Thank You Pussy Hat

Dear Pussy Hat marching women of the world,

THANK YOU!

Pussy Hat

Thank you for taking time to go out and show the world that, peace is possible even when disagreement exists. Thank you for showing the world that diversity in humanity doesn’t have to mean disharmony. Thank you for showing up, being heard, and being counted!

Thank you for doing this, from someone who was; not able to march, sing, carry a sign or have her voice heard. Thank you for myself, for my daughters’ in law, my granddaughter, my nieces, my sisters, my cousins and my 90+ year old Aunts.

Thank you for my; Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, Agnostic, Humanist, Pagan, Unitarian, Questioning, Hindu, Buddhist, Orthodox, Liberal, Conservative, pro choice, right to life, working, non working, working mothers, work at home mothers, differently able, tall, short, round, and thin, young, old, somewhere in the middle of everything friends!

Without you, my Pussy hat wearing, marching, sign bearing friend,  my weekend would not have been punctuated with photos of joy, peace, love and friendship.

Thank you; for being where I could not go, for saying what I could not say,  therefore allowing me to be exactly who I am meant to be.

Thank you!

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“We Are Singing For Our Lives”

Set to Holly Near’s We Are Singing For Our Lives are the sights of my experience at General Conference.  Holly’s song became a balm for our souls as we marched across the Convention Center floor.

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Leaving a Legacy

They say that a person dies three times; the first time when their heart stops beating, the second when they are buried or cremated, and the third time when their name is no longer spoken.

We all want to be remembered. We all want to leave behind a legacy.

When someone knows that they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness they begin to think of what their friends and loved oves will remember about them when they are gone. My husband did not have this luxury. Donald died in less than a day. He woke up healthy and vital and before the next sunrise he was gone.

We had no goodbye.

Maybe that is why it is so important to me that his story be told, because to tell his story, is to keep him alive,

Donald fell in love with Drew almost as much as he fell in love with me. We lived on the campus,Drew Gate a scenic, serene, and at times breathtaking one hundred and eighty seven acre oak forest preserve. We walked hand in hand from Seminary Hall to the student center, the library, the bookstore, the mailroom, the undergraduate “Brothers” college, and the United Methodist Archives.Our dorm room apartment was three hundred and fifty square feet including the three square feet that housed the shower, when I say it was small I don’t mean that it wasn’t spacious I mean it was miniscule. The playgroundPlayground was outside our windows and every afternoon we would be serenaded by the laughter and cries of the many toddlers and children that enriched our life there. Donald knew the name and purpose of every building on the campus and he loved giving visitors a tour.

We made the most of our time at Drew in every way we could. Lunches and dinners in the Student Center, with the undergraduates that graced our lives by sharing their lives with us, quickly became one of our favorite activities. Musical productions in the Performance Center allowed us to experience operas, comedy, plays and classical performances by just sharing our Drew I.D. cards. Donald went to all of the sporting events held at the university, he wrote in his journal about the baseball games and lacrosse matches, he went to the tennis tournaments and swim meets, his enjoyment of the sports at Drew was so complete he never once mentioned bringing our television out of storage where it sat ignored until I finally gave it away not long ago. Lectures made possible by the Drew Center for Holocaust and Genocide Studies allowed us to meet speakers that we could have never met on our own. Educational programs put on by the Undergraduate Student Groups such as Students for Justice in Palestine opened our eyes and our hearts to a part of the world we knew very little about. Dinners in our tiny dormTipple Hall with fellow classmates from places like Tanzania, Burma, Mexico, Puerto Rico, The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Kenya, South Africa and South Korea widened our world view in ways that were never possible before we came there. When I say we showed our I.D. cards I mean we were both students. Donald enrolled at Drew as a Community Fellow in the Lifelong Learning Program. He audited classes right alongside me so that when my education was complete he would not be uninformed.

