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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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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Pandemic Changes Worth Keeping

As we become vaccinated and are more comfortable venturing out, the question that begs an answer is this: Which life changes from your pandemic times do you think you’ll continue?

Allison and Nate Tyler were forced by social distancing to re-consider end-of-the- week-winding-down options. What used to be a meal out after a work week slowly became a special meal in. Pizza is ordered on Fridays to increase the relaxation aspect; furniture is moved and a blanket is spread in front of the TV in preparation for a movie night. The practice has been such a success that daughter Leah often asks if it’s Friday yet. It will be worth continuing even as they are no longer feeling locked down.

Randy Stoesz says that he and Ellen were missing their old neighbors, Becky and Mike Wigginton, so they got together one Sunday afternoon for a hike at a spot new to them all. The hikes and outdoor chats became a regular practice. Most of their hikes this year have been within a half-hour drive of Indy, yet they went to many places they’d never been before. It’s been fun for them to explore some of the natural parts of Indy and surrounding areas that were unfamiliar prior to the pandemic. They think there are more places to discover and will continue meeting up. Ask the Stoesz and Wigginton crews about their favorite spots!

As with many of us, Paul Shankland began more intentionally planning his shopping in order to limit his entry into people filled places. He is continuing this practice, reducing his grocery stops to about once every two weeks or fewer. He goes a little more often when at their Florida home because they have very little freezer space, but he is still able to limit his visits. Planning ahead has been a positive for Paul, and also saves gas and money.

At a recent forum with caterer Lali Hess of Juniper Spoon, it was mentioned that COVID has changed how people eat, and that this may continue. Since going out to eat was curtailed, many people became more interested in healthier eating and cooking, as well as learning about healthy food preparation. Various Facebook pages cropped up for people to share their creations and ingredients, and families zoomed homemade food options as well. For some, new patterns began and will continue.

I generally travel quite a bit since children and grandchildren live far afield, but last year those trips were suddenly curtailed. Like many people, I made the effort to grow something I could tend and then consume. Since moving to a wooded area years ago I’d given up on gardening. My porch on the south side of the house gets some sun, though, and my COVID garden in porch planters produced wonderful tomatoes as well as various herbs. This year, in spite of the fact that I am traveling a bit more again, I’m upping my vegetable game with an expanded porch garden. I’d forgotten how much I like growing my own food.

Some of you have noticed the move toward societal change as we concentrate on long term issues that could not be dismissed or swept away when our attention was so focused. Many more people have been studying and learning about the history of racism in the US and making efforts to move towards a more anti-racist society. May that continue and evolve into more actions to recognize and address the systemic nature of racism. Recent discussions of policing are an example of looking at a piece of this concern.

People have also been reading and listening to learn about climate change. Let’s continue that awareness and learning, as well as encourage and take actions to address it. As a congregation we considered and completed a solar roof project which will serve us and our community for years to come.

Acts of caring have been plentiful, like connecting on Zoom , offerings of money to the caring fund, checking in with friends and neighbors, providing meals, inviting others to meet safely and a myriad of other things. Through Care Team I have seen so many people going above and beyond. Many of you are not ON the Care Team, but you still share in the caring. That makes all of us a caring team. May we continue to watch out for each other and be generous with our lives.

What have YOU changed that you think you’ll keep….at least a little bit? What did you discover that you now prefer to continue exploring? Only time will tell what lasting changes will occur in our society and our personal lives as a result of the pandemic.

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Editor’s Note

Flowers appear on the earth; the season of singing has come…

Song of Solomon 2:12 (NIV)

Continuing our 2021 theme of Transformation, in this summer issue of MennoExpressions we explore changes happening all around us. Bees buzz on tall echinacea and purple petunias; plump red tomatoes, green beans and sweet corn overflow their baskets in market booths; fireflies light up evenings spent outdoors. We celebrate gathering with family and friends, perhaps finally meeting “pandemic babies” or reuniting after long months apart. Vacation travel has reappeared on calendars.

While vaccinations and masks have allowed FMC to meet, and even sing together again, we are still acclimating to different ways of gathering safely. Saying good-bye to Bob and Mag Richer Smith as they completed their encouraging interim ministry was difficult. Welcoming Frances Ringenberg reassures us of continued blessings, as she steps into interim leadership with the FMC team.

Brian Bither, pastor at Shalom Mennonite Church, our sister congregation in Indianapolis, shares how they found new ways to stay connected and care for their members. They also note changes the church has completed to enhance their building.

While hoping to move on from many pandemic changes, taking time to explore ways that adjustments enhanced our lives can encourage all of us.

