A Transformational New Beginning

After living in Los Angeles and Phoenix for the last three years with their two seasons—“hot” and “very hot”—the cloudy, rainy chill of Indianapolis today feels like the dead of winter to me. In the southwest, I had a difficult time remembering what time of year things happened, because the scenery changed so little with the seasons. Not so in Indianapolis! Here, I’ve watched the trees outside my windows burst into bright oranges and yellows in the span of a week. But perhaps I’m getting ahead of myself… who is this unfamiliar voice writing to you?

I’m Monica Miller, the new full-time pastor at First Mennonite—pleased to make your acquaintance! By the time you read this, I will have started work at the church, but as I’m writing, I still have another week to settle in. That’s a very good thing, because there’s still a LOT to do. I’d be remiss, though, if I skipped over all that happened. My new place is in the middle of a transformation as I make it my home, and we found it takes a whole village to move a pastor. Between hosting and cleaning, unloading and painting, almost two dozen people from FMC pitched in to help in one way or another!

Robin Helmuth and Ned Geiser rejoice that only one wall had wallpaper. (Of course, it had to be one of the larger walls!)
Deb Helmuth, Diane White, Ray Miller (Monica’s father), and Doug Schwartzentruber tackle the kitchen.
Before transformation.
Mid-transformation… What might it look like in the end?

I’m not sure how many months it would have taken me to do everything we were able to accomplish together in less than a week. That’s not to say I don’t still have my work cut out for me, but this transformation from “house” to “home” is well underway. For that, I’m grateful!

A massive “thank you” to everyone who helped, and I look forward to growing alongside the congregation and larger community of Indianapolis Mennonites in the years to come!


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Evolutions in Travel Comfort

When the big collective “we” stopped our traveling, forwent celebrations and funerals because we felt travel was unsafe, and became closer friends via Zoom, we wondered when things would “get back to normal.” We’ve since realized that normal is a moving target. Some things are permanently changed, and many things will simply be different for a long time to come.

Some of you have done more traveling as you’ve weighed pros and cons and have felt confidence in the vaccines you have received. You’ve dipped your toes into the options and determined what your limits will be. You’ve considered rules and regulations in airports and in various countries, and either said “yea” or “nay” to a trip. For all of us, the extent of our movement is based on comfort, trust and need.

I realize acutely, as I write this, that our family decisions have also been based on having monetary means. We can choose to pay for lodging, for gas, for air tickets, meals out etc. Not all persons can take such options into consideration. I do not want to forget that.

How has your travel changed, and what are you comfortable doing in your travels? What will play into your accommodation decisions? Do the COVID infection numbers affect where you will visit? Also, how does living in Indiana impact your choices? Some of you have spoken of testing requirements and living on the edge as you await results to come back in time to fulfill your trip. Is the anxiety worth it?

We have adult children who live in highly vaccinated areas of the world: San Francisco Bay area, Bavaria, Germany, and Oak Park, Illinois. They have more concerns about visiting us, especially as their children have not yet been able to receive vaccinations. In their home areas, people mask everywhere. Indiana makes them uncomfortable with haphazard masking and less than optimal vaccine rates – especially when they consider a visit to Grandpa Bob in Berne, Indiana where vaccine numbers are quite low and masking is not as common.

Ed and I started last spring with car travel to visit family. We chose accommodations where there was no contact necessary. The cooler we filled with snacks and lunches allowed for fewer restaurant needs – something we should be doing to save money anyway! Take-out food and outdoor seating were expected. More recently we have relaxed a bit and eaten indoors more often, especially at restaurants where there is good distance between groups. Our outdoor mask wearing has varied based on multiple factors including crowd density, mandates, and vax rates.

Since last spring, needs have pushed me to fly to California, and I’ve played the airport game, as have some of you. Masks on…from airport entry until the flight is over and the building is exited. It’s doable.

We are now headed to Germany to spend time with our daughter’s family. This is an entirely new level of COVID travel. Masking for such a long flight plus airport time will be challenging. We checked weekly to see what regulations for our entry will be. Airlines and countries have their own requirements. Forms must be filled out properly so that we don’t find ourselves quarantined once we arrive –or booted off our flights. We will need our vaccine cards and are downloading the Indiana State Board of Health results of our vaccines to use in the entry process. We follow the possibility of some kind of vaccine passport requirement and have filled out VeriFLY apps which are encouraged by some airlines and hold our pertinent COVID info. Germany expects us to have filled out an online information form. We conversed with Beth Goering and Andrea Krause who also navigate the USA-Germany route. The rules for entering other countries are different than those for returning. There are unknowns and risks.