I would be remiss, however, if I did not mention what Donald loved most about Drew and that was Chapel. We have Chapel services three times a week at Drew and Donald attended every service he could. Many times he would attend Chapel on his own because I would be working on an assignment or paper. He wrote in his journal more often about Chapel than any other topic. He would record who the guest preacher was and how the service filled his soul. He loved the Black Ministerial Caucus Chapel services best of all. He wrote that we “the white church” need more JOY in our celebrations!

Donald had grown up in the United Methodist Church. The United Methodist Church had always been a place of welcome and acceptance for Donald, something he had not always found at home. Donald and I met at our church and it was at church that we deepened our connection to each other and to God. Giving back to the church by supporting Drew Seminarians was something Donald did during his life at Drew so deciding to support Drew Seminarians in Donald’s memory was a natural decision for me. The Donald K Baxter Prize for Community Engagement will be awarded for the first time on April 20th, 2016. The prize will go to a student who is graduating from the Theological School who has made the most of their time at Drew by engaging in the wider University Community in much the same way that Donald did during his time at Drew. The prize will be awarded annually in perpetuity. My deepest gratitude is extended to the staff of the Alumni Relations Department at Drew for helping me honor Donald in this way. I know that he will be smiling above us when the prize is awarded.

They say a person dies three times; the first time when their heart stops beating, the second when they are buried or cremated, and the third time when their name is no longer spoken.My gratitude goes with this prize for assuring that Donald’s name will continue to be spoken.

 

 

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Thoughts of Hope From a New Widow

Nearly four years after beginning my journey in Seminary it has come time to stand and preach my Senior Sermon at Drew Theological School in Madison NJ. Preparing for this day has been something of a roller coaster to say the least. The joy of falling in love during my first semester and the amazing love that relationship brought into my existence coupled with the nearly life ending pain of losing my husband less than eight months after our wedding have changed me in ways I cannot regret. To do it all again I would make the same decisions all over again.

To love is to risk and to live is to love, life is a terminal condition and no one leaves this life alive. If we are to fully embrace this one precious life we have we will risk the pain of grief by exposing our heart to love. It is simply the only way.

My Constant Companions
Thoughts of hope from a New Widow by Christine J Baxter

Sadness you don’t own me

        No matter how you try

Sorrow you cannot defeat me

        No matter how you try

Grief you will not drown me

        No matter how you try

Pain you will not kill me

        No matter how you try

Joy you live within me

        I welcome you in

Love you can flow through me

        I welcome you in

Peace you can surround me

        I welcome you in

Grace you may walk with me

        I welcome you in

Survival you have found me

        Because I welcomed you in.

 

Feed Shark

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The Final Semester

Drew Theological School Seminary Hall
Drew Theological School Seminary Hall

It has come down to one last semester for me in “the forest” as we like to call our Drew campus. I look forward to this semester of singing in the choir, being among friends, and soaking up all that Drew has to offer but I also dread the end of this season of my life.

When I arrived at Drew Theological School in the Fall of 2012 I fell in love with the diversity of the Student Body, the challenge of learning with students from around the world, and the campus that was a “cocoon”  as I called it. Since that time my life has changed in ways I could have never imagined. I fell in love with someone who loved me without reservation. The love we shared was so plainly clear to all who knew us that people fell in love with our love story, but we were more than a story, we were students of life and I was a student at Drew. 

Don immersed himself in all of the activities on campus while I took classes. Now it is time for the final semester to begin. I will not be seeking ordination as I once thought I would. Instead I will pursue a different path. If the time comes when all people can be ordained in the United Methodist Church then I may go back and do the additional coursework required for ordination. 

I will not walk across the stage and receive my diploma. I will have it mailed to me. I will be busy volunteering for the Love Your Neighbor Coalition at GC2016. I pray that my witness and presence there will make a difference in the policies of the United Methodist Church. I hope you will join me in that prayer and join me in supporting the LYN Coalition with your signature on the Altar for All Agreement and with your financial contribution to the campaign if you are able. 

