Empowering Families in Transition

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. 

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Sharing My Hobby

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.

“No food this time, just chairs.”
“Here I come to cover you up!”
“Mind if I stop in this afternoon to watch you use the lathe?”
The size of my neighbors’ houses is less important to me than the beauty of their gardens.
“Hi fellows. How’s it going?”
“What fun to watch your daughter after last evening’s downpour.”
“Of course, I’d be pleased to show you the drum and talk about composting.”
“Know something? Your first year with cannas is off to a great start.”
“Oh thanks for calling. We are safe. The lightning struck the sycamore out front.”
“Hey, thanks for helping. I could not have done that myself.”

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Sharing from our Kitchens

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.
    Cookie and ice cream

    Sweet Memories [cm]

  • 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.           

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COVID-19 Holidays

January of 2020, the Liechty extended family began making plans to have a Christmas Holiday extravaganza, of sorts, for the upcoming December.  We had time to plan; the grandparents were in their 90s, but healthy.  This was THE time to get everyone who could possibly make the trip “Back Home in(to) Indiana”!  All of our children were going to try to get here, whatever the barriers!  A family photo would be taken!  We could fill rows at the church as we attended a service with the grandparents!

Best made plans, right?  Covid-19 and illness have intervened.  Many of us still have our reservations at the hotel we planned to occupy.  We’re reluctant to give up all hope until the last possible cancellation date, even though we recognize it’s not going to happen. Discussions are presently ongoing as we try to re-imagine the holiday. 

No doubt this is true for many families.  Some will get together with no precautions in defiance of the virus that has taken so much already.  Others will test, keep distance or maybe do some zooming.  Since our family presently has Covid-19 in one sibling branch, and Grandma is now dealing with a significant medical issue, we can’t avoid the obvious risks.  What are our options?

We’ve discussed a “game day” online.  Apparently, this is possible; my sister plays Mahjong with a group every week.  Maybe we could have a meal together (though apart) and share our food creations?  Could we do a family photo from a zoom call?  Or could we create a family pic by sharing each person or family pod from a specific day?  Should we be masked as a memory of the year, or not be masked in that picture?  Can we still have “whiskey night” and share our favorite new discoveries through verbal description?  Hmmm.  There are many questions.

Nothing is the same as being together, giving hugs, sharing impromptu stories and memories, food, and getting to know the newest “littles” in the mix.  We will come up with some hybrid.  For us, there is no choice. 

What are you doing to acknowledge traditions and plans for the holidays this year?  How are you reimagining the plans you had made? Perhaps we could share some creative thoughts.  I asked several people what they had considered, and most said they hadn’t thought about it yet.  Others were prompted to start thinking things through.  The FMC Faith Formation page has encouraged people to write some ideas as well. 

Deb and Robin Helmuth adjusted their Thanksgiving Day plans when the pandemic worsened. A rearranged morning schedule included taking and sharing an eat-in-the-garage breakfast for a single friend with no local family, and switching to separate, virtual modes for the annual Drumstick Dash race. Their area family decided not to eat all together indoors, though they would see each other briefly—wearing masks– and share food. As Deb explained, “It really boils down to the fact that these holidays are calling all of us to share our love and care for others in the safest ways we can. We don’t want to have regrets.”

Pastors Bob and Mag Smith are entertaining some in-person time with a small portion of the family only after testing and several isolation days.  This is one way a recent “All Things Considered” piece offered as a means to reduce risk. Suggestions in that segment also included:

  1. Driving to your destination and taking your own food in the car.  Flying is fairly safe, but airports are not.  Try to put in isolation time at an Airbnb for a week after your arrival.  If your trip is very short, it might not be worth it. 
  2. If you have a college student coming home, check the dashboard for that school and find out what kind of infection rates exist. Ask if the school will be doing exit testing, and if they don’t, have the student test anyway and consider some isolation time after a student returns as well as a coronavirus re-test.

But the best suggestions were some my SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice) group has talked about as we try to finish up our in-person SURJ work this year:  BUY A GREAT PARKA!  Learn to be Scandinavian.  Deal with the cold and stay outside as much as you can.  Make a fire or get an outdoor heater. 

There ARE ways to mitigate risk.  There is no perfect way.  Decisions will have to be made.  Remember Deb Helmuth’s mantra:  No Regrets!

P.S.  We’re all tired of Covid-19.  If you need motivation to consider precautions, look up some of the recent stories in the NYTimes or the Washington Post of families who loosened up because “It was just family”.  Or check out the CNN response to the President’s recent criticism of their Covid-19 coverage.  It’s powerful.  

