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Every Sticker Has a Story

Here’s a fun, quirky thing I’ve noticed about our new hymnals: they travel around the sanctuary. I like to read the dedication and memorial bookplates as different hymnals make their way to the pew rack in front of me. I’m always interested in the names I read. And I wonder things about them, like what made them laugh, what they enjoyed about worship, what would they share with me about their faith if I had the chance to meet them in person.

Some of the dedications are for the people I know, such as our pastor. Some of them are given in memory of people I’ve read about in the history of our church. There are others I know nothing of and I sometimes ask other church members to tell me about them. Through the generous efforts of many of these memorialized folks, we are able today to continue our mission of nurturing the love of God, neighbor and self.

Somewhere in the pew racks of the GPPC sanctuary, you’ll find three hymnals given to the congregation in memory of three of my family members: my daughter, my father and my grandmother.  As we are considering our giving for the coming year, I’ve been thinking of these three more and more. All of them were generous with their lives, their particular gifts and abilities and their material goods. In case you find one of these hymnals waiting for you one Sunday, I’d like you to know a little about each of them.

“Those who follow the discipline of Christian stewardship will find themselves called to lives of simplicity, generosity, honesty, hospitality, compassion, receptivity, and concern for the earth and God’s creatures.” (Book of Order W-7.5000)

Many of you already know we lost my daughter Mary-Kathryn five years ago, the victim of a drunk driver. She was twenty-one. At her young age, MK impacted more people than I could have ever imagined. Over five-hundred people attended her funeral. Everyone shared at least one story about how she had touched their lives in a loving way. We heard tales of text messages she sent at just the right moment to folks feeling down or needing encouragement. We heard of late night calls when someone just needed another person to listen. We heard of how her quirky sense of humor brought joy to folks, made them laugh. We heard about arms around shoulders and hugs of support. Even five years after her death, we continue to hear new stories.  MK loved to sing and sometimes in the quiet, I can still hear her sweet voice singing old and new hymns.

“Giving has always been a mark of Christian commitment and discipleship. The ways in which a believer uses God’s gifts of material goods, personal abilities, and time should reflect a faithful response to God’s self-giving in Jesus Christ and Christ’s call to minister to and share with others in the world. Tithing is a primary expression of the Christian discipline of stewardship.” (Book of Order W-1.3030; W-2.5000)

The second hymnal, I gave in memory of my dad, Billy Duty. Today is his birthday. He would have turned seventy-seven. The youngest of thirteen children, he was born in the Appalachian Mountains of far southwest Virginia. There was no money for college, so he joined the U.S. Army. He was interested in electronics and made his way to the Army Signal Corp. After his Army commitment, he returned home to the mountains and with him brought his young family. He could have chosen anywhere in the world to live, but he felt his talents and skill could be useful back home. For example, he helped the town to establish a television cable co-op. He wired nearly every house in the town. He even wired the classrooms in the school and got televisions donated for the classrooms so that the children could watch a lunar landing and public television programs. He was a giving person who never wanted the spotlight.  He’d probably be blushing if he could see this post. Dad had this marvelous twinkle in his eyes. He loved a good joke, Chevrolet cars, his garden, and fishing. He liked keeping bees. I called him the “bee-talker” because he could hold bees in his hand and pet them. They would not sting him.

Although he never felt confident singing them, he loved hymns.  “I’ll Fly Away” and “Shall We Gather At The River” were two of his favorites. Besides tithing, his gift to the church was designing a sound system and then serving as audio engineer. It was pretty amazing stuff back in the day. Remember portable reel-to-reel tape recorders?   It’s still pretty amazing stuff now. He continued to keep up with changing technology. The church system grew into a full-fledged state-of-the-art audio/visual system. Sadly, Dad passed away unexpectedly only eight months after my daughter died. But the system he designed is still being used by his church.

The Christian life is an offering of one’s self to God. In worship the people are presented with the costly self-offering of Jesus Christ, are claimed and set free by him, and are led to respond by offering to him their lives, their particular gifts and abilities, and their material goods. (Book of Order W-2.5001)

On the Sunday in which new elders were ordained, Fran D. spotted the hymnal given in memory of my grandmother and brought it to me so that I could sing from it during the service.  I was very touched by her thoughtfulness. As you read a little more about “Granny” you’ll see that it was the perfect hymnal for me to hold that day.

1967 Family Gathering pic taken after worship Dora: Seated in chair, 2nd from left Billy: 3rd row, 2nd man from left Lisa: seated in aunt’s lap, 4th from left

Dora Duty was a “God-fearing”, hardworking Appalachian mountain woman. She was a friend of strays, both the two-legged as well as the four-legged kind. There was always room for one more at Granny’s table. She was strong of faith, mind and body. My goodness, she had thirteen children! And as if that wasn’t enough to keep her busy, she kept the family farm going while my grandfather, a railroad employee, often worked away from home.

With all that, Granny also felt there was a need for her community to have a church. There were many folks who couldn’t read and some with no access to books. Humans are social creatures. We need to fellowship with others regularly. Granny understood this. So having a community church would provide opportunities for worship, education, fellowship, and for folks to strengthen their support system during such hard times. Seems like times have always been hard in the mountains of Appalachia, but they were particularly so in the 1920s, 30s and 40s.

So – did Granny sit and wait for a church to be built? Of course not! She rolled up her sleeves and got started on it. Surprisingly, economics was not the main obstacle to getting a community church built. Her denomination simply did not allow women to hold a leadership role in its congregations. But she didn’t let that quell her enthusiasm. She just worked harder at making her case. Granny could Bible “sword fight” with the best of them. Eventually, she was made a deaconess of the church. This was completely unheard of and yet Granny never considered herself a trailblazer. She was just carrying out what she felt was the Lord’s work.  The church got built and serving as deaconess, she lead the services until a pastor could be found.

At Granny’s funeral, some strangers came to pay their respects. They sat in the back. None of us knew who they were. We all speculated that they had made a mistake and were attending the wrong funeral service. When we got into cars to drive up to the cemetery, the strangers followed us. Our curiosity was really going wild! One of my uncles finally asked them how they knew Granny. They told us how years earlier – and unbeknownst to anyone else, including us –  Granny had cared for a family of orphaned children, taking them food and supplies. Their parents had died but they wanted to stay together in their own home. So Granny looked after them until the oldest sibling was able take responsibility for his brothers and sisters. Now they were here for a final thank you.

O blest communion, fellowship divine!

We feebly struggle, they in glory shine;

Yet all are one in Thee, for all are Thine.

Alleluia, Alleluia!      (For All the Saints)

Lisa Dove has actively participated in the ministry of GPPC since she began attending last year. She answered a recent call to serve on our Session with enthusiasm – and immediately “dove” into work with our Communications and Stewardship Teams. Lisa works in marketing and media relations for a nonprofit organization associated with community health care. She and her husband are empty nesters.

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