I am not making this decision to make any grand statement, I am making it for personal reasons. I had decided to not pursue ordination as an Elder because I no longer felt called to that particular ministry. I planned to seek ordination as a Deacon because that is the office I feel most called to and if I do ever seek ordination it will be Deacons orders that I seek, but at this time with the United Methodist Church’s position on ordination of all persons regardless of sexual orientation I have come to the conclusion that serving the church as a LayPerson is what is right for me. I am not leaving the Church. I am staying and working for change. I hope to be commissioned as a Deaconess in the United Methodist Church and I am prepared to continue in that calling to lay-ministry for my lifetime. 

My calling has always been to serve older adults and baby boomers and to serve alongside them in ministry as well. To that end I will seek a Certificate in Gerontology or a Certificate in Older Adult Ministries. Much is still to be decided but many decisions have been made. For now I will soak up the Springtime in the Forest and savor the memories of the sweet love that Don and I found while walking the beautiful tree lined path from our home in our tiny dorm to the wonderful environment that is found in Seminary Hall.

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Sitting in the Mud with God

When I was small we had a very long dirt (sandy) driveway in our suburban yard. This was unusual on our street as most of the houses were closer to the street than our house was and their driveways were covered with Blacktop.  The drawbacks to having a long dirt driveway to an adult homeowner I later would discover were many; sand constantly being tracked into the house, snow removal complications to say the least, adult drawbacks aside however, having a dirt driveway as a kid is the best!  For me it meant I could dig to China on a daily basis within the watchful eye of my Grandmother from her spot inside the kitchen. I was happy and she was happy. For my sons it meant building ramps to fly their bikes off of and soft sand to land in. dirt-trees-country-road-wallpapers-1680x1050 (2)

Those memories of sitting in the mud come back to me now whenever I have big decisions to make. I have spent a lot of sleepless nights sitting in the mud with God lately and it has not been a bad thing. For more than fifteen years I have thought I wanted to be the senior pastor of a local church. I didn’t even have an exact preference as to the type of church this would be; urban, rural, suburban, small or large. During this same time I have been called to be in ministry with adults in their second half of life, or newly retired adults, or older adults in need of pastoral care.

I find people in this age group to be a joy to work with. Weather it is visiting a nursing home resident and listening to stories or telling stories for an afternoon, or working side by side with a passionate baby boomer on an issue of social justice that ignites a fire within their soul, I find I am continuously more enriched by my experiences with my elders than I think I will be.

So over last month or so  I have made the decision to not become a United Methodist Elder (Senior Pastor) but I will instead work toward being commissioned as   a United Methodist Deaconess, this is not an ordained position but a title for a lay person who is a  servant leader who can work in many areas of ministry. I will Graduate from Drew University with a Masters of Arts in Ministry Degree and I will then pursue a rather new area of academics which pairs a  Masters in Public Administration with a concentration in Gerontology. This will provide me with the academic background to compliment my many years of experience working with older adults and will allow me to work with a variety of different groups enhancing their older adult ministry programs.

 

So if you have been on this journey with me for a while I thank you for sticking with me, if you have just begun to follow me, welcome to the ride!

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The Reconciling Sermon

It was April of 2013 and I was finishing my first year of Seminary and my fiancee, Don and I were going to church with a friend about a half hour south of my school. None of us knew what the sermon was going to be about that day. I invited friends from school to come along with us, a couple from Tanzania and a young lady who had emigrated to the United States from Mexico with her family when she was in middle school. So there we were the five of us in the third pew, or essentially the front row because no one ever sits in the front two pews in church, five unfamiliar faces to the pastor. She was passionate and energetic, she prayed with the fire of the Holy Spirit in her heart right up until it was time for the sermon and then she looked nervous. I thought to myself that seems strange that a pastor who was so confident and passionate just a few minutes ago would be nervous and then she looked over at the five of us and said;

“It is always on the day that God gives you the hardest sermon that God fills the pews.”

