A Service of Witness to the Resurrection and Memorial Service for Bettie Shenk
Meditation for Bettie Shenk
Presented by Rev. Marc Sherrod, Bethel Pastor
When I was reading quite a few 18th and 19th century funeral sermons as part of my dissertation research, I noted that it was common, then, to use the scriptural phrase, "mother in Israel," to recall the life and faith of a woman whose faith embodied the very life-blood of a particular congregation, whose deeply planted spiritual roots flourished in the soil of the Church, whom all recognized as a wise, exemplary, godly figure.
I doubt she'd want me to slip over into eulogy today, but it is hard not to think about Bettie with deep and affectionate maternal imagery, for she always came across to me as one who cared deeply for her children, which, in Bettie's case, would be all of God's children, regardless of race, class, ethnicity or creed. I know that some Moms, even more so, some parents in general, can come across as meddlesome and overly protective in their concern, but such was not my experience with Bettie.
Moreover, her daily commitment, spiritual demeanor, and habits of mind and heart all spoke loudly to me of one who followed the Lord with her whole being: voice, intellect, emotions, material resources -- a real devotee of the soul, one who believed in and acted upon God's inclusive and expansive orientation to all the sons and daughters of humanity.
A "mother in Israel." I could think, as well, of many other useful scriptural terms to help us reflect on and give thanks for Bettie's life-long journey to honor her baptism and to respond to the grace of being formed and ever re-formed into the image of Christ.
She was a teacher, one who handled the word of truth with reverence and awe, with a keen, curious, and wondering intellect, and through it all, she always knew the importance of worshipping God with her mind; she was a witness to God's love toward the downtrodden, troubled, and forgotten, someone interested in "social justice" in all the meanings of that powerful phrase, a disciple whose prayer for the burdened and whose deeds of mercy echoed across this community, our denomination, the Presbyterian Church, USA, and across the world; she was a prophet, unafraid to stand over against the political and cultural status quo, willing to take an unpopular stance as she choose to do the right thing as scripture and Christ led her to believe and do; I might add a personal word: in those moments when I felt God had led me to speak a difficult, prophetic word to Bethel, to Kingston or to America, I knew that there would always be at least one person who would support truth over political correctness; she was a saint, both in the Protestant and, without going too far, even in the Catholic sense of that word "saint", a holy one of God who spoke holy words and who performed holy deeds. Even in her bodily suffering, of which there was far more than any single person deserves, I knew her as one who remained courageous and hope-filled even in the darkest night of almost unbearable physical pain.
I strongly suspect, if she had been born several decades later, after it became more customary for women to be ordained as ministers of Word and Sacrament in the old southern Presbyterian Church, that she would have been a pastor. I guess that was probably my most vivid experience of Bettie, as a shepherd figure, one who sought to bring others beneath the care of her wings and thus, under the shelter of the rock of God, the protection of the great shepherd of the sheep. In my years of hospital visitation and interaction, she is the only person who ever required me, following my prayer with her, that I provide her with a moment to pray for me. She was quite remarkable in her ability to see beyond her own suffering to the pain and needs experienced by others.
As I came to know her over these last six years, I have realized that she covered quite a lot of literal and metaphorical territory in her life. As far as I know, she never backed down from the adventure of a new experience; while many as they grow old and older are want to settle into a rut, her life seemed destined to break through worn-out traditions and tired assumptions about the way things she be in the church or in society. And now, I give thanks that she has broken through all that is old and past, even into an experience of the fullness of life forevermore, gathered around the heavenly banquet table, feasting with all God's children with the risen Christ as host at that glorious and everlasting fellowship table.
She lived well and she died well. She loved each one of us, and really tried, about as hard as a person can try, to be a follower of Christ, which is truly what the word Christian means, after all. . . a little Christ.
And now, the journey of her life and faith has reached an end, but an end that is really, now, only a new beginning.
Worship was the quintessential experience of her faith, and so it is fitting that today, in song and scripture, we have celebrated the joy and goodness of her life.
In the words of Jesus: "Well done, good and faithful servant; enter now the joy of your master's kingdom." Amen!