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