This picture of my husband and I standing in front of the Bloomington Reformed Church the year he was ordained shows a considerable change in clothing people wore to church.
We had lived in Bloomington (our first church) about three or four months when this was taken. Richard is still in his Genevan gown following service. I am wearing a suit I do not remember but would presume to be a neutral light brown, tan, or gray. My hat is red. In the 1960s a woman always wore a hat to church. I am not wearing gloves which were also demanded if you were to be “properly dressed.” I would guess this was taken after the congregation left, so they had been discarded. When I went to church I would also have carried a matching purse. Certainly a new minister’s wife was expected to be properly dressed.
A discussion at our monthly consistory (council) meeting at church last night prompted this memory.
My husband, Richard, served the Warsaw International Church in Poland from September 1989 to July 1993. At the time WIC was the only English speaking service offered regularly in the city. Communism had been defeated by ballot in the spring of 1989.Initially, going to church was not easy. The service was held in the secure part of the embassy. Our first Sunday we were guided through the procedure. First we entered the not-as-secure social wing where we had to identify ourselves to the Polish security guards. From there we walked out the back door of that building, down an outside stairway to a door under the guard of a US Marine. There we entered a short space to wait until the first door was secured before the second door was opened by another Marine. Church was held in the first meeting room off the hallway. Its amenities included chairs and a piano. The lectern normally there had disappeared, so Richard stacked up boxes which he covered with a cloth found in the nearby embassy kitchen.
As you might imagine, the congregation was not large and most people spoke English as their first language. When we first arrived the church primarily served members of the embassies of the United States, Great Britain, Australia, Canada, the International School of Warsaw, and other embassies.
We had only just arrived, but at this first service Richard was asked to baptize the newborn twins of Nigerian Ambassador George Ajone and his wife, Onyanta. They were a joy to know and were very kind to us during their tenure in Warsaw.
When we arrived little throughout the country had changed. But change came quickly in Warsaw and everywhere with the end of state control. Foreign businesses came in by droves. WIC changed its meeting place first to the Marine bar and then to the Lutheran Seminary in the Old Town, where it continues today.
I am in the process of finishing my memoir On Becoming a Minister’s Wife with writing a chapter on “Reflections.”
The body of the memoir takes me from not wanting to be a minister’s wife through the first nine years of living the role. Two years ago I wrote 50,000 words during the National November Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) in a stream of consciousness style. This past year I’ve been reordering, editing, deleting, and adding to those words so they would make sense to someone other than myself. Now that part is readable, thanks to my writers’ group friends, who have listened to me read it twice. They are due much praise for endurance.
I am struggling with this last chapter. My husband, Richard, celebrated his fiftieth year of ordination in 2013. From 1963 to 1993 he served five churches, retired for health reasons, but continued to enjoy preaching as a supply for several years. Our lives were so intertwined, how do I sum up those years for myself?
Questions I am seeking to answer include:
What did I like or didn’t like about my role?
How did it affect my life as a wife and mother?
What did it teach me about myself?
Would I do it again? Yes, I would, provided I was married to the same man. I think perhaps that is the key to all my answers.
Corinthians 13:13 “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”
My blog has been neglected in the past few weeks since I posted on my September travels.
Two major items have occupied my time and thought.
Our church is celebrating its 300th anniversary. When the Dutch settlers followed Henry Hudson up the mighty Hudson River to Albany, they brought their Reformed Church with them from the Netherlands.
In Albany, New York, the Reformed Church was organized in 1642; in Kingston (also the first capital of New York) the church came into being in 1659; and in New Paltz worship began in 1683.
In Fishkill, New York, our church met to organize on October 16, 1716, Two events this past weekend capped our yearlong celebration. I had the honor of participating in both of them. On Saturday two performances of a radio play, originally broadcast in 1940 by DuPont’s Cavalcade of America, told the story of Enoch Crosby. Thought to be a Tory spy and jailed inside the church, General George Washington ordered he be allowed to escape in order to deliver false information to the British, which gave the colonies their victory and our freedom in Yorktown.
Sunday morning our choir outdid itself providing music for the regular church service. In the afternoon a banquet was held with many former pastors relating stories of their time serving our church.
A much less spiritual effort occupied me. I redecorated my bathroom. For a couple of weeks I’d contemplated whether or not paint the varnished vanity. How could I know if I’d like it white? My solution was to tape sheets of typing paper on the doors and drawers. Going into the bathroom after dark, I realized how much brighter it looked. I made my decision.
I bought the paint. Before getting out the brush, I needed to remove the doors and drawers and the handles on them. At first I thought I should have my son come and do that. But wait a minute! I have a screwdriver and my dad had taught me how to use it. Maybe I could do it myself. Yes.