Then she began to give the reconciling sermon. I had heard reconciling sermons before, my fiancee and I were Reconciling United Methodists but what I did not know was that he had never really heard a reconciling sermon given by a Pastor on a Sunday morning before. My fiancee had been baptized and confirmed in the United Methodist Church and had been an active member of several United Methodist Congregations near our home in Upstate New York. I did not know however that during the majority of his adult years he had attended a Missouri Synod Lutheran Church with his family. It was not his first choice of where to worship but he did not change churches until he became a widower soon before he met me, in my United Methodist Church.

So while I sat there listening to a very impassioned and well laid out argument for full inclusion of all people in the church, my fiancee was hearing for the very first time that God loved every member of his family just as much as God loved everyone else. Having left the United Methodist Church before the Reconciling Movement began he had followed all of the changes in our Book Of Discipline through the printed subscription he had to United Methodist Reporter and through other media sources but he had never experienced in a worship setting the personal feeling of being told by an ordained clergyperson that God loved everyone, not just heterosexuals.

When the sermon was over we sang “Christ Has Broken Down The Walls” a Hymn by Mark Miller who is the music director at Drew Theological School where I was attending Seminary. I had sung the words many times in my first year there and so that too was familiar and not unusual for me to hear, but Don had never heard the hymn before and his experience was very different. We finished singing and the service was over and so I turned to my right to hug my friend before turning to Don and that is when I saw the tears just running down his face and as I embraced him I could feel him shaking and he said to me;

This is how Church is supposed to be!”

2014-01-12 10.41.43
Foundry United Methodist Church , January 12, 2014 Washington DC

In that moment I said what has become a vow for me, I told him; “Honey, I will do everything within my power to make sure that this is how church will be!” From that Sunday forward we visited a different Reconciling Congregation each Sunday. Traveling to places like Foundry United Methodist Church in Washington DC, and Church of The Village in Greenwich Village, and Tabernacle UMC in Binghamton, NY, and to the church that I just became a member of this month Christ Church UMC in Troy NY.

The Pastor wearing the Reconciling Ministries Network Stole as he blesses our hands on our wedding day.
The Pastor wearing the Reconciling Ministries Network Stole as he blesses our hands on our wedding day.

 

In posts to come you will hear more about my commitment to help make church what it should be; a place of welcome and love for all persons regardless of their race, age, gender, ability, or sexual orientation. For now I will let you know that I have signed the Altar for All agreement put forth by the Love Your Neighbor Coalition of the Methodist Federation for Social Action, and I have agreed to volunteer ten days of my time to help the LYN Coalition do the work it needs to do in Portland, OR for General Conference 2016.

I will never know what the impact of the pastor’s sermon was on her own congregation. I am not a member of that church and not long after that time the friend who had invited us to visit moved on herself so I don’t have ties to the small congregation. If there were any hearts or minds that were opened to seeing God in a new dimension by the pastor’s words the effect of those changes might not be visible for quite some time, but what I do know is this; a heart was healed that Sunday morning. It was a heart that had been broken by the church many times before and the healing of that one heart is something any pastor can rejoice about, and that is when God’s people can say; Amen!

 

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The People Who Are Still Here With Me

Music by Emma’s Revolution From the CD Singing Though The Hard Times A Tribute To Utah Phillips , Music owned by Koch Entertainment Standard Youtube License. Photo of Seminary Hall owned by Drew University Photo Credit Lynne Delade.

A look back on the happy moments in a not so happy year. Sometimes it takes looking at all of the smiling faces to remember that grieving is not always about tears of sadness. I could have used With A Little Help From My Friends for the musical backdrop but I choose Emma’s Revolution Hymn Song because if I ever had to relive a year like this one I would want these people by my side. There are a lot more people that aren’t pictured here that helped me make it through these last Eighteen months, they know who they are, I just didn’t happen to have a picture of them handy. I love them dearly.

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