The mother of a young friend living in Paris found herself re-routed through Amsterdam earlier this summer when her direct Chicago to Paris flight was not possible. Amsterdam airport would not allow her to connect to Paris and she was tearfully put on a plane to return to Chicago without seeing her daughter and grandchildren. She had all the necessary documentation for France, but the peculiarities of Amsterdam’s airport did not yet allow travelers from the US. Although such a situation is unlikely now, our sense of caution is high.

Good thoughts to you all as you venture out. It’s a navigation of regulations, comfort levels, needs for connection and levels of trust along with a willingness to go through all the paperwork motions. It’s also a “problem” born of some privilege.


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From Seeds to Jars—With Mom’s Help

My transformation thoughts come laced with rebellious pouts, but are followed by tears and a longing to hear Mom’s voice again.

As a child and teenager, my sister and I had to help Mom harvest and prepare fruits and vegetables to do the canning. After much prodding, it was early mornings to pick strawberries, peas, beans, cucumbers—all “before the sun gets so hot”—Mom’s words, not ours! After the picking, it was snapping beans, podding endless peas, stemming strawberries, washing prickly cukes, even pitting sour cherries with a bowl of water on our laps—often happening while sitting under the shade of a maple tree. Of course, we grumbled and hated most of it—until the jars were filled and opened for winter meals.

Fast forward to age 30, living on Woodside Drive and gardening begins. My grumbling tune changed from “do I have to” to “how do I do this, Mom?”  Thankfully, Mom was patient with me as she answered my many, many questions on the phone. “Do you use light or medium syrup on peaches? Could I have the recipe for saccharin pickles? Do I peel tomatoes to can them whole?  What do I do if a can doesn’t seal?” On and on went my queries—usually as I was about to start the process! Slowly but surely, after 50 years of canning and preserving fruits and vegetables, I think I have the process down pat…. transformation complete—with a little help from Mom!


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Dagne Assefa

On August 23, 2021, the Dagne Assefa Park was dedicated on the grounds of Shalom Mennonite Church.  Despite Dagne’s inability to walk or talk on that occasion, he still had his smile and the twinkle in his eyes.  It was most appropriate, at the penultimate gathering in his honor, that a diverse group was there to celebrate.  Dagne’s greatest gift was to bring people together and make them all feel welcome.

Frank Kandel described Dagne as “the Gentle Shepherd of the flock, always cognizant of the needs of each person in the flock.  He was there for each one of us.  He had a presence, eye contact, smile, handshake that you knew was for real.  If one of us had a crisis or a sudden need, that always took priority over his planned agenda.  Numerous times, when some of us wanted to barge ahead with this plan or that, Dagne exercised caution, wanting to make sure all voices were heard, wanting to make sure we could embrace the plan as one flock.”

Before Dagne left Ethiopia to study in the US, he was an activist in the church and marketplace, not nearly so patient.  He fully expected to return to his homeland after gaining advanced degrees.  The political situation in Ethiopia prohibited him from doing that.  For many years, Dagne held on to the dream of returning in his retirement to teach at Meserete Kristos College.

Dagne wedded Carol Weaver in August 1985 and became a father to Lydette in 1986 and Menan in 1989.  Dagne danced at their weddings as Tyler Falk and Isaac Lederach were welcomed as sons.  He was delighted to hold his granddaughter, Yeshi, and was anticipating the birth of another granddaughter.

Dagne had a diverse personal library in both English and Amharic.  He experienced racial discrimination in his work before taking pastoral leadership at Shalom.  Early in his ministry at Shalom, some of his sermons could be somewhat dry and academic.  Gradually, as he allowed his storytelling abilities to shine, Dagne was able to communicate his passion for justice.

Dagne was a mentor to many.  Formally, at Shalom and at CTS, he took his role seriously.  Long after participants had left the programs, Dagne was still checking in with them.  One did not need to be assigned to him to have Dagne take an interest.  His guidance was sought – and received – by countless others.

Dagne persisted in following through with many people.  That tenacity was sometimes less welcome in other aspects of life.  This past summer, as walking was becoming more difficult for him, we thought him downright stubborn to insist on a long trek on the Pennsy Trail— but we did it anyway!

Dagne was a friend to all.  It was his insistence on caring for others that remains with us–as a treasured memory and a challenge to follow his example.

Dagne on the trail where he loved to walk.

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Top 10 Humorless Ways to Welcome Our New Pastor (and Others)

At First Mennonite Church in Indianapolis, we have a tradition of laughing. Sometimes, we laugh at ourselves!  Laughter has been one of many good resources to use these last couple of years. After all, a pandemic and a pastoral search aren’t going to occur simultaneously very often.  I hope not, anyway!