On the front porch I spread newspapers over the outside table and using my son’s vibrating sander smoothed the wood and removed varnish so the paint would adhere better. I applied the first coat to the frame and while it dried the doors got their first coat. The frame had dried. It got its second coat. Meanwhile the doors dried. Whoops! I’d forgotten to do the drawers. More paint.
That evening with all the paint dry, I put the handles back on, but waited until Saturday morning to put the screws back in. I worried about getting the doors back on right, but that didn’t pose a problem.
My daughter hung the new shower curtain and Sunday on the way to the church dinner, I purchased new towels and rug.
All this to say I’d had a busy week with no time to write a blog.
For many years I’ve been curious about all those family members who have made me who I am. Several months ago I made a chart starting with eight sheets of 8 ½x14 paper taped together in two rows of four each.
Then I drew lines for seven generations with me as the first one on a single line in the middle of the chart’s bottom. I put my parents on the next 2 lines widely separated; above those 4 lines for my grandparents; then 8 (great grandparents); 16 (2nd great grandparents); 32 (3rd great grandparents); finally, 64 (4th great grandparents.
How many of those lines are filled? All of my grandparents and 1st great grandparents. I am missing only one of my 2nd great grandparents (the name of the mother of my great grandmother from Scotland). From there on my chart becomes sketchy. I have 17 of 32 of 3rd generation grandparents’ names. Only 10 of the 64 (4th generation) are filled in.
However, I was pleased to find four of the next generation which includes one who fought in the American Revolution. Another entered the War of 1812. Perhaps some fought in the Civil War, but I do not have their names.
If a bowl of chips or box of chocolate is on the table. You take just one. Can you then walk away satisfied? I can’t.
Tracing one’s genealogy becomes equally additive. It is easy to spend hours online searching one site or another. The name of a grandparent pops up. I am thrilled. But, who are their parents? When were they born, married, died? One question after another one keeps me staring at the screen.
Newspapers, radio broadcasts, TV news, and every other media that you can think of will undoubtedly have a story or program dedicated to reflecting on the twelve months of 2015.
As I think about the year, I realize it is the first one since 1954 that I’ve been “on my own.” That’s not entirely true because I have a son and daughter, their spouses, and two grandchildren, for whom I’m not responsible, but who watch over me. It is the grand shift from being the parent to being parented. I am not complaining. It is wonderful to feel their care, while leaving me free to make my own decisions about my life.
Good things have come to me during 2015. New friendships have begun. Others have become deeper.
There are family joys. Frequent family parties have been highlights during the year. Tomorrow, my son will treat us to Eggs Benedict to begin 2016 when everyone gathers around my table. My daughter has a new job that she loves as a research nurse. One daughter-in-law has one semester to finish her masters, the other drops everything to fix or help me whenever I call. My older grandson has begun learning to play the baritone, and my younger grandson loves art and books.
I’ve continued to write. Recently, I’ve been enjoying reading and editing a 50,000-word memoir that I wrote in November 2014 on “Being a Minister’s Wife.” Last November, the death of husband the previous March was still very close, which helped me record the details of our life together. Now, I am able to look at those words and determine if they follow the theme and discard the bits that don’t. The memories are as vivid as before, but I’m able to sort their importance to the story I want to tell. My weekly writers group’s members, who have become good friends, help my efforts.
While a minister’s wife, I was never part of the decision making process for the church. That changed in 2015. As an elder, I learned how my new church prepares holy communion, I participated in leading the congregation in new ways for me. Singing in the church choir continues to be a major part of my week.
What will 2016 bring? No one knows, but God, family, and friends will guide me through it.
What is there about us as people? Why we must push one person down to make ourselves seem better?
We have fought wars and continue these fights some with guns and some with words.
Who has the moral authority: Republican or Democrat?
What is the right color: black or white?
Who can be a better preacher: man or woman?
Who should marry: straights or gay/lesbians?
Which is right faith: Sunni or Shi’ite ? Jew or Gentile? Protestant or Catholic? Buddhist or Hindu? Religious or Atheist?
We divide ourselves up in our side and their side, like we did when I was in a one-room school. The self-appointed captains chose their favorites first and reluctantly took the rest of us on their teams.
This past week I spent two days with a group of Reformed Church women. The first woman in the Reformed Church in America (RCA) was ordained in 1973. It took the RCA another six years to work through the church judicial business committee before women could legally become ministers. There are still places—mostly in the Midwest—which do not allow women to hold office in their churches.
Last night I watched the news of the Supreme Court. I heard declarations that gays/lesbians shouldn’t marry because a child needs a father and a mother. Wouldn’t it be better for a child to have a home where two people of the same sex love them, than in a home where a man and woman treat each other badly? Consider the child who moves back and forth daily from their dad’s and stepmother’s home to mom’s and her new boyfriend’s home? Of these three homes, which gives the child the loving stability needed to grow? Which would you choose?
Every time we categorize a person or idea as bad, we seem to elevate ourselves. Not true! It only shows our true narrow-mindedness.