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Sunday Services are Virtual through 2020

For the safety of all, the Trustees have made a decision to cancel in-person services through the rest of 2020.  Please contact email hidden; JavaScript is required if you would like a link to join our Sunday morning virtual services and/or to receive our weekly Newsletter. Services start at 9:30 am every Sunday and we would love to see you there!  All are welcome!

“I’ve Got This!” – Or So I Thought

When Indiana shut down because of the COVID-19 pandemic, I approached the “stay at home” orders with a healthy mixture of anxiety and confidence. Buoyed up by messages of hope and perseverance, like from Carrie Newcomer who made her song “You Can Do This Hard Thing” a mantra for our collective survival, I felt a sense of connection and hopefulness as I entered the pandemic-imposed isolation.  

It also helped that for Lent I had decided to dedicate some time each day to practicing mindfulness. Little did I know how significant that focus on being present in the moment would become in just a few weeks.  

My mindfulness prompt on March 17, just a couple of days after IUPUI closed down the campus, was:  

“An ancient Chinese proverb says:  ‘You cannot stop the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can stop them nesting in your hair.’  Think about what this phrase means about being mindful.  Write a poem or draw a picture that captures your thoughts about the phrase.”  

Now, that was a challenge for someone who doesn’t consider herself to be much of a poet and even less of an artist!  Nonetheless, I set out on my evening walk, thinking about COVID-19 as a huge flock of “birds of sorrow” flying overhead and contemplating what it would take to keep them from “making a nest in my hair.”  As words starting popping into my mind – communication, compassion, open-mindedness, determination — it occurred to me that the letters that make up COVID itself just might give us all the answers we need.  When I got back from my walk, I created this “Not-in-My-Hair” shield.

The shield reinforced my feelings of hopefulness – it gave me confidence that it just might be possible to turn what has been lost into new life and to transform despair and fear into new beginnings.  

Here we are, four months later, and I am no longer as convinced that “I’ve Got This.”  I find myself feeling stressed by the resurgence of COVID-19 cases, irritated by what I see as irresponsible and risky choices that are being made by individuals as well as institutions, and trapped by travel restrictions. 

Then a thought occurs to me.  Maybe, just maybe, that “Not-in-My-Hair” shield might have the answers needed to get through the current situation, too; so, I pull out my Lenten journal, flip to March 17, and take another look at my “work of art.”   

  • Creative solutions and Compassion definitely are still needed.  
  • Open-mindedness and Organization certainly can’t hurt.  
  • Virtual communication continues to be my lifeline.  
  • Interdependence – recognizing that what each of us does affects everyone else – is critical right now.  (And, for myself, I could definitely add another “I” word: Imperturbability, being able to stay calm and avoid becoming upset or agitated.) 
  • Determination and Deep Faith come together to give us the roots we need to stand firm and the wings we need to fly. 

I’m still not sure “I’ve Got This,” but it’s good to be reminded of what can keep the “birds of sorrow” from nesting in my hair. 

Tiny Cottage by Bethany Habegger

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Doing Church in a Pandemic

Singing in Church

Kalonda, Congo, 1981
Close together
wooden benches
children packed into the front rows
enthusiastically singing,
waving, clapping, dancing.

Indianapolis, 2019
Padded pews
space between us
modulated voices
children in the back
with distracted parents.

COVID, 2020
Computer screens
miles apart
children dart in and out of view
we mute ourselves when we sing.

Doing Church in a Pandemic

I’m used to sitting in the front row at Shalom Mennonite Church, seeing only the worship and song leaders and preachers up front. On Zoom I see rows of faces. I click back and forth to see who’s here. I am distracted by my own face and try to adjust the camera.

Preaching works fine on Zoom; fewer distractions on Speaker view. One or two persons read the litany while others follow along from home. Singing is the biggest challenge. We can each sing at home but can’t hear each other. I see what tech-savvy folks are doing in other locations (including Quito, Ecuador), but our congregation hasn’t gotten there yet.

Zoom is a great medium for folks with social anxiety. One can hide one’s face or turn the camera to the ceiling. Some folks have been attending who rarely or never could gear themselves up to come to an in-person service. Shy folks watch from behind their names. We are joined by folks who are at a distance, snowbirds and folks who have moved away.

For a person who doesn’t drive and doesn’t have internet, this is a terribly lonely time. No access to email, no friendly person picking one up on Sunday morning and chatting on the way to church, no fellowship meals. Listening to worship by phone is a poor substitute.

How to be church together in such a time?

Our Shalom leaders created a panel of deacons who check in on each person or household on a regular basis. A social calling tree is available to encourage informal conversations. Small groups meet by Zoom or stay in touch informally. We still take meals to folks who have had surgery or been hospitalized. 

