Editor’s Note

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.

II Corinthians 4:7

It was a heartfelt plea, an entreaty to welcome everyone who walks through our doors. We don’t know their story, but “each person is a treasure in a clay jar.” Somehow, those simple words from our FMC interim pastor Frances Ringenberg struck a chord and transformed my view of reaching out with a welcome for all—visitors or long-time members. As one who enjoys wandering through antique stores, I could picture a cherished jar, easily broken if not handled with care.  And certainly, experiences and losses in the struggles with Covid emphasize the fragility of life. I cherish the wisdom and caring that Frances and her husband Ron shared with us.

Frances Ringenberg (left) chatting with Monica Miller.

Preparing for the installation of Monica Miller as the new fulltime pastor for First Mennonite has accentuated our emphasis on welcoming and transformation. Various groups gathered at her home to clean, unpack and paint as she moved into her new apartment. We will continue to look for ways to ease her transition into a new congregation in a new city.

Also in this issue, continuing our theme for the year, we explore additional ways our lives are being transformed—by remembering Dagne Assefe, beloved pastor at Shalom Mennonite Church, by sharing wisdom from guest speakers, taking walks to soak in the beauty of autumn, and preserving the abundant harvest of fruits and vegetables.

Traveling continues to bring challenges and changes. But the treasure of time with family and friends encourages us to seek out ways to stay safe when we are not at home. 

A renewed emphasis on improving and beautifying the Memorial Garden at First Mennonite has allowed the congregation to visualize the new plans and share in the task. Finally, pondering life lessons from the seasonal transformations in a flower garden encourage us to treasure the last bouquet of autumn—and maybe even arrange it in a clay jar.

Some photos from the licensing and installation service on November 7 at First Mennonite Church—welcoming Monica as our pastor on this day of joy!

Waiting expectantly for the service to begin
Conference Minister Sharon Yoder leads the licensing service
Paul Hartman, search committee chair, welcomes Monica
Monica is surrounded by prayers from the congregation
Celebrating Monica with a festive feast of pies

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Van Gogh Makes Me Dance

I have long been a fan of Van Gogh, and two years ago spent a couple of days in Arles, France, where the artist spent his last four years and produced an astonishing number of masterpieces. I was dubious about seeing The Lume at Newfields, while in Indianapolis, fearing that it would be a schmaltzy disappointment. I was wrong. The digital presentation was excellent, giving a total immersion feel to the great artist’s work. The presentation was intimate, constantly in motion, and accompanied by rich music. The large rooms had dozens of people mesmerized. When a family with small children entered, the kids immediately broke into dance. They became part of the artwork, which I imagine would please Van Gogh himself!

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Last Autumn Bouquet

As I sit here typing, the rain pounds the windows and the deck, the ground and the garden. Unlike the fresh warm rains of spring that bring growth and life, this rain seems to be beating a cold, beckoning rhythm of an ancient song. It sings to the earth a lullaby from Ecclesiastes, in lyrical harmony with the northern wind, “to all things there is season, a time to plant, a time to pluck from the ground” … and to the leaves they gently nudge, coaxing the them to the ground, reminding them that, after all, “Nothing gold can stay.” Soon, a white blanket will cover the sky, the earth and all will be hushed as the growing world sleeps

Autumn is often closely associated with death and dying. It does have a way of reminding us of our mortality. Almost all plant life and gardens die in the fall, however rigorously planned, religiously watered, relentlessly weeded and regularly fed! In the same way, no matter how well we take care of our bodies there is only one common end to us all and it is not that different than what happens in our gardens in the fall and winter. We wither, we dry up, and we die. It is no accident that Halloween and the Day of the Dead are part of fall celebrations. Like many others, I dread the end of the sunny growing season and the darkness that seems to wrap the world in a shroud here in Indiana during the fall and winter months. And though there is no doubt that the benefits of gardening are many and far reaching, yet, I have to agree with the musician Arthur Schnabel who says, “The notes I handle no better than many pianists, but the pauses- ah, that is where the art resides.” Even The Divine Gardener rested after six days. There is a cycle to life, a rhythm which enables life. And it requires rest, hibernation, Sabbath and sometimes death. Could fall and winter be thought of as a Sabbath for the garden and the gardener?

Several weeks ago, I cut my last bouquet, arranged it in a vase and posted the picture on Facebook, announcing the end of my garden in the post: “The last of my summer flowers” or something like that. A sad day, indeed! But the next day I ventured outside and began collecting something different. Not as colorful or typically pretty, but still full of beauty and life. As I walked along the back row of my garden, I looked at the brown curled up sunflower heads, and there I saw them–seeds. Each sunflower had one large head or a dozen or so small flower heads, and each flower head had seeds for dozens upon dozens of sunflowers.