Now that one of our new pastors has joined us in early November, it is appropriate to remind ourselves how to be welcoming for our pastor. These suggestions may also help us be more welcoming to others we encounter at church or in our daily activities.

  1. Let her know you are glad she is here!
  2. Swap your 1990’s directory photo for a newer one, preferably, one which actually looks like you in this decade.
  3. Invite someone new to an informal small group activity (a hike, picnic, campfire).
  4. Wear a name tag, any name tag.
  5. Introduce yourself to at least one person you don’t know twice a month (your fast-growing teenager does not count).
  6. Minimize abbreviations and acronyms.
  7. Give grace freely.
  8. Wear your name tag.
  9. Affirm new ways of singing, praying, or worshipping.
  10. Invite past participants to come worship with us again.
  11. Invite someone you don’t know to join you and others to an easy lunch after church (India Palace, Newfield’s Café, Hoagies and Hops, pizza on the playground, etc.)
  12. Agree to go with a newer person to just one of many “extra-Sunday” activities offered thru church.
  13. Pray for Monica, and let her know you are praying.

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After all that Training and Education (25 years?): Seven Questions for Dr. Ed Liechty

The unassuming Dr. Ed Liechty gave me the chance to ask him seven questions recently.  The theme of his life can be summed up as follows: The more he learned, the more he understood that he didn’t know everything, and that there was always more than one way to solve problems. Rather than doing more, regarding health care decisions and implementation, sometimes doing less was the better way.

Your mother was a nurse; your dad died when you were young; what else led you to enter the health care field? 

Well, I was always mostly interested in science, even as a little kid, and planned to study chemistry in college. 

Do you have any extraordinary memories of your experience at Goshen College, a small undergraduate Mennonite college?

I had some great chemistry teachers at Goshen College, one of them being Don Clemens, (the father of Rhonda Talbot). When I went to Goshen, I knew they had a good reputation for medical school acceptance. Years later, while on the admissions committee, I found that a high GPA at Goshen College was a big deal. But the school also produced students with an above-average ethical outlook on life; they were not just in it for money.

You are a man of science and medicine—how has that enhanced or diminished your faith in God? 

I guess I never saw much conflict between science, faith, and religion. Scientific methods and observations are different than faith.

It’s been said that at an Academic Medical Center, a person teaches and is taught.  What did you learn and then teach? 

I learned humility. I learned there was always more than one way to solve a problem. I appreciated the uncertainties. As I matured, I tried to teach that being supportive of parents is just as important as coming up with the answers.

You have worked overseas.  Why is it essential that people in health care take advantage of these educational opportunities to serve outside our borders? 

Humility, I didn’t know as much as I thought.

Retirement is risky business; sometimes, deep depression sets in.  How are you going to avoid the pitfall of depression? 

First of all, I don’t define my identity as a doctor alone. I enjoyed it, yes, but I was husband, dad, and friend when I came home.  Nowadays, I see more people depressed while working—suffering burnout—than in persons who have retired.

You have a lot of living left to do, Ed, but if you were to write your tombstone, what would it say? 

Ha-ha, I have not really thought of that—other than all of my ancestors that were in the US are all buried in the same cemetery in Illinois—going back five or six generations.


In summary, I predict that Ed is not going to be depressed in retirement.  But if I can be his doctor just for a moment, I will definitely recommend that he join our church choir to be on the safe side.


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Upgrades at Shalom Mennonite Church

Several new projects have brought exciting improvements to the Shalom Mennonite building. View them here, or visit in person at 6100 E 32nd St, Indianapolis, IN

Old foyer at Shalom Mennonite Church: unprotecting, unwelcoming, uninviting, cold
New foyer at Shalom Mennonite Church: protecting, welcoming, inviting, warm
Roof at Shalom Mennonite Church prior to solar panels: barren, unutilized, expansive, pollutant, drab brown
Roof with solar panels at Shalom Mennonite Church: filled, useful, nested, mitigant, “green”

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Quilts

Tropical Fish wall hanging 

To piece the fish, I cut scraps of brightly-colored fabric from my stash and sewed them to foundation squares.

Christmas star wall hanging

I created the central star and border out of strips of Christmas fabric from my inventory.

Baby quilt

These squares were made using a “stack, slash, and shuffle” technique.  After stacking squares, I cut through them at random.  Then I took the top fabric of one of the pieces, put it on the bottom, and slashed again. The shuffling means no two patches are alike, but all fit together.

18th-century style quilt

The central panel is a reproduction of a 1776 Tree-of-Life print that originally came from India.  I added pieced borders using fabrics similar to those found in the late 18th-century and then hand quilted it. Since we have participated in 18th-century historical re-enactments for many years, it was educational to research quilt styles of that era.


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