Our sharing time takes on a new urgency when several members of one family are ill. Some of us work in health care or other high-risk settings. We pray for each other, virtually reaching out to surround each other with the hugs we can’t share.

Looking ahead, it’s not easy to find the best path. We feel the desire to draw together, while the rising Covid case numbers pull us apart. Will cases spike when school opens? When will it be safe enough to gather in person? How will we care for the most vulnerable among us?

There have been plagues and pandemics before, but in reading about them we underestimated the upheaval that they caused. Now it’s our turn to live in a pandemic. Lord help us, we pray.

Artwork by Maggie Girard

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My Struggle with COVID-19

My ordeal with COVID-19 began this spring around the middle of April, waking up on a Monday morning with aches and pains I wasn’t used to. With body aches, headaches, and extreme fatigue, I slept for quite a few days. Then the symptoms began to get worse. When my fever rose to 100, I called my doctor for suggestions. She advised I begin a 14-day isolation period; so, my sojourn in the bedroom continued! 

The fatigue stayed extreme; I could sleep for hours on end. While headaches are not my usual thing, they managed to stick around for a week. I monitored my temperature carefully. When during the second week, my temp got to 100, I called the doctor again. Her advice was to go to the ER if temps hit 102 or if I had breathing difficulties. At that point, I got scared! I remember telling Lu that would mean a hospital stay, and I didn’t want that. Being in a high-risk category with diabetes and heart issues, I was indeed fearful! Following Chris Cuomo’s advice, I started deep breathing exercises five to six times a day. I repeat, I didn’t want to go to the ER!

Armed with a mask and gloves, Lu brought me good meals. She and her trusty Clorox spray kept the bathroom and doorknobs sanitized! Our son, David, hooked me up with a TV in the bedroom. Between sleeping, reading, and TV, I managed to stay isolated for two weeks. Fortunately, respiratory problems never started. By day 10, I began to feel better except for the fatigue, which still hangs on.

After the quarantine, I lucked into a COVID testing study conducted by Marion County Health Department, in conjunction with IU School of Public Health. By then, I tested negative for COVID-19, but a blood test revealed I had developed antibodies for the virus. The research is a year-long project so I get tested monthly. The results in July showed the antibodies have now decreased some. So… Doc says, “Wear a mask, wash hands often, keep a distance until a vaccine comes along.” AND I’M LISTENING! 

Cement by Bethany Habegger

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Another Viewpoint

The April morning started with my usual brisk walk, a first cup of coffee, reading from Rejoice! and then, “Why isn’t Del up yet, it’s nearly ten o’clock?” So, a bit alarmed, I headed upstairs to find him still in bed saying, “Probably don’t come in here; I’m feeling weird!”

My heart sank. We hadn’t gone out much at all and always with masks and wipes. But here we were! As the days wore on, I became grateful his symptoms weren’t worse. I would gladly mask up and take Del meal trays, then fetch them again. And scrub the bathroom…a lot! I was so thankful that he didn’t chafe at staying upstairs in the bedroom.

In retrospect, I was most concerned about Del getting worse, and didn’t have the time or energy to worry about getting sick myself. I would like to know, though, if I too garnered some antibodies through his ordeal! I remain thankful for restored health.

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MennoExpressions Volume 33, No. 3 | Summer 2020

Articles in this Issue

Blended Pieces—A Patchwork for Today by Carol Mullet

“I’ve Got This!”—Or So I Thought by Beth Goering

Doing Church in a Pandemic by Martha Yoder Maust

Young Voices by Carla Schmid

A Laboratorian’s View, Narrow as it May Be by Robin Helmuth

My Struggle with COVID-19 by Del Culp 

Another Viewpoint by Lu Culp

When You Hear the Term: White Supremacy Culture by Mary Liechty

Yes, We’re the Church Together! by Emily Fox Ludden

Remembering Steven McLay by Gaynel Bryan

Art Contributors in this Issue

Maggie Girard spends her time with her preschool aged kids, and as a part-time art therapist with IU Health. She attends FMC, and grew up in Indianapolis, but has enjoyed living in Philadelphia, Pittsburg, Washington DC and Holland, MI before moving back to Indy.


Bethany Habegger is a senior at IU Bloomington and will be receiving her BFA in painting in the spring. She is currently selling prints in support of Black Lives Matter. If you are interested in supporting the cause, check out her Etsy here: etsy.com/shop/bethanyhabeggerart

MennoExpressions 2020

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.

All correspondence should be sent to First Mennonite Church at 4601 Knollton Rd. Indianapolis, IN 46228. Email: email hidden; JavaScript is required.