vet
    Ian be an author
    Gabe M. be a scientist
    Eleanor play soccer like Alex Morgan
    Weston ride a motorcycle
    Nora be an astronaut first, then a scuba diver

    What reminds you of God?

    Olivia love
    Ian friends
    Gabe M. family
    Eleanor love
    Weston love
    Nora  loving each other

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    Washing off the Dust

    Life is hard. The path is never easy and our journeys are so often full of obstacles along the path. There is an overabundance of things to keep track of and far too many reasons to be anxious and afraid. We all need ways to stay calm and keep moving forward. We need ways to express our uniqueness and ways to divert the stress that inevitably builds up along the way.

    Making art is one of the best ways I know to calm the mind and lift the heart. Thomas Merton said it best when he said, “The Purpose of Art is washing the dust of daily life off our souls.”

    The weather has begun to get cold and crisp and, once again, I am in awe of the colors outside my window. I have a craving to participate in the beauty around me. I can relate to Robert Henri when he said, “The object isn’t to make art, it’s to be in that wonderful state which makes art inevitable.” Fall beauty puts me there. I find joy in playing with color even if it does not live up to the images outside the glass door. In fact, there are so many positive things that happen in the process of making art, many of which I witnessed in the acrylic painting classes I taught this spring at the FMCHopefully, it is just the beginning of many such art adventures. 

    Starting in February, each month I set up a simple painting in the fellowship hall for a multi-aged group of adults who gathered, talked and laughed while I led them through a step-by-step process to complete their own paintings. The group, some from the church, some invited by members in the class, congratulated each other on their successes and encouraged those who felt uncertain. It was an atmosphere of positivity and, at times, pure childlike joy and wonder. I heard one woman proclaim in delight, “This is so much fun; I had no idea how much I would enjoy this!” Others talked about how relaxing it was as the room was enveloped in silent concentration. One person said the class was a reminder to her of how important it is to take a few hours out of her schedule to make art. Art is a wonderful source of self-expression. “Art is coming face to face with ourselves,” according to Jackson Pollock. Louise Bourgeois said, “Art is a way of recognizing ourselves.” In my own life, art helped me find myself. It gave me a feeling of pride and a sense of identity when I was in high school and in college. This is why I am very excited about possibly starting classes for kids some time this year. I am preparing to lead a paint party for an 11-year-old girl’s birthday. I hope it is the first of many!

    In encouraging me to do the spring class, a friend said that painting “lifts the soul” and I agree. Art can be a spiritual experience that is difficult to express in words. Many people, like myself, use art to transcend their circumstances, to heal and relieve anxiety. Art can take us to a place of “flow,” a term used to explain the phenomenon where a person becomes so involved in what they are doing they become unaware of the passage of time. It’s a lot like meditation.

     In the spring classes, there was definitely a “flow,” as evidenced by the artists’ surprise when they realized our two hours had quickly passed. Each month, class was always over too soon, but people seemed to enjoy their finished art and expressed an eagerness to do more. After all, “The world always seems brighter when you’ve just made something that wasn’t there before,” noted Neil Gaiman.

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    Come, Holy Spirit

    Collaborative poem by congregation of First Mennonite Church
    Edited by Shari Wagner

    Come, Holy Spirit,
    like a hummingbird
    to surprise us!
    Like a breath of wind
    stirring the forest.
    Like lightning’s

    Flow, Holy Spirit,
    like a river, providing power,
    unleashing passions,
    rising, falling, and
    joining, like the Ganges,
    mountain, plain, and ocean.

    Refresh us, Holy Spirit,
    like a cool sip of water,
    like birdsong in the morning,
    the breeze rustling sycamore
    and aspen, sweet earthen scent
    of forest floor.

    Engulf us like blue sky
    and the glow of dappled sunlight
    through willow. Wrap us
    like a scarf, a weighted blanket,
    or the last wind of winter,
    its promise of spring.

    Holy Spirit, look upon us
    as a parent beholds
    their newborn child.
    Walk beside us as our companion.
    Support us when reviled
    with a lawyer’s fierce defense.

    Be the beautiful, iridescent dream,
    crashing wave and bubbling fountain,
    hang glider we launch with,
    swift racecar delivering gifts,
    warmth of a community kitchen
    where all things sustain us.

    Wake us up to live another day—
    doing, loving, seeing!
    Be our gentle task-giver,
    healing therapist, the laughter
    as we cry, fresh air through the vent,
    waft of pine and campfire.

    O shimmering Spirit,
    spit, flare, diminish,
    then rise again to leaping flames!
    Be our common language,
    our conscience, the yeast
    for the bread we break.

    Bristle, ever-present Spirit,
    like static in our ears! Charge us
    like fur on a long-haired cat.
    Be the musical notes
    on the staff of the wind,
    the divine within us all.

    Collaborative poem by First Mennonite Church congregation of Indianapolis
    Edited by Shari Wagner, June 5, 2022

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    Throughout my years,
    tomorrows ran up ahead
    beyond my outstretched arms.
    When I was nine, tomorrow was ten.
    When I was ten, tomorrow was eleven.
    Tomorrows seemed close —
    they pulled me like a magnet.
    But when I thought to have gained tomorrow,
    it moved ahead like a mirage.

    Tomorrows offered clean slates to me,
    but didn’t watch what I wrote;
    they seemed to hold promises,
    but they never gave reports
    on promises fulfilled;
    they even offered agenda
    but never ever attended the meetings.

    And so, for all those years,
    like a wanderer seeking a promised land
    but never reaching it,
    I sojourned in todays
    but never set foot in tomorrows …

    until now in my 80s
    I am at home with
    yesterday, today and tomorrow.

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