 I find sunflowers so amazingly beautiful. The way the seeds are arranged within each head like a mandala, a pattern so intricate and rhythmic, a glorious testament to The Divine Biologist, Artist, and Gardener. And then, of course, there were the marigolds. I could collect seeds from those flowers for days and if each flower has roughly 25-50 seeds. There would be enough to give everyone I know a garden full of marigolds.

Everywhere I look as I drive down the road the land is turning brown. But when I look carefully, I still see an abundance of life and hope. Encapsulated in a seed pod, held tight by the head of a shriveled-up flower or buried by the feet of well-meaning gardeners, seeds are at rest, like fetuses in wombs, fast asleep and awaiting warm breezes and an ancient, triumphant song of birth and life. To everything there is a season, after all.

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The Memorial Garden—Transforming Grief into Solace

Life, in many ways, consists of a series of transitions and transformations. We transition from the womb into the world, from childhood into adulthood, from work into retirement, and finally from life into death. What better place than a garden – a memorial garden – to help us commemorate this process of life’s ultimate transformation. At First Mennonite Church (FMC) Indianapolis we are fortunate to have such a garden space, one that is currently undergoing its own process of transformation – something we would like to tell you about in this article.

FMC’s memorial garden has a 27-year history. The current church building was constructed in 1985-86, with our first worship service occurring on Easter Sunday, March 30, 1986. Wow, 35 years ago! The move from Kessler Boulevard to our existing Knollton Road location was an all-consuming but energizing process for the congregation. At that time, we were a congregation with a much younger average age, and many new possibilities were on the horizon. With ample acreage available and limitless creativity, there were opportunities that did not exist at the previous location. So in the mid-90s, a memorial garden was established. It consisted of a mulch path, wooden bench, two trees and some wildflowers. Over the years, shrubs and memorials to individuals were added – a granite bench, a large stone, a lilac bush, and a redbud tree.

Our congregation’s average age is now older than what it was when the first garden was created. We as a community experience death. In addition to grieving the deaths of older adults among us, our congregation has not, and will not, be spared the grieving of premature deaths due to miscarriages, stillbirths, suicide, overdoses, accidents, violence, malignancies and other maladies. It is only logical to assume the memorial garden will become a more integral part of remembering our departed loved ones here at FMC. In fact, the ashes of at least one member have already been scattered in the garden. In the past, a straw vote one Sunday morning showed ten people had interest in having their ashes scattered in the garden. The garden is a tangible, cost-effective, and loving way to memorialize our loved ones who are no longer with us.

But, as many of you know from your personal gardening experience, a garden needs careful tending. Our memorial garden is no exception. In early 2021 a Memorial Garden Committee, consisting of volunteers with a passion for one or more aspects of the garden, began to meet regularly to further develop the current garden. This committee identified the purposes of the garden to be a designated and accessible space, a place to enjoy God’s awesome creation, a place for quiet, prayer and meditation, and a place, where, either alone or in small gatherings, we can name our grief, shed tears, scatter ashes, and celebrate memories. 

Over the past ten months, the Memorial Garden Committee, with renewed energy and commitment, developed a plan to update and revitalize the memorial garden and, with that, has set the transformation process in motion. 

A vision for transformation of FMC’s Memorial Garden

We are happy to report that some steps have already been completed, including installing a stone path from the church to the memorial garden, procuring a detailed landscape design, and creating well-water access for watering planted trees.  Other steps, such as the construction of additional benches, installing a stone path within the garden, and planting privacy producing shrubs, are in progress or pending.  The steps we look forward to tackling in 2022 include planting additional trees, building columns for attaching plaques with the names of loved ones, and creating a space focused on children.

Our committee is excited about the progress made to date and thanks those who have so generously donated to this project.  Already this year, over $13,000 has been donated.  This includes proceeds from the fall bulb fundraiser and individual monetary gifts.   Fundraising will continue.  Explore our holiday bulb sale, where you’ll have the opportunity to purchase amaryllis and paperwhite bulbs, which make awesome Christmas gifts.  Committee members will also personally solicit additional donations from the congregation.  Anyone can contribute by indicating the memorial garden on a check or by choosing the memorial garden fund on the Givelify App.

Any “seed” money, large or small, is greatly appreciated at any time!

Contact any of us to learn more about our plans for transforming the memorial garden.  We would love to talk with you about this place for quiet, prayer, meditation, and solace!

Memorial Garden Committee of First Mennonite Church

  • Donna Haines, facilitator
  • Gloria Hood
  • Lu Culp
  • Marty Miller
  • Nancy Fletcher Lichti
  • Rachel Friesen
  • Robin Helmuth
  • Sarah Burkholder

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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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