Creative hobbies have been a redeeming source of joy for many—whether in everyday areas like cooking, gardening, and caring for trees, or artistic endeavors like the drawings and quilts shared in this issue.

And what could be more transforming than stepping back from a busy, rewarding career, ready to explore new opportunities with fewer time constraints.

Wherever you find yourself in the continuum of life experiences, let’s seek to share, support and cherish the ways we can enrich others as the seasons shift around us and we anticipate the approaching exuberance of autumn colors– just down the road and around the corner.

Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them; let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.

Psalm 96:12 (NIV)

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Transforming the Church

Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a transformative effect on the church. Primarily, the loss of life has been devastating to the church community. Furthermore, the drop in attendance, the loss of income, and frustration over whether a congregation was too strict or lenient in its policies continue to present the broader church with real challenges. But as our Scriptures proclaim, while God is NOT the author of evil, God can bring good out of even the worst situations. I have witnessed that at Shalom in the past year and a half.

After we decided to close the church to in-person services last year, our leaders began discussing ways to provide care and support to the congregation. This was challenging—both because of the number of people who needed care and because we couldn’t visit them in person. We decided to try an approach to pastoral care that we had been considering for several years: a deacon model of ministry. To initiate this plan, nine trusted members of the congregation volunteered to be deacons. Then every adult in our church was assigned to one of them. These deacons then contacted their assignees to see how they were doing and offer support. From that point until the present, our deacons have been periodically calling or texting every active member of our church—except those who opted out—so that each one knows they are remembered and loved. Periodically, I check in with the deacons and offer my direct pastoral support when needed.

Although it may sound simple, this has been a completely different approach to one of the core ministries of our church—pastoral care. From my perspective, it has been a tremendous blessing. Before this program, I struggled to figure out a way to share the ministry of pastoral care with congregational members. Occasionally, elders or church leaders would offer to visit someone sick or make hospital visits, but in reality, this is just the tip of the iceberg. Broader pastoral care involves much more subtle forms of support, such as listening to people who are discouraged, checking in on people who seem to be slipping away, praying with people when their friends or relatives are sick, or in times of crisis. Prior to the pandemic, it has been hard to explain how important these low-key interactions are for our spiritual and social well-being, but after having been deprived of them, most of us understand it more intuitively now. The deacon program not only helps us reinforce the importance of these interactions but offers a way for congregational members to get directly involved in this kind of care.

We will soon be making a formal decision about whether to keep the deacon program or discard it when life “returns to normal.” Whatever we decide, this approach to pastoral ministry has transformed us, and I am grateful for the ways it has done so.

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The first week of July, Bob and I went to Pittsburgh to help our son-in-law with the five year old twins while their mother was out of town.  On the first day, I borrowed my son-in-law’s car, intending to take our grandchildren to the park. Because the car was in an unfamiliar apartment garage, I got somewhat confused on exiting, backed up to turn around and hit a concrete abutment that completely caved-in the rear passenger door.  And in my shock and grief, all I could hear was two five year olds chanting. “Papa is going to be sooo mad!”

Concrete abutments have appeared, often out of nowhere, my whole life long.

Sometimes it is just a minor knock, and sometimes the injury has been life changing.

I remember an early morning knock on my young adult bedroom window with two of my best friends insisting, “Let us in.” And then the bad news, “Your mother died this morning.”

Or a call from our son-in-law informing us that our daughter was in the ICU at 26 weeks of pregnancy and 8 cm dilated, “The babies are coming!”

And then there are the kind of concrete pillars that emerge when an epidemic suddenly has us isolated from one another, or the capitol building is raided, or we watch the real-life murder of a black man on our screens.

Those concrete pillars stop me in my tracks, and I find myself needing comfort and forgiveness as I berate myself for my short-sightedness, for unkind words I cannot take back, and for the harm that I keep contributing to the world.

And I’m often mad at a God who doesn’t take those concrete abutments out of my path and give us all smoother sailing.

On our last Sunday as interim pastors at FMC at the end of June, someone said to me, “I think at the end it’s really all about grace. Is there anything really more important?”

I have pondered that and know that my own on-going growth and transformation depends on how I give and receive grace… how I offer grace to myself, accept my son-in-law’s loving hugs after I wreck his car, and let the worst of life make me more caring. When I discover in my deepest brokenness a SPIRIT of LOVE who does not let go… then TRANSFORMATION happens by little and by little my whole life long. The challenge is to LET the Spirit breathe peace and LET the grace wash over me… until I become a part of that grace and peace for the larger world.  Is there anything more important?

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